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Team Previews: 2008 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


The Raptors weren't able to duplicate their Atlantic Division championship from '05-'06, but given the Celtics' additions such expectations were beyond unrealistic. Instead Toronto remained competitive enough to return to the playoffs, although their quick exit showed just how much work GM Bryan Colangelo still has to do to get the club to the top of even the weakened Eastern conference.


To get them closer to that goal, Colangelo shipped lightning-fast but injury-prone and redundant point guard TJ Ford to the Pacers in exchange for Jermaine O'Neal. O'Neal hasn't yet regained the All-Star form he had prior to his knee problems, but he still should provide the best under-the-basket help Chris Bosh has ever enjoyed in his NBA career. The trade also takes the pressure off Andrea Bargnani, who figures to be far more comfortable in a bench scoring role than as Bosh's front court sidekick.


The team still lacks a scorer who can create his own shot (while both Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon have proven to be useful players, neither one is anything but a complementary cog on offense) and would be in deep trouble if Jose Calderon got hurt, with only rookie Roko Ukic backing him up, but the team does at least seem ready to return to the playoffs for a third straight season.

PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION


The addition of O'Neal gives the Raptors the chance to go a little easier on Bosh, especially in the early part of the season given Bosh's participation in the Olympics. Bosh set a four-year low in minutes per game in '07-'08 due mostly to nagging injuries, and the team would probably like to find a way to keep at about that level while having him available for more than 67 games. O'Neal himself failed to crack the 30 MPG mark for the first time as a Pacer last season, but with a full offseason to let his knee heal further he should be able to assume a bigger role in Toronto. Bargnani will be the main backup for both, As a result his minutes could be inconsistent depending on whether the two starters can stay in one piece, but over the long haul you should figure on him averaging 25 MPG. Kris Humphries and Joey Graham will pick up any loose front court minutes behind those three.


Moon may be better suited as a mood-changing energy player off the bench, but until the Raptors find another option he'll start at the three, and with a full NBA season under his belt to help smooth his rough edges he should be able to handle 30 minutes per game. With Parker seeing 33 or so a night as well, that leaves about 20 a night for three point champ Jason Kapono behind both, with Graham and defensive specialist Hassan Adams rounding out the rotation.


Calderon played 30 minutes a game last season, but without competition from Ford he should be in line for a jump up to 35 minutes, or even higher depending on how much confidence coach Sam Mitchell has in Ukic. Calderon himself also played in the Olympics and suffered a strained abdomen right at the end of the tournament though, which could put the Raptors in the position of having to baby their one truly indispensable player. If Ukic proves to be not quite ready to handle his backup duties don't be surprised if the Raptors make a push to acquire a veteran point guard during camp.

PLAYER OUTLOOKS


Center


Jermaine O'Neal: His knee continued to bother him last season, as O'Neal played in just 42 games and had his worst statistical season as a Pacer, but in a stretch at the end of 2007 he showed he could still be effective (18.3 points and 8.7 rebounds over six December games). With Chris Bosh entrenched at power forward O'Neal will shift full-time to center, a spot that should net him more rebounds as he spends more time with his back to the basket. The Raptors are gambling that an offseason of rest and an exit from Indiana will revitalize O'Neal, help him to stay on the court and allow him to at least come close to the 20/10 production of his prime.


Nathan Jawai: The 'Aussie Shaq' is no such thing, but Jawai appears to be athletic enough to be an interesting project at center. He won't have any value this season, however.

Forward


Chris Bosh: For the second straight season Bosh appeared in under 70 games, and he hasn't played in 80 games since '04-'05. The fragility of the Raptors' franchise player is the only blemish on his resume though, and while it makes him less valuable in fantasy terms than his skills or averages would suggest he's still an elite pick. The addition of O'Neal is an effort to save some wear and tear on Bosh, and prevent him from having to bang with the biggest opponents, but the success of that plan depends on O'Neal staying in one piece too. A short offseason due to his Olympic participation could also make it tougher for the Raptors to keep him on the court as much as they would like, at least in the early part of the season. As his rising FT% attests Bosh is still working hard to improve his game and we probably haven't yet seen his best, but that assumes he can stay healthy enough to reach that next level.


