It’s easy to forget because of the drama around the Rudy Gay trade and emergence of Kyle Lowry, but the Toronto Raptors were a top-10 defensive team in the 2013-14 season.
Last season, not so much. The Raptors finished 23rd in the NBA giving up 104.8 points per 100 possessions. They were 26th in opponent field goal percentage, 20th in opponent offensive rebounds allowed, and 19th in opponent assists allowed.
GM Massi Ujiri spent the summer trying to remake the Toronto roster into something better defensively — that started with landing free agent DeMarre Carroll, who gives them a quality perimeter defender (something Toronto lacked).
Raptors Coach Dwane Casey talked with John Schuhmann at NBA.com about the transition to more of a defensive-focused roster, starting with the pitch the team made to win Carroll over.
“We need you. You’re a defensive guy. We want to be a defensive team. We had been until last year. We moved from 30th [in defensive efficiency in 2010-11, the season before Casey was hired] to top 10, and then took a step back unwillingly. He’s a big part of us taking that next step. That was the pitch.”
How does Carroll change things?
“It’s going to help us, with the fact that DeMarre Carroll can guard his position. We’ve been getting by with Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan, who are really twos, playing the three and physically trying to go against bigger threes. Whether it’s been on the boards or guarding them, it’s been a challenge for those guys. I thought they did an admirable job two years ago, but it took a toll on us this past year, offensively and defensively. DeMarre gives us some size and physicality at that position.”
The Raptors, after a couple good regular seasons the last two years, have gotten slapped around in the playoffs. Carroll and the other roster changes — letting Lou Williams go, adding Bismack Biyombo — is an effort to put together a team that is better built for the playoffs.
Carroll is at the heart of that.
At the end of games, the trend is to go smaller. Threes are fours, fours are fives, and your roster has to fit that. Adding DeMarre gives us that flexibility. He can play some at the four, with Luis Scola or Patrick Patterson at the five. We’re better equipped to play that way now than we were a year ago.
The Raptors are going to win the Atlantic Division again, although looking at the roster it can bit a bit of a hollow victory. To take a significant step forward when it matters the Raptors will need a lot out of Lowry, and a lot more out of Jonas Valanciunas and the bench. Casey is a smart coach, with a season to figure it all out.