After their Canadian preseason tour that took them across the Great White North to Vancouver, Ottawa and Montreal, the Toronto Raptors are all but ready for their season opener on October 28th. The highly anticipated match will be played in front of their rowdy fans at the Air Canada Centre against the revamped Indiana Pacers. After finishing 23rd overall in defensive efficiency per Hollinger’s team stats, management placed a clear emphasis on defense this offseason. As a result, one-dimensional gunners such as Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez were immediately shipped out in favour of players known for their ball-stopping abilities.
The Raptors have shown throughout the 2014-2015 season that they are a team that can flat out score the basketball. By the end of the season, Canada’s lone team had a top-3 offense league-wide, but had a reputation for strictly playing iso basketball. When Dwane Casey and his men come into Oklahoma City to take on the Thunder on November 4th, this new defensive-minded approach will surely be put to the test. The returning duo of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant regularly send nightmares to opposing defenses with the superstar power, but if the Raptors want to prove that they are ready to be taken seriously in the East’s elite, they need to show they can limit the best offenses that the league has to offer. DeMarre Carroll was highly sought after for his ability to guard the league’s elite wing players and Kevin Durant will prove to be problematic challenge. This visit to the Chesapeake Energy Arena will be the third of a whopping 12 road matches in the first month of action.
As the Raptors look to make the leap into the top tier of the league, GM Masai Ujiri has indicated his reliance on internal development. In particular, one player to watch throughout the first month of action for the Toronto Raptors will be Jonas Valanciunas. Dwane Casey has stated his intention to finally give the 7-foot Lithuanian some run in the fourth quarter, after playing just 26.2 minutes per contest in 2014-2015. Valanciunas is now entering his fourth year after agreeing to a 4-year, $64 million extension with the Raptors this offseason. A telling contest should come on November 13th when the New Orleans Pelicans make a visit across the border. Valanciunas will likely be matched up against elite big man Anthony Davis, who is still just 22.
Another intriguing head-to-head comes on November 28th, when DeMar DeRozan and company will head to Washington D.C. for a rematch of last year’s embarrassing playoff defeat. Against the Wizards, the Raptors’ offense, which carried them for the last two thirds of the season, disappeared. The dynamic tandem of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot a disastrous 50 for 137 throughout the 4 games. However, this seasons’ slimmed-down version of Lowry has been red-hot throughout the preseason, including a 40-point outburst against the Minnesota Timberwolves. With reports circling of DeRozan’s significantly improved outside stroke and less of a reliance on isolation play, the duo’s rejuvenated look may give John Wall and Bradley Beal a challenge this time around.
Courtesy of Bleacher Report