For a couple of weeks in the early part of last season, the Toronto Raptors looked pretty good. They seemed to be buying in to the defensive philosophies and system that new coach Dwayne Casey brought with him from Dallas. Andrea Bargnani was showing flashes of real potential. Not enough to live up to his draft slot, but enough to be regarded as a (very) poor man's Dirk Nowitzki. Everything fell apart when Bargnani got hurt last season, but there were glimpses of real potential in the early going.
With the offseason additions of Kyle Lowry and highly-touted rookie center Jonas Valanciunas, who had spent the 2011-12 season playing out his contract overseas, Toronto seemed poised for major improvement this season. Not enough to get past the Knicks, Nets, Celtics, or Sixers in the Atlantic Division race, but enough to be called the best last-place team in the league.
Unfortunately, things haven't worked out that way. Valanciunas has been inconsistent, but that's to be expected from a rookie big. Bargnani has regressed, and that’s more of a surprise. To be blunt, he has been awful, and now he'll sidelined with an elbow and wrist injury for what could be an extended period. Lowry has been excellent, but - as is so often the case - he can't seem to stay healthy. The small forward position has been a basketball wasteland for the Raptors, as injuries to Landry Fields and Linas Kleiza forced the emergency signing of Mickael Pietrus.
Bargnani's latest injury will give the Raptors time to take an extended look at Ed Davis (29% owned), who scored 24 points and grabbed 12 boards in Wednesday's game. Some of that production came out of necessity; the Raptors were also without Amir Johnson, who was serving a one-game suspension. But Davis' play may be a sign of things to come, and with Bargnani out for what could be months, he'll have plenty of opportunity to prove himself.
According to reports, general manager Bryan Colangelo and advisor Wayne Embry met this week to discuss the team's struggles, which may be an indication that changes are coming. Trade speculation will likely center on Bargnani and point guard Jose Calderon, but the Raptors’ injury situation makes a trade involving either player a tricky proposition right now.
Terrence Ross - the eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft – is waiting in the wings and could see extra run with so many injured players on the roster right now. It might make sense to stash Ross (1% owned) on the bench in deep leagues in anticipation of a shakeup.
The Phoenix Suns are another team that could be headed for an extreme makeover. Michael Beasley has already worn out his welcome; Marcin Gortat is unhappy; and both Goran Dragic and Shannon Brown are developing reputations as major ball-stoppers. The fact that first-rounder Kendall Marshall has been consigned to the D-League - and is shooting horribly there - doesn't help matters.
The team took some missteps in their bid to hasten a major rebuild by signing Beasley and claiming Luis Scola off amnesty waivers, and it’s put them in a position where they’re trying to justify giving big minutes to Scola and Jermaine O'Neal instead of playing their younger players. The name Markieff Morris has come up in this column a couple of times already this year, but he's still owned in just 12 percent of leagues. He's another player that could profit significantly if his team opts to shake things up.
Picks for the Week
All percent-owned stats are from Yahoo! Your league’s mileage may vary.
Klay Thompson (88%) - Golden State has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the young season, and Thompson's shooting is a reason why. He struggled to start the year, so his season stats haven't caught up with his real level of play yet. He's averaging 20 points per game in his last five games, including a 27-point outburst in the Warriors' win over Miami on Tuesday.
Bradley Beal (58%) - The rookie has been playing very well of late - especially if you ignore his struggles against the Lakers on Friday night (4 points, 2-7 shooting, 0-3 3pt). He should improve significantly when (if?) John Wall gets back, which will allow Beal to get more time at his natural position.
Andray Blatche (46%) - The worry was that his fantasy production was tied to Brook Lopez' absence? That's more than fair, but Friday night, with Lopez back in the lineup, Blatche scored 16 points with a block and two steals in just 24 minutes. That's worth a roster spot in lots of leagues.
Kawhi Leonard (42%) - He's become available in quite a few leagues due to a prolonged absence, but he's expected back later this week.
Antawn Jamison (39%) - Sure, he might be the league's worst frontcourt defender at this stage of his career, but coach Mike D'Antoni loves big guys that can hit three-pointers.
Jarrett Jack (31%) - Jack is getting significant run as the third guard in coach Mark Jackson's rotation, and he’s capable of putting up very good numbers on occasion (20 points, 4 assists and a steal vs. Miami on Tuesday).
Eric Bledsoe (18%) - The Clippers are too deep in the backcourt for Bledsoe to put up really significant numbers, but his production in limited minutes tells me he's a must add if someone like Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, or Chauncey Billups is sidelined for any length of time.
Jodie Meeks (10%) - I'm anticipating a run on Jodie Meeks after Friday night's 24-point explosion. The Lakers could certainly use a spark off the bench.
Toney Douglas (4%) - Sleeper? More like hibernator. However, let's not forget, Douglas led the NBA in made threes in the second half of the 2010-11 season before struggling mightily for much of last year. If he can regain his form in the guard-friendly offense in Houston, Douglas could put up solid numbers. He’s scored in double-figures in five straight games, though James Harden's ankle injury was certainly a contributing factor.