TORONTO RAPTORS PREVIEW 2011
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Raptors, with new defensive-minded head coach, Dwane Casey, are coming off a 22-62 campaign and are projected to end up in the lottery again this season. President and General Manager Brian Colangelo has expressed they’re not yet in a rebuilding phase. Coming into this season, they had 10 players available to play; however, over the first five days of free agency they signed five new additions to their roster (Gary Forbes, Rasual Butler, Jamaal Magloire, Aaron Gray, Anthony Carter.) Clearly, no big money was spent, as mentioned, they are not in a position to try and start over. They’re sticking to what they’ve got now and have added some veterans (Jamaal Magloire, Anthony Carter, Rasual Butler) to help develop their young core (Andrea Bargnani, DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis, Jerryd Bayless, Amir Johnson, James Johnson). If the Raptors want to win games this season, they’re going to need to stay healthy, something they didn’t do last season. Leandro Barbosa, former Sixth Man of the Year, missed 24 games with a wrist injury; Reggie Evans, a rugged rebounding machine, sat out 52 games with a foot injury; Kleiza (knee), who the Raptors signed with high hopes at the start of last season, missed 42 games; Ed Davis, the 13th overall pick in the 2010 draft, missed the first 17 games; and lastly, even their centre piece Andrea Bargnani was absent 14 games. The point is clear; the Raptors never had a complete squad. Furthermore, their injury woes didn’t cover all reasoning for their lack of success; even if they were healthy, they would have probably only won half their games. They have no go-to guy, no all-star, no true leader. They’re a team in a stage of development that needs their youthful players to grow, their middle tiered-experienced players (like Jose Calderon and Leandro Barbosa) to set the tone and act as the glue that will connect the old and young, and the veterans to teach and lead. If this can all come together for the upcoming shortened season, maybe the 2011-12 Raptors campaign could be a mediocre one.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Bargnani will see the most minutes on the team, likely 35-40 per game at power forward and center, leaving some time for young star Ed Davis who should see 20-30 mpg also at both positions, the bulk at power forward. Holding down the middle, we should see a mix between Amir Johnson who’s good for 25-30 mpg and Aaron Gray, who, if he can stay out of foul trouble and gain his management’s trust, could see anywhere from 10-20 mpg. At small forward you’ve got a battle for minutes between James Johnson playing 20-25, Gary Forbes at 10-20 and Rasual Butler around 5-15 mpg. If Kleiza comes back on time, which would be in February, he should see his minutes rise as he gets back to full strength, hindering some of the above mentioned small forwards’ playing-time. In the backcourt, DeMar DeRozan will play 35-40 mpg; the raptors have high hopes for this youngster and with good reason. Leandro Barbosa, assuming he stays healthy, will see somewhere between 15-25 mpg. The point position will be split between starter Jose Calderon, who will play 20-25 mpg, and Jerryd Bayless, who will see the same. It’s hard to tell who will end up playing more, but Bayless is a guy who can also play the two-spot. Moreover, he’s younger and hasn’t hit his ceiling yet, while Calderon has.
Amir Johnson: He’s a lanky and agile big man. There’s an issue with his productivity due to his lack of strength and assertiveness. He did address this during the offseason, putting on about 20 pounds of muscle to help in defending against the centers of the league. Amir is good for some clean-up points in the paint, a few rebounds and a maybe an assist or two. He will need to play at the top of his game this season, especially coming off ankle surgery in June which he appears to be fully recovered from.
Jamaal Magloire: He’s a 33-year-old veteran who won’t play many minutes for the Raptors. He may start, but between Amir Johnson, Andrea Bargnani, Ed Davis and Aaron Gray, Magloire might won’t see any noteworthy minutes. He was brought to the team for leadership and mentorship, so other than a block or two, and some grittiness under the rim, he will have another quiet season. He hasn’t averaged more than 21 mpg since the 2005-06 season.
Aaron Gray: A seven-footer weighing in at about 270 pounds. He’ll be throwing his body around quite a bit for the Raptors, an asset they’ve been missing in past seasons. He has decent hands, and he can rebound and block the ball. More than anything else, his main function will be to create ease for players at other positions, not needing to play as much help defence around the rim with Aaron present. He had a very impressive end to last season on New Orleans dropping 12 points in Game 1 of a playoff series versus the Lakers.
Andrea Bargnani: Bargnani had a career-high last year in points per game, but his rebounds and blocks dropped in half from the ‘09-‘10 season. He played center last year due to the Raptors lacking personnel at that position, but despite his size, he’s definitely not a center. He’s a poor man’s Dirk Nowitzki that needs to work on rebounding, defence and his physical presence. Fortunately, he’ll be at power forward this season, back to his comfort-zone. With that, and the fact that he’s entering his sixth season, he will be a leader on the Raptors with expectations that he’ll fill a big role that should translate to mid-round fantasy production.
Ed Davis: Almost immediately being drafted 13th overall in the 2010 NBA draft, Davis injured his right knee and underwent arthroscopic surgery. He missed 17 games, but when he returned, he put up a very impressive rookie campaign, averaging 7.7 ppg (57 percent shooting), 7.1 rpg and 1.0 bpg in 24.6 mpg. In April, where he saw an average of 34.8 mpg, he racked up 12.9 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game. With Andrea Bargnani playing power forward in front of Davis, he won’t be starting, but he’s an extremely promising sophomore with massive upside and will undoubtedly earn more time as the season progresses.
