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Williams Brings Valuable Experience to Raptors’ Second Unit

The Raptors brought back last year’s core, and then added Lou Williams. Can he put Toronto over the top?

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The Toronto Raptors snapped a five-season playoff drought last year when they won 48 games and the Atlantic Division crown. Even though the Raptors were the only division winner in the league to notch less than 50 wins last season, the team still earned themselves lofty expectations heading into the 2014-15 season.

The league saw plenty of moves this past offseason, with many teams signing key free agents and improving through trades. Some big changes occurred in the Atlantic Division that will greatly impact Toronto. The New York Knicks hired head coach Derek Fisher to run the triangle offense and added Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Jason Smith, Shane Larkin, Quincy Acy and Cleanthony Early. The Boston Celtics acquired Marcus Smart, James Young, Evan Turner, Marcus Thornton and Tyler Zeller. The Brooklyn Nets hired Lionel Hollins and brought in Bojan Bogdanovic, Jarrett Jack, Cory Jefferson, Jerome Jordan, Sergey Karasev and Jorge Gutierrez.

With so many teams opting to make changes to their roster to remain competitive, the Raptors didn’t feel any pressure to make any drastic transactions. The biggest move of the offseason for the Raptors was re-signing Kyle Lowry to a four-year, $48 million deal. In addition to re-signing Lowry, the team also re-signed Greivis Vasquez to a two-year deal and Patrick Patterson to a three-year deal.

With that said, Toronto did make one significant outside addition when they executed a trade in June that brought in veteran swingman Lou Williams from the Atlanta Hawks. The 28-year-old should strengthen the Raptors’ bench, as he has been a Sixth Man of the Year candidate when healthy.

“I was excited about it because I already knew what they were bringing to the table,” Williams told Basketball Insiders when asked about joining the Raptors. “I watched the playoff series that they had with Brooklyn so I already kind of understood what I was getting myself into. I was excited because some of the best years that I’ve had, I’ve had it with young teams and up-and-coming guys. DeMar [DeRozan] was an All-Star last year, Kyle should have been an All-Star and [with] [Terrence] Ross, James [Johnson] and these guys, I was excited to be a part of it.”

Despite winning the division title last year, Williams says the Raptors don’t feel the added pressure to repeat and advance deeper into the playoffs.

“There’s no pressure, it’s really not pressure,” Williams said. “These guys feel like they can win more than 48 games. So it’s only pressure when you think, ‘I have to get to 48 games.’ They feel like we should have won more than 48 games, so when you have that mindset there’s no pressure.”

The addition of Williams provides the Raptors with a viable scoring option off of the bench to help lead the second unit. Williams has made a living off of putting up points as a reserve, starting just 54 games out of a possible 557 over the course of his nine-year NBA career. The Raptors’ existing backcourt of Lowry and DeRozan forms one of the most promising in the league, but the duo has logged their fair share of minutes. Last season, Lowry averaged 36 minutes per game while DeRozan averaged 38 minutes per game. Now, with Vasquez and Williams behind them, Toronto shouldn’t need Lowry and DeRozan to do so much.

“It’s just going to be important, I think, with the success that they’ve had already just being a piece to add to that,” Williams said. “They’ve already had a 48-game win season last year and just to bring my experience in and my scoring to the table, I just feel that could help us out a little bit more.”

Williams’ best campaign came back during the 2011-12 season when he finished second in the Sixth Man of the Year voting after averaging 14.9 points, 3.5 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game for the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Raptors are certainly hoping that Williams can get back to that level. Following that season, Williams suffered a knee injury that limited him to just 39 games in his first year with the Hawks. Last year in Atlanta, Williams admitted that he wasn’t comfortable in the offensive game plan and averaged the third-lowest point total of his career as a result. While his time in Atlanta didn’t go as planned, his transition to the Raptors has gone well so far.

“It’s been smooth,” Williams said of his adjustment to Toronto. “We had eight games there in the preseason, where we could start nailing some camaraderie in and [I could] just build relationships with these guys.”

Toronto was already expected to be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference since they brought back last year’s core. Now, with Williams in the mix as well, the Raptors should be even better and capable of making even more noise come playoff time.

 

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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