The Raptors begin their journey in a new NBA season against the Golden State Warriors on October 1st 2016. This is a brief view of the Raptors before the new season starts.
Clean sweep: the most accurate way of describing the Raptors 2014-2015 season. Most Raptors fans will never forget Paul Pierce’s decisive, buzzer-beating three-point shot which silenced the Air Canada Centre on April 26, 2015. It infamously ended the playoff series tie between the Wizards and the Raptors, completing the four-game sweep. Fans’ hopes and expectations ended in one gut-wrenching swish. Literally.
Raptors fans were beyond disappointed after that game. It was the second year in a row that the Toronto Raptors had gotten to the playoffs. This was also the second consecutive year that Paul Pierce had sent them packing at just the first round of the playoffs despite being the top-seed on both occasions and having two all-star players in the form of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. This is why, one could argue that the anger, disappointment, and frustration occasionally directed towards the Raptors is justifiable. This is why, for years now, fans have been so emotionally invested in the team.
When one fast-forwards to almost a year and a half after that unforgettable season and Paul Pierce’s ‘King of the North’ troll Facebook post, one is reminded how much can change in little time. The following season, 2015-16, there was a total transformation in the Raptors team. They recorded a franchise record 56 wins and they finished second place in the Eastern Conference during the regular season. The team defeated the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat in two difficult seven game series en-route to their first ever appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals alongside an undefeated—and eventual champion— the Cleveland Cavaliers. Later, the Raptors would go on to lose the series in six games but not without ending Cleveland’s sixteen game winning streak.
2016 turned out to be a good year for the NBA up north as a whole due to the Raptors’ performance, Toronto hosting the 2016 All-Star Weekend, and Brampton native Tristan Thompson, and member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, winning the NBA Championship. All things considered, what should one expect to see from the Raptors next season?
Huge Seasons For Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan
The two dynamic All-Star guards have carried the team for the past three seasons. We can expect even better from them this year considering what they achieved last season leading the Raptors to the Eastern Conference Finals. A feat that even the great Vince Carter failed to accomplish.
New Signing Jared Sullinger
It was a busy summer for most NBA teams and it was no different for the Raptors who had to resign DeMar DeRozan, hire NBA legend Dikembe Mutombo to their coaching staff, trade Bismarck Biyombo to the Orlando Magic, and all before signing Jared Sullinger from the Boston Celtics to a one-year deal. Though Biyombo will be missed for his passion and incredible defense and rebounding, Sullinger is a better offensive option who averaged 10.3 points (he can shoot three’s as well) in the regular season compared to Biyombo’s 5.5. He is also a good replacement for Biyombo not just for his offense, but he is a glass eater as well. He has recorded his career high 20 rebounds on two separate occasions, the first time ironically against the Raptors in the 2013- 2014 season and the second time last season against the Pelicans. It will be interesting to see how he pairs with Jonas Valanciunas.
Breakout Season For Valanciunas?
Valanciunas is a key member of the Raptors starting five this year. If he can stay injury free this season, it is not unrealistic to predict that his career averages will get progressively higher. Though he is an excellent offensive player, his defensive performances are usually criticized, especially after his injury propelled Biyombo, who was phenomenal at the defensive end, to a starting position in the playoffs. Though he could get help from Sullinger who was purchased from the Boston Celtics which was a top five defensive team last season, it would be good if he can improve on his defense because it would make him a more complete player.
A Championship Ring?
In a season where little was expected from them, the Raptors proved their haters wrong. Due to their past success, it might not be far-fetched for Raptors fans to think that they might have a shot at the NBA title (again) this year. But they face a huge challenge in the East, where their conference rivals include former NBA MVP Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, and Kristap Porzingis.
Can the Raptors outdo themselves and surprise us all by winning the title or is it another grand scheme of Dwane Casey’s men to raise hopes and show promise only to disappoint yet again? Time will tell.