James Johnson: He’s 6-9, 245 pounds and extremely athletic. Halfway through his sophomore season, he was traded from the Bulls to the Raptors and was inserted straight into the starting lineup at small forward. He played well, putting up averages of 9.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.1 bpg and 1.0 spg in 28 mpg as a Raptor. Johnson can jump, handle the ball, score on his own and play very solid defence. If he can polish his jump shot, he could be a very high-caliber player for years to come and may get plenty of opportunity to produce this season.
Gary Forbes: A 26-year-old sophomore who played just eight games in his rookie season with Denver, where he averaged 10.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg and 1.9 apg per game in 19 minutes. He went undrafted out of UMass, where he put up 19.4 ppg. Forbes stands 6-7, yet has a 6-11 wingspan, which helps him create his own shots. He’s yet to really make his mark in the NBA, but we know from his college days that he can score the ball. The small forward position on the Raptors is a volatile one this season, so if he can impress his coaches and win their trust, there’s no reason he can’t earn a decent chunk of minutes.
Rasual Butler: Butler is a nine-year veteran with career averages of 9.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg and 1.0 apg. He spent most of the last two seasons with the Clippers before negotiating a buyout and joining the Bulls last March. He won’t contribute much this year except a few bench points and some leadership.
Linas Kleiza: The 6-8 small forward landed in Toronto in July of 2010, and signed a multi-year deal. He came from Denver, where he played a solid four seasons. Kleiza has career averages of 8.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game, and posted a career-year in 2007-08 of 11.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 1.2 apg. He’s a powerful player who’s crafty under the rim. About halfway through last season, he suffered a meniscus tear, forcing him to undergo micro-fracture surgery in February. His time-table for return was 12 months, and he’s on schedule, but even if his timetable is accurate, it’s unclear how soon he’ll be ready to contribute enough to be of use in fantasy.
Jose Calderon: Calderon is a great ball-handler, almost never turns the ball over and has one of the best free throw percentages in the league. That is, when he gets there. Calderon averaged less than two trips to the charity stripe per game last season. His lack of aggression interrupts his success. Calderon finished last season with the second best assist-to-turnover ratio (4.0). In 2010-11, he averaged 9.8 ppg, 8.9 apg (fifth in the league), 2.9 rpg and 1.2 spg. The numbers are nice, but he has yet to lead the Raptors to any real success since coming over from Spain six years ago. Moreover, over the last three campaigns, he’s become injury-prone. He’s missed 14 games is each of the last three seasons. Splitting point guard responsibilities with Jerryd Bayless should give Calderon more rest and less minutes, hopefully allowing him to have a healthy and successful year.
DeMar DeRozan: This kid has absolutely everything it takes to be a star in this league. He’s athletic, aggressive and hard-working. Now, let’s see if he can translate his attributes into consistent productivity this season. DeRozan has had two solid years in Toronto after playing one year at USC. He averaged 8.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg and 0.7 apg in his rookie year. Last season, he nearly doubled his numbers, racking up impressive nightly averages of 17.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.0 steals. His percentages were excellent too: 47 percent from the field and 81 percent from the line. DeRozan ended his sophomore year strong, scoring 23.1 ppg in April. Once he develops his jump-shot, he’ll be a dangerous and prominent player in the NBA. Entering into his third year on a shaky, untalented team, everything is in place for the youngster to break out and put up big-time numbers. For him to be a true force in fantasy, DeRozan will need to develop a three-point shot.
Leandro Barbosa: The eight-year, 29-year-old out of Brazil spent the summer and elongated off-season playing in his home country. This was a plus for Toronto, as he remained in good shape. If he can stay healthy this year, something he hasn’t been able to do for the past three seasons (missing 62 games over the last two), he’ll be a solid contributor off the bench for the Raptors. Something to think about - he’s arguably the most talented player on the roster, yet between his fragile-body and the fact that he doesn’t really fit into the Raptors’ young developing core, he doesn’t really project to have much fantasy value. Barbosa did put up 13.3 ppg, 1.7 rpg and 2.1 apg last season, so his offence was helpful, but don’t be surprised if Colangelo trades Barbosa this season.
Jerryd Bayless: This combo guard is extremely gifted. He’s young, smart, tenacious and talented. He spent his first three years with Portland and New Orleans where he had decent numbers considering he never averaged more than 20 mpg. When he came to Toronto last season, he had a career year, posting 10.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg and 4.0 apg in just over 22 mpg. He’s splitting point-guard duties with Jose Calderon, but head coach Dwane Casey has made it clear neither is guaranteed the bulk of the minutes. Good health and high productivity will determine who wins more minutes, but Bayless is looking like he’s really coming into his own. Don’t be surprised if he has another career year and trumps the 30 year old Calderon to take the starting job at some point this season.
Anthony Carter: This savvy vet is 36 years old and has 12 years of professional experience. He has career averages of 4.9 ppg, 2.1 rpg and 3.9 asp, and posted subtle all-around numbers of 4.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg and 2.3 apg during the tail end of last season with the Knicks. The Raptors won’t get as much from him this season, other than as a mentor to the young guys.
Ed Davis: This kid is a rebounding machine and is extremely talented. Once he was healthy last season, he got right into it, putting up a career-high game of 22 points, 13 rebounds (seven offensive), a block and a steal. He should be one of the top sophomores, and possibly even one of the league’s top rebounders.
Jose Cadleron: With the type of sound game Jose has, he should be an all-star, but he’s not, and he never will be. Generally speaking, he can do every individual thing expected of him, but he’s never quite put it all together. At this point, he and his body are only getting older. Watch for Jerryd Bayless to out shine Calderon and limit the Spaniards playing time.