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NBA Team Previews: Toronto Raptors 2012-13

STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Everything was stacked against the Raptors last season. The abbreviated offseason gave new coach Dwane Casey little time in camp to get his changes fully up to speed on his system, and when Andrea Bargnani got hurt the threadbare roster wasn't able to compensate for the loss of its one dependable star.

Despite a futile offseason pursuit of Steve Nash, the Raptors enter 2012 with some optimism. The club has embraced Casey's scrappy scheme, dealt for Kyle Lowry, lured Landry Fields away from the Knicks and added two lottery picks to the mix in 2011 fifth overall pick Jonas Valanciunas and 2012 eight overall pick Terrence Ross. The Raptors still need reliable scoring from someone other than Bargnani, but in a depleted Eastern Conference a playoff appearance is attainable. More importantly the Raptors actually have a nucleus to excite the fan base, something they've been lacking since Vince Carter was the NBA's poster boy.

PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Kyle Lowry and Jose Calderon will split minutes at the point, and assuming they're both on the court during crunch time, and given their respective injury histories, they should each collect 26-28 minutes a night. John Lucas figures to pick up any scraps here.

DeMar DeRozan will begin the year at the two but Terrence Ross could push him as soon as he proves himself ready. Expect DeRozan's minutes to slide into the 30-32 range, while Ross sees 12-14 and Alan Anderson supplies 8-10 minutes when the Raptors need a jolt of offense.

The Raptors hope Landry Fields can shoulder 30-32 minutes at small forward, with Linas Kleiza seeing 10-12 as his primary backup. Anderson will also see some action here, as might Amir Johnson, but this is Fields' job to lose.

A healthy Andrea Bargnani will see 34-36 minutes a night as the focal point of the offense, primarily at power forward. Ed Davis and Amir Johnson will jockey for time behind and alongside him when Bargnani slides to center, each netting 14-16 minutes, with Kleiza also seeing occasional action here.

Jonas Valanciunas will get limited minutes at center due both to inexperience and foul trouble, and 18-22 minutes a night might be about his ceiling. Bargnani will see plenty of time here as well, with Aaron Gray soaking up 12-14 minutes as the club's designated enforcer in the paint. Davis could also see time in the middle as well.

PLAYER OUTLOOKS

Center

Jonas Valanciunas: After falling to the Raptors with the fifth pick in 2011, Valanciunas will finally make his North American debut. He put up respectable numbers in Euroleague competition but struggled badly in the Olympics. He heads into the NBA looking like a solid defensive presence in the paint with great length (he's 6-11 with a big wingspan), a penchant for foul trouble and an unpolished offensive game. Don't expect a huge impact in any category outside of perhaps blocks, but in a few years there's a good chance he'll be the best true center in franchise history. If you need a comp to a current player's development curve, Tyson Chandler might be the best fit.

Aaron Gray: The big-bodied center will help mentor Valanciunas in the fine art of banging under the glass, and his minutes and modest numbers should be similar to last year.

Jamaal Magliore: Minutes will be hard to come by for Magliore if he even makes the team at all, but he gives the club another veteran to pass on words of wisdom to Valanciunas.

Forward

Andrea Bargnani: Bargnani's campaign was cut in half due to a calf strain that caused him to miss 35 of 66 games. When healthy, though, Bargnani was productive for the most part. He continued to lead the Raptors in scoring, finishing with an average of 19.5 points per game. His efficiency (43.2 FG, 29.6 3Pt) and rebounding (5.5) left a lot to be desired, but Bargnani continued to be one of the better free-throw shooting (87.3) big men in the league. The biggest statistical knock against Bargnani has been his drop in blocks, falling from 1.4 in 2009-10 to 0.5 last season. Despite his length (6-11), Bargnani is a much better fit as a stretch four or small forward and with rookie Valanciunas joining Amir Johnson and Ed Davis in the frontcourt, the Raptors will be able to play Bargnani in a role that better fits his skills. Now over his calf injury, Bargnani will have a great opportunity to bounce back and provide production in unique categories for a big man.

Amir Johnson: The addition of Valanciunas could hit Johnson the hardest of any returning Raptor. With Jonas V at center Bargnani will shift to the four, leaving Johnson battling with Ed Davis for minutes behind them. Johnson is an inconsistent but high-energy player who lives at the rim, fights for rebounds, and gets exposed if he's relied on too heavily. Unless he or Davis get dealt expect Johnson's minutes and production to plunge.

