It is very apparent from the first two columns that we are high on the Toronto Raptors starting five going into this season. But lets not kid ourselves, this is not a Miami Heat or Oklahoma City Thunder-like core of veterans who have played with each other for a lot of games and have had playoff success. From the outside it would appear–and they could do much worse for a prototype–that they are building something of an Indiana Pacers model. We will discuss in a column next week the similarities that we see between the Raptors and the Pacers; however, a case can be made that Indiana’s downfall last year was that there was a lack of viable options behind the starting five, and a case could be made that the Raptors are headed for the same quandary when the season begins. Our most noteworthy depth concerns:
Anything behind Jonas Valanciunas: There were times last year when Valanciunas could not get into a rhythm because he would be called for early fouls and then have to leave for long stretches or play tentatively. This year, as the guy the Raptors want to run the offense through, it is crucial that Valanciunas is on the floor for 35 minutes a game. If backup Aaron Gray has to play extended minutes, wing players like DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay will have far fewer open looks, not that DeRozan should be taking an abundance of long jumpers anyway, but that was addressed at length last column. Gray simply does not command double teams. And while we are a big fan of the Tyler Hansbrough signing, he is a compliment to Jonas, certainly not a replacement for any stretch of time. Besides, he can be a bit of a black hole when he gets the ball on offense and he may feel that he needs to replace Valanciunas’s scoring when he is sitting. It will be an early season challenge to see how the offense operates when Jonas is out.
If Landry Fields and Terrence Ross are not consistent: Last season I went to a Minnesota Timberwolves game when they were hosting the Raptors. I had seats high enough that I could hardly make out the players, but a bank president pal was sitting courtside and overheard Fields, sent to the bench after a stretch of reasonably efficient instant offense, say, “Who’s coachin’ this team?” Humor aside, Fields seemed to have a legit gripe on that day. He will need to be good all year this season, giving consistent minutes at different spots on the floor. We really like him as a spark plug, as long as he is aware of what he is. He will need to be the consistent one off the bench, because wildly talented but painfully inconsistent Terrence Ross is the other option on the wing. The Raptors do not need him to play starter’s minutes, but he could be a wicked weapon, probably if he cuts down on the long range shots and uses his athleticism. General manager Masai Uriji wants him to attack the rim more, according to a Oct. 19 article in the Toronto Sun by Doug Smith. They feel he has a lot more to learn. Also, Steve Novak, acquired in the Andrea Bargnani deal, simply has to hit 3s. There is no reason to believe he will not. Depending upon how consistent Fields and Ross are, Novak could end up playing a bigger role than both.
If D.J. Augustin in 2013 is the same as D.J. Augustin in 2012: Self-explanatory here. Augustin was beyond dreadful last season. He shot 35 percent and went from a 12-6 guy in a prominent role to an absolute afterthought. They have unknown Dwight Buycks, but he should not be counted on to be Kyle Lowry‘s backup. Lowry’s ability to stay healthy is tenuous; Augustin needs to be ready to play and play well. This will be a situation to watch.
There is no reason to believe that this cannot be an adequate bench. They have talent there in Fields and Ross and a perfect energy guy in Hansbrough. If Hansbrough is forced into a major role we can concede that something has gone wrong; if Ross has, perhaps it is a sign that he has matured into a player that deserves to be a cornerstone.