The Toronto Raptors finally broke their First Round blues last season and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals where they lost to the eventual NBA champs, Cleveland Cavaliers. The question on everyone’s mind is, was that a fluke or a sign of things to come?
The Raptors are led by DeMarr DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, both All-Star caliber players that have learned to trust one another and look forward to spending the rest of their careers together. The Raptors have one of the best backcourts in the NBA but to think it’s all DeRozan and Lowry will leave you sadly mistaken.
Alongside the All-Stars is a solid player in DeMarre Carroll, who with Atlanta made an appearance in his lone All-Star game. Since arriving in Toronto, he has not been the same player and during the Conference Finals against the Cavs, LeBron James made him look like a High School JV player. But Carroll is a professional and will have a bounce back season and help make sure the Raptors are there in the end.
The other key player for the Raptors entering 2016 will be the play of Center, Jonas Valanciunas. He spent a large chunk of the playoffs in street clothes forcing the team to play reserve Bismack Biyombo. If Valanciunas can stay healthy, he will pose a big problem to the Cavs should they meet again. If J-Val is important than the X-Factor stigma lies with two players.
The key to the Raptors returning and beating the Cavs will be the play of Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson. Both players are getting close to 25 minutes per, but their production has not been up to par. They are the leaders of the second unit and on those rare occasions when Patterson gets a start he must produce like so. With Biyombo gone, Patterson will be called upon more often to produce in the paint. Ross has the same explosiveness that DeRozan possess but he tends to play in spurts, he’s hot for 5 minutes then cold for the next 10.
The Raptors will need another scorer to step up and help take pressure off DeRozan and Lowry. As we saw in the playoffs, last season if one of the two is struggling the Raptors are in trouble. It will be up to Valanciunas and Ross to provide that spark the Raptors may need. Can they knock off the Cavs, yes but it will take a total team effort, not a two-man job?