The Raptors have been seeking an identity since the departure of Vince Carter in 2004, and they have a chance to develop one under coach Dwane Casey. His gritty defensive style should be a hit with Toronto's hockey-mad fans; scorers Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan have already bought in. Next, Casey needs to indoctrinate Jonas Valanciunas—a 6'11" center who played in Lithuania last year after being drafted fifth in 2011—and first-round pick Terrence Ross, as well as volatile point guard Kyle Lowry, who at 26 has a chance to start anew after his public falling-out with coach Kevin McHale in Houston.
The hardworking DeRozan should serve as a good example for Ross, a 6'6" shooter out of Washington, and Valanciunas will benefit from playing alongside Bargnani. An expected midseason trade of José Calderón's expiring contract will provide another shake-up, but it could also be a boost to a team that is headed in the right direction.
COACH: Dwane Casey (2nd season with Raptors)
2011--12 RECORD: 23--43 (4th in Atlantic)
OFFENSE: 90.7 ppg (28th)
DEFENSE: 94.0 ppg (9th)
PICK-AND-ROLL OFFENSE: 23.3 ppg (T-15th)
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Daryl Morey, who got rid of him.... DeMar DeRozan can be a star, but first he has to get a feel for who he is: Is he a two or a three? His body is better suited to be a two, but he's not a knockdown shooter. He could turn out to be a better-defending Rip Hamilton type—a midrange guy.... Andrea Bargnani is a tough matchup because of his height. He's really a stretch four. I do like that he has posted up more in the last year or two, and that he puts the ball on the floor more often.... I know they believe Jonas Valanciunas and Bargnani can make up their front line for the long term, which must mean they think Valanciunas can play inside.
Bargnani gets stronger, DeRozan becomes a shooting star, and the rookies create hope for a playoff run next season.
Valanciunas and Ross struggle to adapt to the NBA, Lowry again grows frustrated, and the Raptors stagnate.
Difference in Andrea Bargnani's scoring average in wins (24.1 points per game) and losses (16.1), the largest of any player. Bargnani also shot 46.3% in victories but only 40.3% in defeats.
KENT SMITH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (BARGNANI)
NICK LAHAM/GETTY IMAGES (VALANCIUNAS)