Toronto Raptors preview: Dwane Casey helms rebuilding effort

Kevin C. Cox

After a rough first year, the former Mavs assistant now has some talent to play with in his second year as the Raptors head coach.

Scott Campsall is a staff writer for RaptorsHQ, SB Nation's Raptors team blog. You can follow him on Twitter at Scott Campsall. Head over to his site for Willie Funk's answers to a few of his questions about the Mavs.

How popular is basketball in Canada? Obviously hockey is #1, but where does hoops rank in comparison to football, soccer and baseball?

That is a tough question. I think that hoops is certainly on the rise in Canada, especially with the recent influx of Canadian talent making their way to the college and pro ranks. Recently Canada got their own basketball league - the NBL - as well, so it is definitely growing in popularity.

Currently, I would put hoops about on par with baseball, just ahead of football and soccer.

There have been a lot of changes to this team this off-season. What are the expectations like for this season and do you think the franchise is going in the right direction?

The team has undergone quite a change in personnel, but over the course of the past few seasons, it has also undergone a great deal of change in terms of attitude and style of play. This is due in large part to Dwane Casey, who has successfully transformed this team from one of the worst defensive clubs, to a rather strong team on that end of the floor. the team is also much tougher, and will not be an easy out against any team this season.

Having said all that, this is a team that has a legitimate shot at making the playoffs this season. I fully expect them to compete for the 8th spot and finish somewhere between 10th and 7th in the Eastern Conference.

Kyle Lowry's stats through the first three games are fairly eye-popping. Do you think he could contend for an All-Star spot this season?

Kyle Lowry has played out of his mind in the first three games of the season and has completely changed the dynamic of the team on both ends of the floor. In my opinion, he was the Eastern Conference player of the week.

Anyway, if he is able to keep up these numbers, he will have a shot at being an All-Star. But, I wouldn't bet on it - the Eastern Conference is loaded with point guards (Rondo and Deron Williams come to mind) so he will have stiff competition. If the Raptors are somehow above .500 by the All-Star break though, the coaches decision could be rather interesting.

** Note: Lowry sprained his ankle last night against the Thunder and will not play against the Mavs.

How has Jonas Valanciunas looked through the pre-season and the first few games? Especially in comparison to college guys, there's a bit of an air of mystery around him.


Fans in Toronto have been awaiting Valanciuns' arrival since he was selected with the 5th overall pick in the 2011 draft. Hype surrounding the seven foot Lithuanian has slowly built in anticipation of his NBA debut and when his debut finally came in the preseason, he was every bit as good as advertised. He is extremely athletic and he uses that athleticism to his advantage on both ends of the floor. He runs the floor extremely well, and has a great motor. And, perhaps most importantly, he wants to learn and work hard to improve, which is all you can ask out of a kid his age.

Granted, he hasn't exactly set the world on fire in his three games in the regular season so far, but if you take into consideration that he was matched up with Roy Hibbert, Brook Lopez and Nikolai Pekavic, the struggles were to be expected.

Wednesday's game will be the fourth in five nights for Toronto. Do you expect

Dwayne Casey to go deeper into his rotation in Dallas, and if so, who are the guys worth watching, if any, at the end of his bench?

This stretch, and the game against Dallas in particular, will be an interesting test for this team. A great deal of their success thus far this season has been predicated on their energy level defensively, and their ability to create turnovers. Obviously, this will be tested during these back-to-back games.

I am not sure exactly how far Casey will dip into his rotation, but I do expect certain guys off of the bench to see extended minutes.

John Lucas III is a player to look out for. He is currently the third string point guard, but Casey likes to play him off of the ball at the two a little bit because, when he catches fire, he can really go off. He is a guy that will be crucial in a game like this, when the legs start to go and jumpers aren't falling. Also watch out for Dominic McGuire who Casey will use as a defensive stopper if one of Dallas' perimeter players begins to get on a roll.

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