By: Scott Brock-Wilson and Justin Lynch
As we close out the bottom half of the league, number 16 and 15 are revealed.
Click on the previous sets of rankings to view them:
#30 and #29
#28 and #27
#26 and #25
#24 and #23
#22 and #21
#20 and #19
#18 and #17
16. Toronto Raptors
Last Season: 49-33, First Round Loss (4th in East)
Key Offseason Acquisitions: DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Luis Scola, Delon Wright, Anthony Bennett
Key Offseason Losses: Greivis Vasquez, Tyler Hansbrough, Lou Williams, Amir Johnson, Landry Fields, Chuck Hayes
Projected Starting 5:
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: DeMarre Carroll
PF: Patrick Patterson
C: Jonas Valanciunas
Key Role Players:
1. Terrence Ross
2. Luis Scola
3. Cory Joseph
SBW Season Outlook:
The Raptors signed Carroll, the most underrated player on a 60 win team, to a four year 58 million dollar deal. Toronto needed defense and that is why they were originally attracted to Carroll. It is something that the Raptors have never had at the wing position (sorry DeRozan and Ross). But, just because his defense is so good doesn’t mean it overshadows his offense by that much. Last year he shot close to 40% from three and was 15th in the league in true shooting percentage at 60.3. Shooting, like defense translates to any team without much adjustment time.
However, the new offense will take time to adjust for Carroll. The Raptors ran the 4th most Isolation plays out of any team last year (only behind the Cavs, Pelicans, and Lakers). Considering they don’t have one true superstar that is an astonishing stat. Carroll comes from one of the least selfish teams with one of the highest assist ratios, so he will need to mesh with the new system. This may be difficult for Carroll who is not the most proficient driver. Generally speaking, the more dribbles he takes, the worse his percentages get.
Joseph was the Raptors’ other big free agency signing this offseason (4yr/$29 million). This was a risky move that is paying for his potential. Joseph has never played more than 18 minutes per game in his entire career, but he has been studying and learning from one of the most astute point guards in the league in Tony Parker. The worry with Joseph is the usual worry when a Spurs’ player leaves for big money: what if he was just a product of the Popovich system? And this could be true, but after this year, we will know the answer for sure.
The man Joseph will be backing up is the most important piece to this team. The Raptors tend to run with Lowry’s performance. Lowry, the first-time all-star last year, averaged 17/6/4 this past season, nearly identical stats from the 2013-14 season. The Raptors have seem to be getting Lowry’s prime years, and there is no reason to believe that’ll stop this year. This year Lowry has more talent around him than ever before, especially depth wise, therefore, expect Lowry’s assist numbers to rise this year.
DeRozan was the Raptors leading scorer this past season with 20 points per game. He will get his points no matter what. As previously mentioned, he gets most of his points from isolation though. The addition of Carroll will aid DeRozan defensively because he won’t have to guard the opposing team’s best wing player. It will allow him to focus even more so on his offense, and ideally to be more efficient by improving on his FG% of 41% and 28% from behind the arc.
Valanciunas is an interesting story this year. He is entering the last year of his rookie contract, and after a player’s fourth year in the league, people tend to know what type of player he will be. Valanciunas needs to prove himself this year. He averaged a career high of 12 points last year, but once again failed to reach double digits in terms of rebounding. If he wants to show that he’s worth the extension, he will need to average a double double this year.
Overall, the Raptors got better this offseason not only with the additions of Carroll and Joseph, but also because they core group of players now have another year of experience playing together. But, as we have been saying all along, the East has gotten better this year as well. I expect the Raptors to sneak into the playoffs as either a seven or an eight seed.
JL Best-case scenario:
The offseason acquisitions pay off. Cory Joseph and DeMarre Carroll bring a new elements and depth to a formerly shallow team. Lowry is back in shape, and back to his 2013-14 form. Terrence Ross remembers how to play basketball and Patrick Patterson becomes deadly from deep. With great spacing around Jonas, he becomes a menace in the most, more than living up to his $64 million extension. The Raptors finish second in the East and breeze into the Conference Finals, where they lose in seven to the Cavs.
JL Worst-case scenario:
Even though Lowry is back in shape, he is on the back-nine of his career, and he shows it. It turns out that DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph were products of their efficient systems, and are not actually good NBA players. The Anthony Bennett experiment fails miserably, and Raptors are again left with no depth. DeRozan starts trying to do too much offensively. The post-all star Raptors from last year return and we see them fall out of the playoff hunt. They finish 10th in the East and draft towards the bottom of the lottery. DeRozan bails in free agency, and the Raptors have a funky composition of talent, stuck in between building around Lowry, Carroll, and Jonas or blowing the whole thing up.
