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Team Previews: 2009 Toronto Raptors Preview

Erik Siegrist

Erik Siegrist

Erik Siegrist is an FSWA award-winning columnist who covers all four major North American sports (that means the NHL, not NASCAR) and whose beat extends back to the days when the Nationals were the Expos and the Thunder were the Sonics. He was the inaugural champion of Rotowire's Staff Keeper baseball league. His work has also appeared at Baseball Prospectus.


TORONTO RAPTORS
By Erik Siegrist
RotoWire Staff Writer


STATE OF THE FRANCHISE


Last season began with a lot of optimism for the Raptors. General manager Bryan Colangelo cleared up the point guard picture by swapping TJ Ford for Jermaine O'Neal, handing the starting job to Jose Calderon and bringing in someone who could take the pressure off Chris Bosh and give Toronto a front court capable of doing some damage in the Eastern Conference.


That plan fell apart almost from the opening tipoff. O'Neal couldn't stay healthy, and even when he was in the lineup he couldn't (or wouldn't) mesh with Bosh. When Calderon's hamstring also sidelined him, the team was lottery-bound. To his credit Colangelo didn't hesitate to admit acquiring O'Neal was a mistake and sent him to the Heat at the trade deadline to clear some vital cap room. He followed up that trade with a frenetic offseason, signing Hidayet Turkoglu to a huge contract as an upgrade at small forward, bringing in Jarrett Jack to back up Calderon, and strengthening the club's bench dramatically with the additions of Reggie Evans, Marco Belinelli, Amir Johnson, Antoine Wright and Rasho Nesterovic.


The Raptors' fortunes still depend on their homegrown big three of Bosh, Calderon and Andrea Bargnani, but Turkoglu gives them another weapon on offense and the other newcomers should be able to contribute at both ends of the court. Shooting guard is now a problem, as Anthony Parker left and first-round pick DeMar DeRozan won't be able to help right away, but the dramatic talent injection should allow the Raptors to take a real run at a playoff spot. Chris Bosh's impending free agency looms large, but at least in the short term things are looking up in Toronto.

PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION


Bosh has been a lock for 37-38 minutes at PF when he's healthy, and last year he stayed healthier than he had since 2004-05. The additions of Evans and Johnson give the Raptors some options if they decide to trim Bosh's workload, but it's hard to see him playing anything less than 35 minutes a night. Turkoglu and his giant contract will likely see similar minutes at small forward, while Bargnani's playing time at center should climb into the 32-34 minute range as he continues to grow in strength and maturity. Calderon should also see similar court time at point guard.


Nesterovic will play 15 or so minutes, sponging up most of the backup time at center, while Jack could see 20-22 minutes or even more depending on how much of a share of the shooting guard action he gets while also backing up Calderon. The rest of the minutes at shooting guard, and the job of backing up Turkoglu at small forward, will be primarily split between DeRozan, Wright and Belinelli. DeRozan's minutes will likely end up in the low teens as the Raptors break him in slowly, while the two more experienced players will see 22-24 minutes a night unless one of them seizes the starting two guard job outright. Evans and Johnson, competing to back up Bosh and fighting over the scraps at center, could be hard-pressed to match the 14-15 minutes they saw last season.

PLAYER OUTLOOKS


Center:


Andrea Bargnani: Bargnani broke out in his third season and there's no reason to think he's peaked just yet, as the soon-to-be 24-year-old still has a lot of room on his frame to bulk up and become more of a force on defense and on the boards. The Turkoglu signing is an indication that the Raptors would like to adapt some of what worked for the Magic last season, which could lead to Bargnani getting more easy looks on the outside, but on the other hand without a beast like Dwight Howard patrolling the paint Bargnani will be required to play under the basket more than Rashard Lewis did as Turkoglu's running mate in Orlando. Expect some further modest increases in his numbers, but as the Raptors' third option on offense it's hard to see another big explosion coming.


Rasho Nesterovic: Nesterovic returns to Toronto after a season in Indiana, but this time there's no question about him being pressed into a starting role. He's back purely to back up Bargnani and bang under the boards when necessary, and his numbers last season with the Pacers (and the two years prior with Toronto) are about what you can expect.


Patrick O'Bryant: O'Bryant continues to live up to his first round bust label, and hasn't even been able to carve out a shot-blocking specialist role for himself. He's nothing but a depth player for the Raptors.

Forward:


Chris Bosh: Bosh appeared in 77 games last season, his highest total since 2004-05, but he wasn't really able to translate his health into improved production. He did average a double-double for only the second time in his career while maintaining his typically excellent FG and FT percentages and his point production has been rock-solid at 22-point-something for four straight seasons, but there are rumbles in Toronto that Bosh is not capable of being a true franchise player and that he won't be worth the contract he'll inevitably get in the offseason (whether from the Raptors or from someone else who loses out on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.) He's never had a supporting cast this talented before though, so expect Bosh to be extremely motivated to prove he belongs in the free agent discussion with his 2003 draft class buddies.


