On paper, the Toronto Raptors have had one of the better off-seasons in the association, moving in a direction that clearly values defense as the top priority. The Raptors, whose offense was ranked 3rd overall, shipped out one-dimensional gunners Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams and replaced them with guys known for their ball-stopping abilities. Not only are free agent signings Demarre Carroll, Bismack Biyombo and Corey Joseph more than capable of handling themselves on the defensive end, but rookies Delon Wright and Norman Powell were drafted for their potential toughness on the unglamorous side of the ball in mind.
During the 2014-2015 regular season, the Raptors relied heavily on their offense to produce their 49 wins. Canada’s lone team was 38-15 when they scored more than 100 points and an outstanding 31-6 when they had a higher field goal percentage than their opponent. While their style of play produced a nice looking record heading into April, any basketball fan knows that without defense, those wins aren’t going to translate against strong teams and especially not come playoff time. This was shown in the Raps’ losing 15-22 record against teams above .500 and their sweep at the hands of the Washington Wizards, who boast a top five regular season defense. Ultimately, the Toronto Raptors schedule saw them beat up on a lot of mediocre and average teams, but against good competition they were just fairly ordinary.
Graphic via rantsports
However one takeaway from Dwane Casey’s competitors was their ability to defend their home court. Against good and bad teams, with Toronto native Drake on the sidelines and their rowdy fans cheering them on, the Raptors were 27-14. Although the Toronto Raptors schedule in the notorious Atlantic division allowed them to play a few bottom feeding on four separate occasions, they didn’t take complete advantage of this as they ended up splitting the season series 2-2 with both the Nets and Celtics and even dropped a game to the lowly Knicks. Combine this with the fact that they are in the Eastern Conference and you can see why the Toronto Raptors schedule has held them back from true contender status among experts and fans.
November 28th is a date for Raptor fans to mark down on their calendar as Demar Derozan and company head into John Wall and the Wizards’ home territory for the first of four regular season match-ups. As impressive of a force the Raps were last season was forgotten after an embarrassing four straight losses the America’s capital team. The Wiz cross the border to pay the Air Canada Centre a visit on December 30th and the two teams are set to meet again on January 8th and January 26th.
Now that Masai Ujiri has seen that out-shooting your opponent doesn’t render success, only time will tell if their offseason changes are enough to restore their top 10 defense of two years ago. Although it is true that the Eastern Conference has undergone a wide influx of talent this offseason, the teams are still considerably weaker than its Western counterparts. It is still unclear how much the conference has improved, but one thing is certain – the above average Raptors will likely benefit from it once again. Look for Toronto to finish with a similar record as the previous two years.
Graphic via rantsports