NBA Off-Season Preview: Toronto Raptors
Record (56-26) The Toronto Raptors, who enjoyed their most successful season as a franchise in 2015-16, find themselves in an extremely rare position entering the 2016 NBA Draft. Thanks in part to a 2013 trade with the Knicks that sent former number-one overall pick Andrea Bargnani to New York, Toronto has the ninth pick in the upcoming draft. They are just the second team in the last 25 years to make the Conference Finals and subsequently own a top-10 draft pick. The Raptors also own the 27th overall pick. These high picks allow Toronto to better a team that just finished atop the Atlantic Division for the third straight season and won more than 50 games for the first time ever. They were the second seed in the Eastern Conference and won their first playoff series in 15 years before eventually appearing in their first ever Conference Finals. The Raptors were led by the one-two punch of shooting guard DeMar DeRozan and point guard Kyle Lowry. DeRozan, a two-time All-Star that averaged a career-best 23.5 points per game this season, recently opted out of the final year of his contract and has become a free agent. He was set to make just under $11 million this coming season. Lowry, who like DeRozan is a two-time All-Star and also averaged a career-high in points per game (21.2) this year, is expected to make $12 million this coming season before entering the last year of his contract in 2017-18. If Toronto can’t keep DeRozan, they’ll need another shooting guard of All-Star prestige to fill his spot. And while that player may not lie within the draft, the Raptors can use their two high draft choices, particularly the ninth pick, as bargaining chips for a potential big-name trade. The best players available with the ninth pick may end up being Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis and North Carolina’s Brice Johnson. Both are lengthy power forwards that may even be resourceful stretch-centers for teams that want to feature smaller lineups. Sabonis and his draft stock rose tremendously after his sophomore season with the Zags. He averaged a double-double this past year for the Bulldogs, scoring 17.6 points per game while hauling in a conference-leading 11.7 rebounds per game. Sabonis also had the best field goal percentage (61.1%) in the West Coast Conference. Johnson, a senior leader last year for the Tar Heels, has been on the NBA’s radar for a while now. The All-American led the NCAA runner-ups in scoring (17.0 PPG), rebounding (10.4 RPG) and blocks (59). He broke the single-season rebounding record at North Carolina with 416 and set a school record with 23 double-doubles last season. His impeccable leaping ability and athleticism make him an alluring pick. By the time the Raptors are on the clock for their 27th pick, however, the draft board will certainly be shaken up. Still, there will be trade-able assets available toward the end of the first round if Toronto chooses to select for that reason. Regardless which route Toronto goes, they must consider paying up-and-coming big man Bismack Biyombo more money this off-season and attempt to re-sign unrestricted free agents Luis Scola or James Johnson, both of whom contributed meaningful minutes off the bench this year.
NBA Off-Season Previews
Atlantic Division: Boston Celtics – Brooklyn Nets – New York Knicks – Philadelphia 76ers – Toronto Raptors Central Division: Chicago Bulls – Cleveland Cavaliers – Detroit Pistons – Indiana Pacers – Milwaukee Bucks Southeast Division: Atlanta Hawks – Charlotte Hornets – Miami Heat – Orlando Magic – Washington Wizards Southwest Division: Dallas Mavericks – Houston Rockets – Memphis Grizzlies – New Orleans Pelicans – San Antonio Spurs Northwest Division: Denver Nuggets – Minnesota Timberwolves – Oklahoma City Thunder – Portland Trail Blazers – Utah Jazz Pacific Division: Golden State Warriors – Los Angeles Clippers – Los Angeles Lakers – Phoenix Suns – Sacramento Kings