Projected Record: 43-39
15. Washington Wizards
Last Season: 46-36, Second Round Loss
Key Offseason Acquisitions: Kelly Oubre Jr., Jared Dudley, Alan Anderson
Key Offseason Losses: Paul Pierce, Will Bynum, Kevin Seraphin, Rasual Butler
Projected Starting 5:
PG: John Wall
SG: Bradley Beal
SF: Otto Porter
PF: Nene Hilario
C: Marcin Gortat
Key Role Players:
1. Jared Dudley
2. Martell Webster
3. Ramon Sessions, Gary Neal
SBW Season Outlook:
The loss of Pierce will not affect this team in the regular season as much as some may think. Everyone remembers his game winning (and near-buzzer-beater) shots from the playoffs last year. However, Pierce only played 26 minutes and averaged 12 points. His leadership in the playoffs is what will be missed. But, when speaking of the regular reason, Pierce’s production is certainly replaceable.
The man that will be mostly responsible for filling that gap will be Porter. Last season he didn't play 20 minutes a game (19mpg) or even come close to averaging double digits in points (6ppg), so how can they expect him to fill Pierces void? Because in the playoffs he averaged 33 minutes, 10 points and eight boards. Yes, most of this production was due to the small lineup with Pierce and Porter playing the three and the four, which they won't be able to do this year, but even so, Porter showed potential.
Their inability to go to the small lineup with surely hurt them, especially because that means more minutes for Nene and Gortat. They are two old, slow, and overpaid big men who do not have shooting range and can’t seem to change with the evolving nature of the league. When they are on the floor together, there is not spacing and no versatility.
If the spacing isn’t good offensively, one would at least hope that those two gave the Wizards an advantage defensively, but that’s far from the case as well. With a lot of the small fours around the league now-a-days teams like to constantly switch defensively. That is not an option for the Wizards. Why? Nene has no lateral quickness. Since Washington is paying them around 13 million each this year, they will both get their minutes even though that isn’t the best thing for the team.
I don’t know how it is possible that i’ve gone this long without mentioning the two studs of this team. Wall is a top five point guard in the NBA, and Beal is quickly rising towards that category for shooting guards. This is probably the best guard combination of any team in the NBA besides the Warriors. Wall averaged a double double last year (one of only two point guards to do so) while Beal shot over 40% from three for the second straight year. We all know how good Wall is, but this is the year I am expecting Beal to take a big jump.
Beal is entering his fourth season. He needs to decide if he is going to be a star, or just a good starter. His PPG, AST, and PER all saw a slight (very slight) drop this past season. He cannot repeat that performance this year. To be fair, Beal was out to start the year due a fracture in his wrist that occurred during a preseason game, and that definitely hurt his progression. He seems to be healthy going into this year though, so I am expecting big things.
Injuries always seem to be the issues for the Wizards. Whether it’s Wall, Beal, Nene, Gortat, Webster, it seems as though they can never all be healthy at once. Most likely (hopefully) this will be the last year for these players together. They need to stay healthy.
The Wizards will be very streaky this season and will struggle with Nene and Gortat up front, but ultimately Wall and Beal will carry them to a middle seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
JL Best-case scenario:
They finally get through the season without any injuries. John Wall proves that he’s a top-5 point guard and Bradley Beal finally realizes the potential we all saw his rookie year. Otto Porter breaks out as a small-ball four, while Jared Dudley has new life as the three in Washington. The trio of Beal, Dudley, and Porter is among the best shooting in the NBA and John Wall has a field day driving and dishing to open shooters. The Wizards finish top-4 in the East, and claw through two round of playoff basketball. They come up just short against the Cavaliers in the Conference Finals, but show enough potential to lure Durant from OKC. The Wizards max out Durant and immediately have the best starting five in the NBA.
JL Worst-case scenario:
The Otto Porter experiment fails miserably and Beal again can’t stay healthy. John Wall has hit his ceiling, and though still effective, does not improve on last year. Gortat and Nene can’t play together due to cramped spacing, and the team panic-trades Nene for a second rounder at the deadline. Dudley and Webster are finally washed up and the bench becomes non-existent. The Wizards grab the seven-seed and are extinguished by the Bulls in five games. Durant sees this sorry state of a team and decides to sign with division-rival Miami.
Projected Record: 44-38