Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Toronto Raptors Season Preview

Being the only person here who gives a spit about the Raptors and their success, I figured I would take it upon myself to talk about the god-awful team I love and adore the most. The Raptors, as a franchise, have been in existence for 16 years now, and really, only two of them have been memorable. They've made the playoffs on five occasions, and have only made it out of the first round once. After treading water with Chris Bosh, the team has finally delved into a full-blown rebuilding mode, finishing 22-60 last season. The year ahead doesn't hold that much more promise, though there are some glimmers of hope. Alas, a breakdown:

What to Expect:

A lot of ugly blowout losses, interspersed with several surprisingly competitive games against superior competition, a theme that has been prevalent throughout the Dino's existence. The Raptors, if nothing else, are going to go out and give it their all every single game, as they roster a lot of young, athletic players, and have a solid coaching staff lead by Dwane Casey that preaches grittiness and defense. Unfortunately, that's really about all I can say for this team, as there simply isn't enough talent on the floor on any given night for them to be anything more than a team that tries hard. The best players on the team are, in order, Demar Derozan, Ed Davis, Jose Calderon, Amir Johnson, and, sadly, Andrea Bargnani; a list of names that, while decent, doesn't exactly inspire fear in opponents minds. Aside from those five, the Raptors added an entire starting five of mostly useless, minimum-contract worthy scrubs such as Rasual Butler and Jamal Magloire, to help them in their quest for a top five selection in next years loaded draft. Effectively, this is a team that is going to try and hard and tell it's fans that they aren't tanking, even though they don't really have much choice in the matter.

Players to watch for:

Not all is doom and gloom for Raptors fans, however, as there are still several young and exciting players on the roster (and one overseas) worth taking note of.

Demar Derozan: The most prized draft pick by the franchise in years started to really come into his own last season, becoming a more focal point of a mostly stagnant Raptors offense. Derozan is far and away one of the most athletic players in the league, and he can certainly pull you out of your seat with some of the dunks and mid-air adjustments he's able to make. He showed a decent knack for getting to the line, registering 5 trips per 36 minutes, a number that should increase as he gains more experience and knowledge of the game and his opponents; Derozan was also able to connect on 81% of his free throw attempts. Derozan is careful and efficient with the ball, limiting his turnovers and rarely taking any bad shots or trying to do things out of his element. While he still has a ways to go in terms of his rebounding (disturbingly low rebounding percentage, even for a guard) and generating assists, the 22-year old hasn't given anyone reason to believe he won't continually improve his game.

Ed Davis: After missing the first 17 games to injury last year, Davis came onto the scene and was really one of the more pleasant rookie surprises from last season. Davis is a tenacious post defender with a knack for blocking and altering shots, and also showed great aggressiveness on the glass, with just over half his rebounding output coming on the offensive side. While his offensive game is mostly limited to put-backs and the occasional close-range jumper, looking at his monthly splits shows great improvement as the season progresses, as by April, Davis is playing starters minutes and averaging 13 and 9 on 57% shooting. Expect Davis to get a bulk of minutes thrown his way this season, though one concern among coaches has been his conditioning, as he seems to still have a little baby fat on him.

Jonas Valancunias: Okay, sad is it that I've already run out of players on the actual roster to watch out for? Yeah, being a Raptors fan is the pits. However, this young man here gives me great hope for the future; the first potentially legitimate centre the Raptors have had since...well, ever. The fifth overall selection in last years draft won't play for Toronto this year, but should be on the court for 2013 barring any sort of setback. Based on the limited action I've seen of Jonas in Europe, he looks almost akin to a European version of Tyson Chandler; a raw athlete with leaping ability who can block shots, grab boards, and throw it down with authority. Scouting reports suggest he's foul prone and liable to make poor decisions defensively, like trying for the huge block instead of the smart play, but he's only 19-years old and those skills will be learned. Overall, Jonas projects to be a very good starting NBA centre sometime in the near future, and I could not be more excited about it.

The Rest of the Team:

Mostly, a bunch of riff-raff. Everyone knows who Andrea Bargnani is and what he does; shoot 3's, mostly, and draws ire from fans for his lack of rebounding and defensive skills. He will be one of the highest scoring players on the team, again, but that isn't saying much. Amir Johnson is a solid, if unspectacular player who hustles on defense and developed a modicum of an offensive game towards the end of last year. Jose Calderon and Jerryd Bayless make for a day-and-night point guard tandem, with the reserved, under control Calderon often starting and giving way to the excitable, erratic Bayless, who at times looked great and downright terrible at others. The rest of the team is comprised of aging journeymen like Butler, Aaron Gray, Anthony Carter, and Magloire. Gary Forbes and James Johnson hold down the SF spot, and while neither is a bad player, neither leaves much to talk about until they've accrued more playing time in the league.

The Rest of the Story:

Toronto is undoubtedly going to struggle on both ends of the floor, with nary a person besides Derozan really capable of creating for themselves, and no one besides Davis to provide any intimidation whatsoever on the defensive end. I suspect that they will surprise a few teams who decide to take them too lightly, as one thing the Raptors can do is get out and go, a good foil to some of the older teams in the league. I also suspect a lot of ugly, one-sided, 95-73 type losses as the team closes its eyes and looks ahead to the 2012 draft; luckily for them, a 66-game season should breeze by. Some quick predictions:

Highest scorer: Demar Derozan, 19 PPG
Best rebounder: Ed Davis, 9.5 RPG
Largest improvement: Ed Davis
Biggest regression: Jose Calderon
Biggest surprise contributor: Gary Forbes

Final record: 20-46, 13th in the East, last in the Atlantic.

That's pretty much the jist of it. How did I manage to write so much about such an awful, uninteresting team? I'm passionate, dammit. Leave me alone. Lets go Harrison, I mean, lets go Raptors!

1 comment :

CSmith said...

I'm calling it here: by the end of this season, Amir Johnson will be the second most important player on the Raps (behind Derozan, ahead of Davis).