Matthew Tynan said it well in the previous entries of his prediction series, so I won't waste too many words on an intro as I fill in for this one. To summarize in somewhat topical terms though, our hankering for online NBA content has reached Badger Mayhew-like proportions and the itch only gets greater as the opening tip to the season approaches. Really, team predictions are a fun way to take a micro look at each club and see what we can expect from them in 2013-2014.
The Toronto Raptors
Prediction: Steve Novak will finish the season in the top 3 in 3 pointers made
Look, it's the Raptors. The most wins they've ever had in a season is 47, (to compare, the Spurs have won more than 47 games in every non-shortened season since 1997) and this year won't be among their better ones, despite possessing a decent amount of talent and athleticism.
The team had some success after their trade for Rudy Gay and finished the season out strong; a playoff berth isn't out of the question, but the East is a bit too open to put them in the postseason and I don't think anyone - not even the Raptors - would drop their poutine at the thought of an 8 seed. Toronto's in a division that'll sport two of the league's best teams (Brooklyn and NYK) and two of its worst (Philly and Boston). Expect them to see how their season's going and decide whose lead to follow around the trade deadline.
At this point, we know what to expect from Rudy Gay, who has admitted that analytics and crazy computers won't stop him from being a dreadfully inefficient offensive player. He'll further serve as a bad example for Demar Derozan, a similarly lengthy and athletic wing who doesn't shoot particularly well.
With more time to jell with his teammates, point guard Kyle Lowry should have a better year. He'll have some stretches where he puts up gaudy numbers -- he always does -- but he hasn't put together a healthy season since 07-08. Valanciunas should also show improvement, but I'll get to him later.
That brings me to one-time Spur Steve Novak, who came to Toronto along with Marcus Camby and Quentin Richardson in the trade that finally rid the Raptors of the Big Linguini. With Camby and Richardson already gone, Novak is now the only holdover from the trade. He may have fallen out of favor a bit in New York, but in 2011-12 he led the league in three-point field goal percentage and if coach Dwayne Casey is smart he'll let Novak loose next year.
Someone on this team needs to open up the lane for Gay, Lowry and Derozan, as well as keep defenses from doubling down on Valanciunas. In fact, someone just needs to shoot threes, and there is no one else really in Toronto. Have a look at these three-point percentages from last year:
Demar Derozan: 28.3%
Rudy Gay: 32.3%
Terrence Ross: 33.2%
Austin Daye: 34.5%
DJ Augustin*: 35.3%
Kyle Lowry: 36.2%
*acquired as a FA this summer
Looking at those numbers, it's no surprise that Toronto was among the league's worst three-point shooting teams last year, hitting only 34% of long balls. They'll want to remedy that if they want to remain competitive next year.
"Novakaine" is a lights-out threat who can make defenses pay for cheating. He's a career 43.6% three-point shooter and especially loves the corners, where he should be able to feast as his ball-dominant teammates draw the attention from opposing teams.
What might keep Novak from seeing the floor more is the money tied up in Toronto's two wings, Gay and Derozan. In addition, the team is invested in last year's eighth overall draft pick, Ross. Yet, only Novak possesses his particular skill set, and it shouldn't take long for him to carve out his niche in the Great White North. Regardless of what Toronto's goals are this year, I expect him to play a bigger part than people think next season.
Other Raptors predictions:
Jonas Valanciunas wins Most Improved Player (6 to 1)
I considered giving an MIP nod to Valanciunas for this article. The second-year player had a big offseason, taking home Vegas Summer League MVP honors, and is apparently looking beefier and more aggressive than last year. The main thing standing in Valanciunas' way (and mine, for this article's purposes) will be his ability to stay out of foul trouble. At just under 24 minutes per game, the rookie averaged 3 fouls a game.
Raptors acquire Steve Nash midseason (8 to 1)
This one's been talked about a few times, and it makes sense, especially since Toronto tried so hard to lure Nash there last year. Depending on the Lakers' outlook this season and beyond, this trade could work for both sides, as the Lakers look to the future and the Raptors bring home a national hero. Yet, Nash is also the oldest player in the league, and LA wouldn't want to sacrifice any cap flexibility moving forward.
Demar Derozan is traded (10 to 1)
Derozan is an athletic guy who averaged over 18 points a game last year. He gets to the rim well, and hits free throws at a good clip. Yet, he fails to really move the needle because he's not a particularly good defender and he can't shoot threes. He also has last year's draft pick Terrence Ross playing behind him, another tall shooting guard who can actually shoot threes. The Raptors don't seem too crazy about trading Derozan at this point and, with his $9.5 million salary for the next three years, many teams aren't, either.
Tyler Hansbrough becomes hometown favorite for the next 10 years (15 to 1)
This is partially to piss off my Canadian friend who hates Psycho T more than anything, but mostly because I think Hansbrough will find a home in Toronto, a city that always clings to at least one hard-nosed big as if he's the last whale's tail at the bakery. Reggie Evans, Aaron Gray and Amir Johnson have all endeared themselves to Raptors fans in recent years, and Hansbrough fits the mold perfectly. If I were a betting man, I'd parlay this wager with my friend disowning his hometown team for good (currently paying at 30 to 1) and go laughing all the way to the bank.
What do you expect from the Raptors this year? Do you expect them to contend for a playoff spot or to be more like six-foot turkeys? Comment below.
Statistics provided by Basketball Reference.