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NBA Toronto Raptors

Toronto Raptors Will Compete For Eastern Conference Title In 2014-15 NBA Season

Toronto Raptors 2014 NBA Playoffs

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Last season, the Toronto Raptors increased their win total by 14 games from the previous season, one of the most shocking turnarounds in the 2013-14 NBA season. This upcoming season, nearly the same roster will be returning for Toronto, along with a few key additions, making the Raptors primed to compete for the Eastern Conference title next season.

During the offseason, point guards Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez and power forward Patrick Patterson became free agents. However, all three players decided to return to the organization, revealing that there is a strong sense of belief that something great is brewing in Toronto.

Certainly, last season’s drastic improvement speaks to the potential in Toronto. Still, many fans also fail to realize just how balanced Toronto was last season on both sides of the floor. The Raptors, along with only the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers, ranked in the top 10 in both defensive and offensive efficiency.

For the Raptors, the point guard position presents one of Toronto’s biggest strengths, boasting the services of both Lowry and Vasquez. Last season, Lowry was the only player to average at least 17 points, seven assists and 4.5 rebounds per game, an astonishing feat that has gone shockingly unrecognized.

Furthermore, Vasquez was productive in his limited playing time last year. Vasquez, like Lowry, has the ability to fill the stat sheet, tallying 15.9 points, 6.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds per 36 minutes last season. Both Lowry and Vazquez have the ability to score from behind the arc, and both players contribute in numerous other areas including passing and rebounding.

At shooting guard, Terrence Ross is an up-and-coming three-point shooter, however, other parts of his game leave a lot to be desired. Ross is far from a playmaker, averaging only one assist per game last season, and his 42.3 percent field goal percentage demonstrates that he has major problems scoring efficiently as well. Still, the 23 year old has time to take his game to the next level, a development that could propel the Raptors to an NBA title.

Behind Ross, recently acquired Lou Williams will provide the Raptors, the seventh best shooting team from deep last season, with even more shooting prowess. Williams also provides Toronto with playmaking off of the bench, a luxury the Raptors were lacking from the shooting guard position last season.

At the small forward position, DeMar DeRozan broke out offensively last season, producing 22.7 points per game, which ranked ninth in the entire league. The Raptors’ star has also shaped into a respectable two-way player, possessing the capability of defending the perimeter at a high-level as well.

Along with Williams, the Raptors are also adding James Johnson, a low-key move this offseason who has the potential to pay large dividends for the team. Like several other Raptor teammates, Johnson can impact the game in several areas. His per 36 numbers of 14.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists with the Memphis Grizzlies last season demonstrate that he will fit right in with Toronto’s versatile lineup.

In the frontcourt, Jonas Valanciunas displayed improvement in his second year in the NBA, nearly averaging a double-double in 28.2 minutes of play per game. Valancuinas provides the Raptors with a strong low-post presence who can finish at the rim and alter shots defensively. Valanciunas will be accompanied by Amir Johnson once again, an athletic power forward with respectable size and strength down low.

Additionally, Patterson returns to Toronto as one of best stretch fours in NBA. Patterson shot 36.4 percent from behind the arc last season and 46 percent from the field, and his perimeter-oriented game meshes perfectly with the likes of Valanciunas and Johnson.

Undoubtedly, Toronto was a relatively inexperienced three seed last year in the NBA playoffs. The team’s first-round matchup against the Brooklyn Nets presented a challenging task for the Raptors because the Nets were filled with veteran leadership and playoff experience from top to bottom.

Even though the Cleveland Cavaliers remain the most talked about team this offseason, the Raptors now possess a roster capable of competing with LeBron James and company. Simply, the Raptors have the offensive and defensive weapons to give Cleveland fits, and Toronto’s continuity is a major weapon the team has over the Cavaliers.

After gaining much-needed experience in last year’s playoffs, the Raptors are ready to compete for the Eastern Conference title in the upcoming season. Although Toronto has gone under the radar once again this offseason, their roster continuity and bench additions will allow the team to make serious noise very soon.

Nicholas Sciria is a San Antonio Spurs writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Nick_Sciria, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.