NBA back! To prepare for a new season, we’re breaking down one team per day, each day, until tipoff on October 17.
Team: Toronto Raptors
Coach: Dwane Casey (seventh season)
Last Season: 51-31 (third in the Eastern Conference)
Notable Addition: C.J. Miles (sign-and-trade), OG Anunoby (draft)
Notable Subtraction: Patrick Patterson (free agency), Cory Joseph (sign-and-trade)
Vegas Over/Under: 47.5 wins
Best-Case Scenario: The Raptors reach their first NBA Finals in franchise history.
Toronto has joined the NBA’s 3-point revolution, if preseason is any indication. Through Saturday morning, the Raptors have attempted 57.2 percent of their shots from 3-point range, which leads the NBA by a decimal point over the Rockets.
NBA teams this preseason are taking 35.9% of their shots from 3. Raptors & Rockets are above 57%. Last year's league rate was "only" 31.6%.— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) October 7, 2017
After playing prehistoric midrange ball that led to annual playoff skids for the past few seasons, the Raptors are finally playing contemporary basketball. It’s nice to see. They’re taking more 3s. They’re not settling for midrange jumpers early in the clock. They’re moving the ball, with 40 assists on 68 makes. The problem is Toronto is hitting only 27.6 percent of those 3s, compared to 42.3 percent for Houston. (Admittedly, we’re working with a teeny-tiny sample size.) The Raptors hit 36.3 percent of their 3s last season, so their shooting percentage should rise over the course of the actual season. They likely won’t continue jacking over half their shots from downtown, but from a process-oriented perspective, their preseason style of ball is encouraging.
Still, for the Raptors to achieve their best-case scenario, they’ll need to shoot the ball better. Kyle Lowry, C.J. Miles, and Serge Ibaka are the only consistently reliable 3-point shooters in their primary rotation. Someone on the team will need to have a surprise season.
Maybe that player is Norman Powell, who just got awarded a four-year, $42 million extension. Powell has shown flashes, especially in the past two playoffs, but has never put it together over the course of an 82-game regular season. Maybe that player is DeMar DeRozan, who must become more effective from behind the arc. Thus far this preseason it remains to be seen if he will. Maybe rookie forward OG Anunoby returns as a brand-spanking-new player and establishes himself as the obvious steal of the draft. Who knows?
The bottom line is that someone needs to step up offensively. Dwane Casey’s “culture reset,” if it even sustains into the season, won’t be enough.
Worst-Case Scenario: Toronto becomes notorious for launching 3s at a league-high rate despite having no real 3-point shooters. It’d be comedic, like playing playground basketball with your friends who insist on shooting from deep when they have no business shooting at all. The Raptors shot 40.8 percent from deep midrange last season (2-pointers taken from 16–24 feet) per NBA.com Stats, which equates to 0.82 points per shot. They’d need to shoot only 27.2 percent from 3 to match an expected points per shot of 0.82. It’d be like an experiment, since even just 30 percent from 3 would be a statistical increase in the Raptors’ scoring production.
Barring major injuries, the Raptors are going to be competitive. But if Miami or Milwaukee usurps them in the standings, taking home court advantage away from Toronto, it’d be a major disappointment, especially after they brought back the band. Under this scenario, DeRozan continues shooting a putrid rate from downtown. Powell doesn’t get any better. Bruno Caboclo stays two years away from being two years away. Nobody steps up as the backup point guard, with Joseph now in Indiana. The rest of the young guys don’t blossom. Lowry, now 31 years old, starts declining after signing a big-money deal this offseason. Maybe the short-term worst-case scenario results in Masai Ujiri deciding to blow it up, which could actually be the best-case scenario long-term.
TL;DR: The Raptors are launching 3s, but they’ll need to start hitting them for their new style to work.