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Courtesy Keith Allison

Toronto Raptors bank on potential for improved 2015–16 campaign

By Grant Jackson, October 13 2015 –

Coming off a banner season that saw them post a franchise-best 49 victories, Canada’s lone NBA franchise, the Toronto Raptors, find themselves at a crossroads.

Last year, the Raptors saved their worst performances of the season for the playoffs. Despite a strong regular season, they were swept out of the postseason in the first round by the Washington Wizards. Following this embarrassing exit, the club’s General Manager, Masai Ujiri, decided to take the roster in a different direction.

As a result, the Raptors figure to play a decidedly different style this season, exchanging last year’s focus on isolated offensive sets for a newly minted defence-first approach.

The Raptors lost three key players in the offseason — Greivis Vazquez, Amir Johnson and Lou Williams.  Vazquez was a three-point threat whose offensive inconsistency and horrendous defence often left Raptors fans infuriated. 

Williams scored a respectable number of points for Toronto last year, but did so while providing the style of defence you might expect from a pylon.

The Raptors also said goodbye to Johnson, whose hustle and defensive skill made him a fan favourite. Despite his talent, health concerns forced the Raptors to let Johnson go.

Despite these question marks, the new-look Raptors squad has some legitimate potential. New acquisitions like DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph and Bizmack Biyombo promise a new focus on defense for the Raptors. 

Carroll was the prize of the Raptors’ offseason and promises to add two-way punch to what became an inconsistent lineup last year.  And veteran Luis Scola might be 35 years old — a senior citizen by NBA standards — but he is coming off of a great performance for his native Argentina at the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship tournament, where he was named MVP.

This team also has notable potential in rookies Delon Wright and summer league star Norman Powell.

Lastly, there’s newcomer and Toronto native Anthony Bennett. In two years, the 2013 draft’s first-overall pick has been traded twice and bought out once, all while posting the lowest points-per-game of any first-overall pick since 1966. But Bennett is only 22 and still has time to develop into a decent player.

While he may never be a superstar, Raptors fans can expect an athletic big man who can get up and down the floor, grab some rebounds and bring some energy off the bench.

I would have a hard time telling anyone that this Raptors team is significantly better then last year’s. They remain a club banking on their potential, which could just as easily end up being disastrous as exceptional.  But with a roster focused more on defence and ball movement, Toronto certainly has a good chance to continue the progress they have made over the last few seasons, and may soon become a legitimate Eastern Conference contender.

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