Ed Davis: Like Johnson, the third-year player now finds himself in a roster crunch behind Bargnani and Valanciunas. Davis has a size and length advantage on Johnson but doesn't have his athleticism, and is still a work in progress. Given his entry-level contract and the perception of untapped upside, Davis would fetch a bigger return in a trade, but don't expect the Raptors to just give him away.

Linas Kleiza: Kleiza missed the early part of the season rehabbing from microfracture surgery, and upon his return found himself relegated to a bench scoring role. The Raptors' offseason additions would seem to leave little room for Kleiza as anything more than a long-distance specialist.

Alan Anderson: Anderson was a pleasant surprise after signing with the Raptors late in the season, starting 12 of 17 games, but with a healthier and re-stocked roster around him the best he can hope for is a spot off the bench as a glue player.

Quincy Acy: Second round pick Acy seems destined for the D-League, but he has the attitude and skill set to develop into a Reggie Evans-like undersized rebounding specialist down the road.

Guard

Kyle Lowry: Kyle Lowry is one of the NBA's biggest teases. He always plays well when given an opportunity, but always seems to get stuck in a platoon. Last year for example Lowry was playing at an All-Star level, but wound up clashing with Rockets coach Kevin McHale and missing time due to a sports hernia. He became "Plan B" for Toronto when they lost out on Steve Nash and could thrive as the Raptors' lead guard, but GM Bryan Colangelo still hasn't resolved Jose Calderon's status. It seems unlikely that the Raptors will pay the Spaniard over $10 million to sit on the bench. As such, Lowry could be stuck in yet another job share, at least until Colangelo can move Calderon's expiring deal.

Jose Calderon: The veteran once again finds himself in a job share, as the Raptors brought in Lowry after failing to repatriate Steve Nash, and it's hard to see him even coming close to his usual averages unless he gets traded or Lowry gets hurt. He's got a terrific old-school skill set and mindset though, looking pass-first despite possessing a good three-point shot and being one of the league's best from the charity stripe. If he adapts to his role alongside Lowry the reduced workload could actually keep him healthy for a full 82 game schedule.

DeMar DeRozan: DeRozan's development plateaued last season, although his late-season struggles can be tied directly to the extra defensive attention he received in the wake of Bargnani's injury. At this point in his career he's an inefficient volume scorer and highlight-reel dunker, nothing more, and as the Raptors continue to upgrade the talent level around him it would be easy to see him get left behind. Unless he starts to add some secondary skills to his arsenal, this could be his last season in a Raptors uniform.

Landry Fields: Fields' game seemed to regress a bit last season, and when the Raptors made a big offer to him as a restricted free agent the Knicks had little choice but to let him go. Fields should be a great fit for coach Dwane Casey's system, providing toughness and defensive intensity while finding a steadier role in an offense that isn't focused on standing around and watching Carmelo Anthony. Expect him to bounce back with numbers similar to what he put up as a rookie, and possibly even a bit better.

Terrence Ross: The Raptors drafted the raw but talented Ross with the eighth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Coming out of Washington, Ross was lauded for his defense, long-range shooting ability, and court vision, all traits that should endear him well to Raptors coach Dwane Casey. With DeRozan the incumbent starter at shooting guard and free agent signing Fields inserted at the other wing position, Ross will have to settle for a bench role at the outset. He may struggle initially as he gains familiarity with the increased speed of the NBA, but as a building block for the team's future the Raptors could give him a trial run in the starting lineup at some point during the season.

John Lucas: Lucas did an adequate job last season with the Bulls after Derrick Rose went down, but he joins a Raptors team that has two starting-quality point guards on the roster. At best, Lucas is a useful insurance policy.

SLEEPER

Terrence Ross: If he can adapt to the NBA quickly enough, Terrence Ross would be a much better fit on the wing than DeMar DeRozan. Ross isn't likely to make a big splash right out of the gate, but if he shows enough progress he could be a very intriguing waiver wire pickup.

BUST

Jose Calderon: He is too much of a professional to let a time share with Kyle Lowry affect his overall game, but that same level of professionalism means GM Bryan Colangelo can afford to wait for exactly the right package before dealing him, knowing that Calderon wont try to sulk his way out of town. Calderon's fantasy output is directly tied to either a deal or a Lowry injury though, and if neither of those things occur he simply won't see enough minutes to be of much use.