The Toronto Raptors exited the playoffs in the first-round of the playoffs for the second consecutive season. While the Raptors have only made the playoffs in consecutive seasons three times in franchise history, this season left the fans clamoring for change, but what do the Raptors have to look forward to next season?
The Raptors’ highest paid player is point guard Kyle Lowry. While Lowry produced very similar stats to last season – 18 points, 7.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds last year compared to 18 points, 6.8 assists and 4.7 rebounds this year – he did so using far more possessions causing a slight decrease in efficiency. Lowry’s usage percentage increased from 22.9 to 25.4, but his true shooting took a hit dropping from 56.7% to 52.7%.
Some of this can be contributed to the types of plays he runs. According to NBA.com, Kyle Lowry was isolated on over 10% of his possessions this season and scored 0.88 points per possession, a mark that puts him in the 67th percentile in the league. While this still puts him in the top third of the league, the amount of work he has to do to isolate a defender could be the cause of his drop in production on defense.
The second highest paid player for the Raptors is DeMar DeRozan, and like Lowry, DeRozan had a year that didn’t match the production of the previous season. DeRozan’s usage percentage is one of the highest in the league at 28.4%, but unlike most of those ahead of him, DeRozan is an inefficient scorer that lacks the passing ability of his teammate in the back court.
Also similarly to Lowry, DeRozan’s reputation on defense probably surpassed his production on that end of the court this season. DeRozan is an incredible athlete that should be able to stay with some of the league’s best, but he often has trouble when his man is moving with out the ball or he has to fight around screens.
The good news for Raptors fans is Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan missed a combined 34 games due to injury this year which probably won’t be replicated in the future. DeRozan’s true shooting percentage dropped from 53.2% last season to only 51% this season, and while he used to be a player that you could count on to not turn the ball over (mainly because he passed very few times per game), his turnover percentage increased (9.5% last season to 10.4% this season) while his assist percentage decreased (18.9% to 17%).
The last key cog sure to return next season is Jonas Valanciunas. At only 22 years old (he turned 23 on May 6th), Valanciunas has increased his production while also increasing his usage. Much was made of Dwane Casey’s refusal to play Jonas late in games during the regular season, but his usage percentage still increased from 18.5% last season to 19.1% this season, and his true shooting jumped from 58% to over 62%. The big man’s rebounding numbers also increased as he grabbed almost exactly the same number of rebounds in two fewer minutes per game (8.8 last season and 8.7 this season).
Unlike the guards for the Raptors, Jonas was a steady defender allowing opponents to shoot under 47% on over 8 attempts at the rim per game. Also, according to Seth Partnow’s points saved metric, Valanciunas saved 1.5 points per 36 minutes this season, the tenth best mark in the league.
The Raptors finished as the fourth best offense scoring 111 points per 100 possessions, a number only bested by the Cavaliers, Warriors and Clippers. While the scoring helped the Raptors make the playoffs, the defense was the reason the Wizards only needed four games to send Toronto back home without a playoff win. The Raptors allowed 107.7 points per 100 possessions during the regular season, a number that was only lower than the Nuggets, Kings, Knicks, Lakers and Timberwolves.
The 2015 iteration of the Toronto Raptors was further proof that a team needs to have both a good rim protector and good wing defenders in order to sustain a good defense. While the Raptors had a good back-line defender in Valanciunas, they lacked any semblance of an elite wing defender that played significant minutes.
The Raptors will have money to sign a good wing defender in the off-season with Amir Johnson ($7 million), Landry Fields ($6.25 million), Chuck Hayes ($6 million), Lou Williams ($5.5 million) and Tyler Hansbrough ($3.3 million) all coming off the books leaving only $48 million committed for next season. With the salary cap projected to be around $68 million next season, this leaves plenty of room to sign free agents like Danny Green, Wes Matthews or other players to come in and receive immediate playing time on the perimeter for the Raptors.
Among all the negative attention the Raptors are receiving for their playoff performance is a bright side of playing in the Eastern Conference and, more specifically, the Atlantic Division. I’ve already discussed how I felt about the Philadelphia 76ers, but they won’t make a significant jump next season, the Knicks will be the Knicks, the Nets will probably become even more unwatchable than they were this season leaving the Celtics as the only serious contender in the division.
After seeing what magic Masai Ujiri can perform, I’ll take my chances on the Raptors. For next year, at least.