GO BACK TO GUARDING PEOPLE
A funny thing happened to the Raptors last season: They stopped playing defense. The stingy unit from 2013--14 suddenly sprang leaks, dropping into the bottom six of the NBA in defensive efficiency (107.7) and opponent's field goal percentage (45.9%), while struggling to stop dribble penetration and guard the three-point line.
Enter 6'8" DeMarre Carroll, a bona fide wing stopper who inked a free-agent deal last summer. Carroll, 29, gives coach Dwane Casey a chance to neutralize elite small forwards while taking needed pressure off All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan. To preserve DeRozan, who battled injuries last season, Carroll has to take on the opponents' top wing options, a role he thrived in last season with Atlanta.
A rejuvenated D would be welcome, because the Raptors can be prolific offensively. DeRozan had his second straight 20-point-per-game season. Point guard Kyle Lowry—who came to camp noticeably slimmer—was an All-Star. The loss of supersub Lou Williams hurts, but the arrival of Carroll moves Terrence Ross into Williams's spot and should improve the ball movement; Toronto was 24th in passes made last season, according to SportVU data. If Casey can squeeze more post production out of center Jonas Valanciunas (a perennial problem), Toronto could have its most balanced attack in years.
In addition to Carroll, the Raptors added shot-blocker Bismack Biyombo and pesky backup guard Cory Joseph. With a better D they should run away with the Atlantic Division—and maybe more.
A rival scout sizes up Toronto
On paper they're head and shoulders above the rest of the division—but that division is the worst in the league.... With Amir Johnson gone they'll use Patrick Patterson as a stretch four.... By signing DeMarre Carroll [four years, $60 million] they're looking to get more athletic. They basically have been a half-court team, grinding it out, playing inside-out. Now they want to play that small four, run it up and down, space the floor, use fewer sets and attack the rim.... DeMar DeRozan is an All-Star, no doubt about it, but he didn't play like one last year with the [groin] injury. It's his contract year and he's in the big-money range, so I assume he'll come back in great shape.... After the All-Star break they fell apart. Kyle Lowry had been their best player; after the break and in the playoffs he was just terrible. They needed to address that position, and I think they might have by bringing in Cory Joseph.... Jonas Valanciunas needs to take another step. He's been very average since he came into the league. He's a big body, he takes up space, he can lean in and defend big guys. But they throw the ball in to him and he's not making shots. I don't think they addressed that with Bismack Biyombo, who is—I don't want to say awful, but he's got the worst hands in the league.... Luis Scola has a little bit left in his tank [at 35]. He's a great role model, and he'll bring a lot of credibility to that locker room. He leads by example. I think that was a pretty good pickup as a backup four. But then again: Luis is not a good defender.
COACH DWANE CASEY
(5th season with Raptors)
2014--15 RECORD 49--33
(1st in Atlantic)
PG KYLE LOWRY
17.8 PPG; 6.8 APG; 41.2 FG%; 33.8 3FG%
SG DEMAR DEROZAN
20.1 PPG; 4.6 RPG; 3.5 APG; 41.3 FG%
SF DEMARRE CARROLL*
12.6 PPG; 5.3 RPG; 48.7 FG%; 39.5 3FG%
PF PATRICK PATTERSON
8.0 PPG; 5.3 RPG; 44.9 FG%; 37.1 3FG%
C JONAS VALANCIUNAS
12.0 PPG; 8.7 RPG; 1.2 BPG; 57.2 FG%
SG TERRENCE ROSS
9.8 PPG; 2.8 RPG; 41.0 FG%; 37.2 3FG%
PG CORY JOSEPH*
6.8 PPG; 2.4 APG; 2.4 RPG; 50.4 FG%
PF LUIS SCOLA
9.4 PPG; 6.5 RPG; 1.3 APG; 46.7 FG%
Offensive rating by Kyle Lowry in the playoffs—a 25% decline from the regular season. He shot 31.6% in a first-round loss to the Wizards.
CLAUS ANDERSEN/GETTY IMAGES