3. The progression of Jonas Valanciunas. It’s not all doom and gloom for Raptors fans. The most exciting thing to watch will likely be the development of Valanciunas, their young center. The fifth pick in the 2011 draft showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie season. But it was his MVP performance in the Las Vegas Summer League that really turned heads.
If Valanciunas stays healthy, this season could represent a breakout campaign and would give the Raptors their first elite big man since Antonio Davis. (With obvious apologies to Rafael Araujo.)
4. The progression of Terrence Ross. Toronto’s other recent lottery pick is Ross, an athletic wing and another player fans will be watching this season. While his rookie season didn’t prove to be as big of an on-court success as that of Valanciunas, Ross still had his moments, including an exciting win in the Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend.
However, Ross’ recent Summer League performance could be classified as invisible at best. Pistons big Andre Drummond, drafted right after Ross in 2012, continues to cast a long shadow.
Should Ross take a big step forward, it could push management to move one of the larger wing contracts (Gay, DeMar DeRozan). But if Ross struggles, he could easily find himself being used as trade bait in an effort to shake up the roster.
5. The Point Guard Situation. Last season, the Raptors looked to have a dynamic 1-2 punch at the point with pass-first Jose Calderon backing up ever-in-attack-mode Kyle Lowry. Unfortunately that combination never materialized due to injuries to Lowry and his rocky relationship with the coaching staff, issues that eventually saw him sit in favor of Calderon.
Calderon’s expiring contract was moved in the deal that landed Gay, so the show is Lowry’s and Lowry’s alone to run this season. Sure, he will have some backup options thanks to Ujiri’s offseason acquisitions of D.J. Augustin and rookie Dwight Buycks. But the bottom line is that it’s Lowry’s job to lose.
Considering his reputation with coaching staffs isn’t exactly stellar and the fact that Lowry is in a contract year, there are myriad reasons it is essential that Lowry gets his career back on track this season.
Adam Francis has been covering the Toronto Raptors since 2005 when he created RaptorsHQ.com, one of the web’s first NBA fan sites. Now part of SB Nation, RaptorsHQ has been an accredited member of the Raptors media since 2008. Adam’s work has been featured in MacLean’s Magazine, Dime, the National Post and on CBC TV. He suggested to David Stern that the NBA should create a version of soccer’s Champions’ League and is still alive to tell the tale. You can follow him on Twitter.