The Toronto Raptors played at the second slowest pace in the NBA last season, but they still managed to put up points in the dead middle of the pack (102.7 points per game) while playing solid defense so they had a league fifth best plus/minus of +4.5 points. Head coach Dwane Casey maintains it’ll be defense first again this season and he isn’t worried about scoring. “We’ll score,” Casey explained after a recent preseason practice and one look at this Raptors roster suggests they’ll score more than last season unless the injury bug bites them hard again this time.
In the Raptors starting unit of 2015-16, center Jonas Valanciunas missed 22 games, small forward DeMarre Carroll missed 56 games and the 35-year-old power forward Luis Scola started 76 games as his team’s best starting option at his position.
The Raptors blew through these issues somewhat seamlessly, but likely impact of injuries to starters and Scola on their scoring isn’t that hard to see.
The stone-fisted Bismack Biyombo was a solid replacement for Valanciunas in the starting line-up, but he he averaged 7.2 points as a starter versus 12.9 points for Valanciunas.
Carroll averaged 11.9 points as a starter, but more importantly spread the floor with 5 three-point attempts as one of the Raptors best three-point shooters. Veteran forward James Johnson stepped in for 32 starts, but he only averaged 5.9 points and 1.5 cringe-worthy three-point attempts per game. Rookie Norman Powell eventually won the job and started 24 times (almost all after the All-Star break) and averaged a solid 10.1 points and 3.2 three-point attempts while shooting 46.1 percent from three. Powell doesn’t have Carroll’s experience or size, but he sure makes that Raptors bench look a lot stronger heading into this season.
As much as everyone would have liked a stronger starting power forward than Scola, the veteran was pretty effective averaging 8.7 points and spreading the court with 2.1 three-point attempts and hitting over 40 percent of them. Still, newcomer Jared Sullinger is bigger, younger and forced his way into the Celtics starting lineup over several bodies put in his way before the season started. In his 73 starts with Boston, Sullinger averaged 10.2 points and 8.5 rebounds. He only shot just over one three-ball per game, but like Scola last season, the potential to become a three-point threat is there.
The other scoring aspects of this year’s roster are:
1) Valanciunas, third on Toronto in scoring last season, is expected to play significantly more minutes this year.
2) Sullinger is also expected to play significant minutes at center where he’ll be a much more effective offensive player than Biyombo could ever hope to be.
3) Lowry, coming off a career year, is heading into a contact year that should/will land him a deal in the $130-150 million range. Look for the Raptors’ leader to have an even bigger year this time around.
For purely fantasy purposes, a quick look at the Raptors projected nine man rotation using last year’s stats illustrates why Casey isn’t worried about scoring.
Kyle Lowry 77 games, 21.2 points, 4.7 rebounds
DeMar DeRozan 78 games, 23.5 points, 4.5 rebounds
DeMarre Carroll 26 games, 11 points, 4.7 rebounds
Jared Sullinger 81 games, 10.3 points, 8.3 rebounds
Jonas Valanciunas 60 games, 12.8 points, 9.1 rebounds
Terrence Ross 73 games, 9.9 points, 2.5 rebounds
Norman Powell* 25 games, 9.6 points, 3.4 rebounds
Cory Joseph 80 games, 8.5 points, 2.6 rebounds
Patrick Patterson 79 games, 6.9 points, 4.3 rebounds
Totals: 113.7 points, 44.1 rebounds (last season 102.7, 43.4)
* Powell post All-Star break
The biggest fly in the fantasy numbers will be Casey trying to find minutes to develop players like Lucas Nogueira, Jacob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and Delon Wright. The reality is there isn’t enough minutes available to give the nine guys in the rotation all the time they should be getting and are expected to earn this season – unless someone gets hurt.