Hidayet Turkoglu: Turkoglu is one of the more unique talents in the NBA, emerging last season as a consistent and dangerous point forward. His reward was a big contract from the Raptors, a team with a Euro-styled offensive philosophy that should be a great fit for Turkoglu's skill set, but there's some question as to whether he'll be able to maintain his assist average of around five a game with Jose Calderon running the show. Even if the Raptors don't run the offense through Turkoglu as much as the Magic did, he still presents the same mismatch problems for opposition small forwards and should quickly become the number two scoring option behind Bosh.


Amir Johnson: Johnson's value took a big hit when he was dealt to the Raptors, as he went from the Bucks' starting power forward to fighting with Reggie Evans for minutes off the bench. Johnson is perceived to have more upside than Evans, but unless Chris Bosh gets hurt he won't see enough court time to show it.


Reggie Evans: Evans gives the Raptors a veteran banger off the bench, but the addition of Amir Johnson could make it tough for Evans to pull down the minutes or the rebounds he's used to.

Guard


Jose Calderon: Calderon's first season as the Raptors' starting point guard was up and down; a hamstring injury limited him to just 68 games, but he was still very effective when he was in the lineup. He put up per-game numbers comparable to what he accomplished the year before when splitting time with TJ Ford, and he nearly set a new NBA record with 87 consecutive made free throws. He's not the most athletic player on the court but he possesses good creativity, vision and a willingness to attack the basket when he gets an opening. Calderon now also has multiple teammates who can finish (thanks to the addition of Hedo Turkoglu) which gives him a chance to break the 10.0 APG mark for the first time, in addition to his usual steal and three per game and a better FG% than many other non-elite PGs. With Jarrett Jack in town to ease his load a little and hopefully prevent another breakdown, Calderon seems poised for a career year.


Jarrett Jack: Jack is in Toronto for two reasons: to give Jose Calderon some help at the point, and to try and convince his former Georgia Tech teammate Chris Bosh to stick around. He's capable of much more but the Raptors don't want to have to use him as their starting shooting guard so the chance of Jack coming close to 30 minutes a night again is remote. He should be a valuable bench player for the Raps in real life, but he'll only have real fantasy value if Calderon breaks down again.


Marco Belinelli: The Raptors need offense off the wing and Belinelli's shooting and ball-handling could allow him to provide it, but he played in just 42 games last season with Golden State thanks to an ankle injury and defensive struggles. The Raptors' Euro-styled offense should be a good fit for Belinelli's skill set and the starting two guard job is available, but he'll need to show some effort at the other end of the court if he wants to be more than an offensive spark off the bench.


Antoine Wright: The former Nets first-round pick averaged a career-best 7.3 PPG last season and did even better in the second half, racking up 9.6 PPG through February and March. While the offensive improvement is nice he's still much better at the other end of the court and is developing into a poor man's Bruce Bowen, rather than an NBA regular. This is probably his last chance to try and break through as a starter.


DeMar DeRozan: The Raptors drafted DeRozan to fill their glaring needs for athleticism and offense off the wing, but he isn't likely to be ready for a regular spot after spending just one year in college. With Chris Bosh, Hedo Turkoglu and Andrea Bargnani being the focal points of the offense the Raptors will want DeRozan, or whoever gets the minutes at the two, to focus more on defense than on filling up the basket so even if the rookie wins the starting job his fantasy value will be limited.


Quincy Douby: Douby played in just 27 games last season as a bench guard for the Raptors, and their improved depth doesn't improve his chances of seeing much court time.


Sonny Weems: Weems will probably spend another season bouncing between the development league and an NBA bench, as the Raptors have plenty of more experienced options.


Marcus Banks: Banks' ugly contract keeps him in a uniform, but he doesn't seem likely to crack the Raptors' guard rotation.

Sleeper:


Marco Belinelli: The Raptors are probably looking for defense and not offense from their shooting guard, which could make it tough for Belinelli to win the starting job, but that does make him their best option for scoring off the bench. His skill set is also a great fit for the Raptors' system, and if he can show even a little improvement on the defensive end he could find himself with the consistent minutes and open looks he never got with the Warriors.

Bust:


Hidayet Turkoglu: Turkoglu's premium fantasy value is greatly dependent on the assists he accumulated as a point forward with the Magic. The Raptors however already have a very good point guard in Jose Calderon, which will probably limit the amount of plays they run through Turkoglu. Without those five assists a game his numbers look a lot less special, and he's unlikely to produce enough to warrant his draft position (or his free agent contract, for that matter).


Article first appeared on 9/30/09

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