Andrea Bargnani: Bargnani stagnated in his second season, but will find himself in a new role this year (at least while Bosh and O'Neal are both healthy) coming off the bench to supply offense. Focusing on one aspect of his game should help his fantasy value, and at the very least he should hit for triple-digit three-pointers again, but at some point he needs to bulk up and learn to fight for a rebound if he ever wants to justify being a first overall pick. This season will be critical for Bargnani to prove he can be a starter someday in the NBA, and not just a role player.


Jamario Moon: The freakishly athletic Moon emerged from minor league obscurity to make two All-Star weekend appearances, in the Young Stars game and the Slam Dunk contest. He's more than just a flashy sideshow though. Last season he made some form of contribution in every main fantasy category except assists and he was one of only 10 players to average at least one steal and one block. (The rest of the list is almost a Who's Who of multi-talented fantasy studs, and includes players like LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Josh Smith.) Moon's no superstar of their caliber, but as he hones his skills further he should at least be able to break into double digits in points and establish himself as one of the most important members of the Raptors' supporting cast.


Jason Kapono: Kapono struggled in his first season in Toronto, as often as not being an afterthought in the offense. He was still deadly from the outside, hitting 48.3% of his three point attempts, but his inability to create his own shot limited his chances, and the Raptors lack a player like Dwyane Wade who can break down a defense and then dish to the open man. The team will work harder to find a way to get him looks, as they need long range threats to help soften up the middle of the defense for Bosh and O'Neal, but don't count on Kapono duplicating his '06-'07 numbers again.


Joey Graham: Jamario Moon is essentially the player the Raptors were hoping to get when they drafted Graham a few seasons ago, which leaves no role for Graham himself. Expect this to be his last year in Toronto.


Kris Humphries: Humphries had a marginally better statistical season in '07-'08, but is still nothing more than a banger off the bench.

Guard


Jose Calderon: With the TJ Ford partnership dissolved, Calderon finally gets a chance to show what he can do running the show by himself for a full season. He averaged 13.0 points and 9.1 assists in 56 games as a starter in '07-'08, and while he might have to pace himself a little more without Ford around to spell him he should also see an extra couple of minutes to compensate. As a bonus he's also one of the NBA's best free throw shooters, missing just 11 attempts all season en route to a 91.1% mark. He's no Chris Paul, but Calderon should cement his place at the top of the second tier of point guards.


Anthony Parker: Parker's numbers were virtually identical to what he put up the season before, and it seems the solid-but-unspectacular Euroleague veteran has found his level in the NBA. He's now 33, but having played a less-demanding schedule for most of his pro career will probably allow him to maintain his current production for a couple more seasons.


Roko Ukic: Ukic developed enough last season in Europe that the Raptors felt comfortable bringing him over to back up Calderon. He's in many ways a taller version of Calderon himself, bringing over a reputation for steadiness rather than flash. Once he's adjusted to the NBA he should chip in a few more rebounds than you'd expect from a point guard, but otherwise probably won't be a big fantasy contributor, and may not see enough minutes to match even Calderon's rookie production of 5.5 points and 4.5 assists.


Hassam Adams: Adams, a destitute man's Bruce Bowen, will provide some minutes and defense off the bench for the Raptors.

Sleeper:


Jamario Moon: Moon mostly got by mostly on pure athleticism last season, and while that made for solid numbers across the board (and some highlight reel dunks) it does leave the door open for more production once he hones his skills and gains more NBA experience. At the very least he'll play more minutes this season, but there's a good chance he'll increase his per-minute rates as well, allowing him to double-down on his improvement.

Bust:


Jermaine O'Neal: The knee may be OK, but there's been no real indication yet that O'Neal can ever again be the player he was in his prime. The change of scenery, and the fact that he's playing alongside Bosh, will heighten expectations but the over/under on his games played will be somewhere in the low 60s and even when he is on the court he'll need to adjust to being second fiddle in the offense rather than the go-to guy. He's a risk-reward fantasy pick, but the scale is tipped towards risk rather than reward.

Article first appeared on 10/4/08