Toronto Raptors (2008/09 Season Record: 33-49)
Following a disappointing 2008-09 season, Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo spent the offseason remaking the team. With only three rotational players (sorry Patrick O’Bryant and Quincy Douby) returning to the 09/10 squad and more than $100 million in contracts and extensions handed out by management, the team has gone through a blitz of rebuilding and is hoping to make some noise in the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
Back for his seventh season with the team is multi-timed All Star and team leader Chris Bosh. Bosh is a versatile offensive player, capable of shooting from 20 feet, beating opposing bigs off the dribble, and he’s grown as a post player. He’s also plateaued as an offensive player. Not that this is a bad thing as he’s consistently among the top dozen scorers, not to mention rebounders, in the league. It just means that he stands to improve in other areas of his game, most notably defence. Admittedly he isn’t quite as poor a defender as he’s often made out to be. The Raptors’ perimeter defence last season was so porous that Bosh often had to play out of position so that he could help when, inevitably, a teammate was beaten by an opposing player. Still, Bosh does leave something to be desired with his post defence though he should improve in that facet of his game this season if he’s bulked up in the offseason as is purported. Of course the benefit of that additional muscle could be offset by a hamstring injury Bosh has been nursing in the pre-season, should it linger.
Joining Bosh in the front court is fourth year center Andrea Bargnani. Bargnani certainly hasn’t lit the league on fire since being selected number one overall in 2006 with a career scoring average of just 12.4 points per game. He did, however, begin to show a consistent scoring touch once permanently moved to the starting lineup in January 2009, where he averaged 18.5 points per game over the final four months of the season. At seven feet tall Bargnani is a great three point shooter, hitting nearly 41 percent of his shots in 08-09 but offers little rebounding (career high 5.3 per game last season) and often proves indecisive when handling the ball. Bargnani’s stats might also be somewhat inflated over that four month stretch to end last season as his scoring appeared to be more the result of opposing players neglecting to close out on his perimeter shots than anything Bargnani did. The fact that even with Bargnani’s increased production the Raptors continued to play sub-500 basketball (21-29 from January 2) is somewhat disconcerting going into the 2009-10 season as the team’s success is somewhat predicated on Bargnani continuing to perform as a borderline All Star.
Starting at the point will be fifth year guard Jose Calderon. Calderon missed 14 games last season due to injury and the Raptors went 5-9 in his absence. Calderon is an excellent shooter, disrupts opposing defences, and possesses one of the best assist to turnover ratios in the league. The trouble is that Calderon doesn’t play a lick of defence and is better served playing about 30 minutes per night while sharing minutes with another quality point – something the Raptors could not do last season with Roko Ukic and Will Soloman.
Pushing Calderon for minutes will be Jarrett Jack. Jack, a former teammate of Bosh back at Georgia Tech, had a solid season with Indiana last year and should fill in nicely behind Calderon, and even spend some time at the two spot. The pairing of Calderon and Jack should provide Toronto it’s best point guard duo since the extremely effective combination since TJ Ford was traded a year ago. The one concern I have for Jack is his ability to remain consistent playing with the Raptors second unit. Jack averaged 15.6 points per game on 48 percent shooting last season as a starter but was less effective in his 29 games as a reserve where he averaged just 8.8 points per game on 39 percent shooting.
Bryan Colangelo’s biggest free agent acquisition was forward Hedo Hedo “>Turkoglu. Hedo comes to the Raptors with lofty expectations given his role in bringing the Orlando Magic to the NBA finals last season – not to mention his five year $53 million plus contract. Hedo has proven himself a good playmaker often being used as a point forward in Orlando. He can also shoot the three ball at a high percentage with a career average of 38.5 percent. On the negative side Turkoglu shoots a mediocre field goal percentage (42.8 percent career) and is a poor rebounder for someone who is 6’10”. Despite this Hedo should prove a significant upgrade at the small forward position.
Joining Hedo on the wing will be a platoon consisting of DeMar DeRozan, Marco Belinelli, and Antoine Wright (with Jack getting some minutes at the two spot as well). By all accounts DeRozan is a tremendous athlete and has demonstrated a keen willingness to learn but should still see only about 20 minutes per game in this his first rookie season. Belinelli is a skilled shooter and should thrive on this team so long as he stays within the flow of the offence (of course I would have said the same thing about Jason Kapono in 2007 and Carlos Delfino in 2006). Antoine Wright should provide 10-15 minutes of relief at the 2 and 3 spot.
The Raptors also have some front court depth with the well liked Rasho Nesterovic, rebounding machine Reggie Evans, and the athletic Amir Johnson. The three are a definite upgrade over Patrick O’Bryant, Jake Voskuhl and the basketball genius Pops Mensah-Bonsu. Overall this could prove the deepest team in Raptors history.
Despite the Raptors’ depth, questions remain. Rebounding will definitely prove to be an issue. Though Toronto has an imposing front court in their starting lineup, consisting of the 7 foot Bargnani, 6’11” Bosh, and 6’10” Turkoglu their career per game averages (Bargnani 4.3, Bosh 9.2, Turkoglu 4.2) suggest that this will be one of the weakest rebounding teams in the league.
Another question is whether there will be enough space for everyone to operate on offence? With their current makeup the Raptors are a jump shooting team. From point guard to center every one of this team’s starters plays away from the basket. Bosh is the Raptors’ primary post player but his time down low is minimal as he’s more of a finesse forward than prototypical power forward. And while Bargnani has the body of a center, he has the game of a guard (and puts up a guard’s shooting percentage and rebounding numbers – not a good thing). If spacing is an issue it will negate the Raptors advantage in having what should be a top three shooting team. And this issue begins and ends with Bosh and Bargnani. Can these two play together and Toronto have a successful team at the same time? To me this is the fundamental question facing the franchise. If Bosh and Bargnani cannot share the scoring and defensive load from game to game (one asserting himself on the offensive end and the other on the defensive end based on their nightly matchup), a major decision must be made by the trade deadline in February.
Finally, how will this team gel? Again, only three rotational players are returning from last year’s squad while coach Jay Triano plans on going nine, maybe 10 players deep – players who haven’t ever played together. Add to this the fact that both Bosh and Turkoglu have missed all of the team’s training camp and much of the preseason and their could be some chemistry problems early on. Unfamiliarity causes offensive and defensive breakdowns. If the Raptors get off to a slow start will they be able to recover in time to make the playoffs?
Predicted 2009-10 Season Record: 43-39