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2015-16 NBA Preview: The Raptors Are Lucky They Play In An Awful Division

We’re inaugurating our NBA player projection system, CARMELO, with 2015-16 season previews for every team in the league. Check out the teams we’ve already previewed here. Learn more about CARMELO here.


Last season’s Toronto Raptors set a franchise record for wins for the second successive season — then exited the playoffs in the first round for the second successive season, leaving the franchise stuck at just one playoff series win in its 20-year history. So while standing pat this year might have sufficed to win the putrid Atlantic Division for the third straight season, Raptors management instead shook things up, adding new talent to complement a core of 20-somethings that includes Kyle Lowry and Patrick Patterson. The new Raptors, including DeMarre Carroll and Bismack Biyombo, should be particularly valuable in shoring up the team’s shaky defense, which was by far the worst in the postseason at preventing opponents from hitting shots. Toronto’s offense will remain its strength, though it’s not clear who leads the O and who will take the biggest shots: DeMar DeRozan, Toronto’s leading scorer last year, hits too low a percentage of his shots to be the star of a playoff team.

FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO thinks the Raptors will clear .500, but not by much, projecting them to go 44-38:

carmelo_depth_chart_RAPTORS

And here’s what’s in store for the key Raptors in 2015-16 (and beyond):

kyle-lowry

Kyle Lowry followed up an excellent 2013-14 season with a better showing to begin last season, as the Raptors started 24-7. But his production fell off dramatically in the second half of the season, and he shot dreadfully in the playoffs. Many of the guards CARMELO sees as most similar to Lowry had already peaked by his age.


demar-derozan

In a league enamored with dunks, layups and 3-pointers, DeMar DeRozan is a throwback — and not in a good way. He took 57 percent of his shots between 10 feet from the basket and the 3-point line last season — a career high — and hit a career-low 36 percent of them. He was Toronto’s only player to average 20 points per game, but also the least efficient scorer of any 20-point guy in the league. The Raptors need him to take better shots and share more of the offensive burden.


demarre-carroll

DeMarre Carroll is the priciest new Raptor, at $60 million over four years. His defense and efficient shooting should help. But none of his previous five NBA teams have asked him to take many shots, and those he has taken usually have been created for him. It’s unclear whether he’ll generate the kind of offense commensurate with a $15 million average annual salary.


patrick-patterson

If he can keep taking so many threes, and hitting them, Patrick Patterson will be a valuable kickout option.


jonas-valanciunas

Jonas Valanciunas is just 23 and has improved his scoring rate each year he has been in the league, but the careers of some of his most comparable big men never really took off.


terrence-ross

The team’s offseason upgrades could cost Terrence Ross playing time if he doesn’t show big improvement in his fourth season.


bismack-biyombo

Bismack Biyombo should improve Toronto’s shot-blocking, which ranked near the bottom of the NBA last season.

Read more: 2015-16 NBA Previews

Carl Bialik was FiveThirtyEight’s lead writer for news.

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