As a new writer here at HoopsHabit, I figured we should start with the monthly State of the Squad, that squad being–of course–the Toronto Raptors.
There are questions abound, but there seems to be an air of inevitability that things will turn out all right this time. That seems to be stemming from the hiring of last season’s Executive of the Year, Masai Ujiri. By the talk, one would think that Toronto was just able to steal Phil Jackson away. But there is optimism and that is more than they or their fans have had in awhile, so I suppose Ujiri has done his job already.
One of Ujiri’s first moves was to rid the team of Andrea Bargnani. His value was almost nonexistent around the league, as he was viewed as a volume shooter with little skill as a rebounder and little effort as a defender. His 18 points per game were as empty as any player in the league. However, Ujiri was able to siphon three picks, including a first-rounder in 2016. It is viewed in the organization as addition by subtraction.
We will discuss how Ujiri plans to put his fingerprint on this team in later columns, but for now, he does seem to have some talent to work with.
What we are a big fan of: Jonas Valanciunas. I’ve loved him since minute one. He is one of the few European big men who likes to mix it up inside and wants to initiate contact. The Raptors have essentially replaced their former franchise cornerstone with his exact opposite. Coach Dwane Casey admitted that he may have thrown too much at Valanciunas early last season and pulled back on the reins a bit during the winter. As the end of the season came on, he let Jonas loose again and had to be thrilled with what he saw: 11 points and seven rebounds in March; almost 15 points in April. If this is any indication of Valanciunas’s progression as a legit NBA center, he has to be considered the man to build around in this organization. I assume Ujiri sees the same.
DeMar DeRozan: Every year people seem to ask whether this is the year that DeRozan establishes himself and reaches his potential. I hate that term. I happen to think that DeRozan’s “potential” is a prime Tracy McGrady. Not many players reach their “full potential” and there is nothing wrong with that. DeRozan is a very good NBA player and getting better. His athleticism is otherworldly and he can score. He also wants to lead the turnaround in Toronto and is doing everything he can to take his game to another level so that his team can make the playoffs for the first time in his career. It is detailed nicely here: DeRozan determined to spark turnaround in key year for Raptors.
Tyler Hansbrough: His game can be painful to watch at times, but there is no doubt that he improves the team he is on. High energy and toughness rubs off on people. Combine that with Kyle Lowry‘s fiery personality and it could be an ideal remedy to cure the culture of complacency and losing.
What we are not as big a fan of: Rudy Gay‘s potential trade value if things start badly. The Raptors are optimistic, but if they underwhelm, Rudy Gay will be the piece they shop. There was a report over the summer that the Detroit Pistons offered a couple of expiring contracts for Gay, but were denied. No one is going to be looking to unload reasonably high draft picks in the “super draft” of 2014, so perhaps all the Raptors could expect to receive are expiring contacts or other underwhelming assets. Hopefully this does not have to become a consideration.
Let’s hope that by next month’s State of the Squad, Jonas has started out confident and strong, DeMar is showing us a little Tracy McGrady, and, most importantly, there is excitement in the building. Winning games can do crazy things.