For those of you who may not know – yes, Toronto still has an NBA team. The Raptors did not fold after Chris Bosh left for Miami. They’ve struggled for much of the past decade, but some breakout seasons and modest playoff runs have been sprinkled in here and there. The opportunity is there in the Eastern Conference and the team does have a decent amount of talent on its roster. The team as a whole just needs to flourish together and grow as one. Players need to develop a chemistry as a unit.
Andrea Bargnani may not have had a career worthy of being a number one overall pick thus far, but it has still been more than solid. He's already proven he can score. He's averaged just a bit over 15 points a game since being drafted in 2006, including 21.4 in 2010-11 and 19.5 last season. The numbers that will make you cringe are the rebounds. He's managed to average a little bit fewer than five rebounds a game for his career and needs to develop a better paint game. We all know he can hit shots, but he's got to at least feign interest in doing what a true big man does. Even if it's not his game, he has to at least keep defenders honest.
Luckily for Bargnani, there are some players on the Raptors who can pick up his slack. Ed Davis has shown plenty of promise in his short NBA career, but has remained as painfully inconsistent. I still like him as a player and am expecting a breakout campaign to happen sooner, rather than later. Amir Johnson has a pretty hefty contract from the Raptors which is probably undeserved, but he still plays well. He'll most likely spend the season coming off the bench with the new acquisitions and young players getting a chance to make some noise
The big man I really like on this team is one that was drafted in 2011 with the fifth pick. Jonas Valanciunas played in Lithuania a year ago and is ready to begin his NBA career. The former Lithuania Basketball Player of the Year and FIBA European Young Player of the Year will take over the starting center spot in Toronto while Bargnani moves to forward. Valanciunas does all the things Bargnani doesn’t. Scouting reports say he’s a guy that crashes the boards aggressively and gets a lot of points off offensive rebounds. A team like Toronto shoots a ton and having a guy capable of creating second chances would prove to be invaluable.
I really like the additions of Kyle Lowry and Landry Fields for Toronto. Lowry has quietly become a very good NBA player the past two years, especially last season in Houston. The combination of him and Jose Calderon is actually one of the better duos for PG in the NBA. I see good things for Lowry in Toronto as well as Fields. Fields had become a bit of a fan favorite in New York after being drafted by the Knicks. His defense is impressive and while he may not be a marquee player that brings fans to the games, he'll certainly improve this team. He's the type of player that does more to help his team than vice versa.
If Toronto really wants to compete, one player needs to step his game up. Many expected DeMar DeRozan to have a breakout year last season and it didn’t happen. Maybe it was the shortened season and compacted schedule - he has earned a bye, at least to me, for his lackluster 2011-12 season, but there are no excuses now. It’s time for him to become more than a highlight reel dunker with an atrocious FG%. I’ve always enjoyed DeRozan’s game, so call me a sucker if you must, but I think he takes that next step this season. An All-Star year is virtually out of the question, but making some highlight reels on the sports networks for something other than dunks is not. He’s certainly a player to watch this season.
Toronto is a team that will get dismantled by the good teams, but flourish against the bad ones. They'll tease their fans all season long with good play, but then follow it up with an awful one. They’re still in the non-playoff cluster of teams in the East, but for whatever it’s worth, they’re one of the better ones on the outside looking in. There’s a lot of young raw talent on the roster that need to grow together. GM Bryan Colangelo must do everything he can to keep this core together. There's definitely something there in Toronto, just give it some time.
Season Outlook: The record for the Raptors doesn’t make much of a change overall, but the quality of basketball showcased improves with players beginning to develop their games as the season goes on.
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