This is another guest post by my buddy Julian. Like me, he’s a huge NBA fan in Toronto, so he has a lot to say about the Raptors. He’s previously written about their offense and their defense, from a bit of an optimistic point of view. Now, he’s going to take a step back and look at what obstacles stand in the way of the Raptors’ success in 2009-2010. Enjoy. Also, tell him to start tweeting again – he may as well delete his twitter account at this point.
With all of the new faces in Raptors training camp this season, there are many reasons for fans to be positive, especially considering the terrible 08-09 campaign. Bench issues have been addressed, and arguably, more talent has been added to the starting lineup. While visions of sugar plum second-rounds are dancing in many a fan’s head, it’s important to look at the multitude of ways that this season could go sideways. The eternal optimist in me says that the Raptors will have an incredible, unexpected level of success this season, but that is probably not going to happen, and there are going to be a number of reasons why. Essentially, this article is going to look at the pitfalls and perils that are most likely to hinder the Raptors this coming season.
Rebounding is going to be a very big issue for the Raptors. They simply do not have good enough rebounders to do well in this department. Jermaine O’Neal wasn’t a great rebounder, but he was better than Bargnani, and Shawn Marion, who was an excellent rebounder at the 3, was a much better rebounder than Hedo Turkoglu. While people may mention that we picked up Reggie Evans, he simply cannot see too much court time next season. His PER numbers and TS% numbers over the past few seasons have been terrible (Career averages 11.6 PER and 50% TS%). When you put Reggie Evans in the game, you hurt yourself in a different way. He’s a useful role-player who is able to change the dynamic of the team when he is in, but I don’t think he should receive more than 15 minutes a game.
Amir Johnson has something to prove, and is also a good per-minute rebounder. He hasn’t received all that much time in his young career, and he has upside. Detroit tried to push his development along by inserting him into the starting lineup, but it didn’t go all that well. His problem was fouling at an inordinate rate, which hindered his ability to stay on the floor. The interest in Amir is that he is athletic and tall, finishes well, and can rebound. Those are talents that the Raptors could definitely use, so watch for Amir to get some time to prove that he can play. This franchise would like to see him reach his full potential, but then again, so did the Pistons.
The guard positions are not great for the Raptors either. Jose Calderon doesn’t rebound very well, even by guard standards, and neither do Marco Belinelli or Antoine Wright. DeMar DeRozan represents an interesting opportunity for the Raptors, as his college rebounding numbers were pretty impressive. 5.7 rebounds in 33 minutes is good for a guard. Projecting stats from College to the Pros is very dubious, so take that with a grain of salt.
Prognosis: The Raptors still have a rebounding problem. With Shawn Marion leaving and Bargnani playing center I don’t really see the Raptors doing very well in this regard. Expect nights where the Raps play good defence and shoot the ball well, but still end up losing due to a big chasm in the rebounding totals.
This is something that I’ve talked about in my prior article, and many different things have to go right in order for the Raptors to be good (read: top 10) defensively in the upcoming season. Firstly, the defense at the big positions needs to be a lot better. Jermaine O’Neal was the Raptors’ best big-man defender last season, and he is no longer with the team. Bargnani and Bosh, while not absolutely awful defenders, are not “anchor” material. Bosh has made a big deal out of getting physically larger this season, and one would hope that that would translate to better defense. Bargnani has also added weight, and has been working on his inside game this off-season. Things need to get much better, however, especially seeing as the Raptors want to play both of them on the court for long periods of time, due to their huge offensive potential. If Bargnani and Bosh don’t get better, expect a lot of layups this season. When players aren’t afraid of what is waiting for them at the rim, they are much more likely to take it inside, which is obviously the worst type of shot to give up.
At the two guard and small forward positions there are also a few question marks. Jose Calderon has just come off an admittedly terrible defensive season, and has used the summer to rehabilitate his hamstring. He has never been a particularly stalwart defender, however, and he should still see 30+ minutes every night, backed up by Jarrett Jack. At the shooting guard position, there are a few options. Marco Belinelli, DeMar DeRozan, Jarrett Jack and Antoine Wright are all candidates to play the shooting guard position, and there are only 48 minutes available at that spot. Jarrett Jack is a solid defender, Belinelli is a decent defender and Antoine Wright started part of last season with the Mavericks due to his defensive prowess. DeMar DeRozan is a bit of a mystery, but he certainly has the tools to become a very good defender. At the Small forward position, Hedo Turkoglu figures to get the lion’s share of the minutes, and he is an okay defender. He is long and tall for his position, but is a little slow, especially when guarding smaller players. His defensive awareness is good as well, and rarely does he look completely overmatched by the player he is guarding.
Prognosis: The team has a lot of work to do on the defensive end. They have a couple of players that can play great defense, but the problem is that a lot of them are bench players who don’t have much to offer on the offensive end.
I know that injuries are very difficult to predict unless a player is chronically injured, but I don’t think I need to remind Raptor fans that the injury bug can strike at any time and nothing de-rails a team faster than a key injury to one of their top guys. There are, however, some legitimate concerns when it comes to the Raptors this season, at least in the short term. While the early reports are that Jose Calderon has completely healed his hamstring, there is a possibility that it isn’t 100% and it could be re-aggravated during the season. Bosh also has a tweaked hammy, and has a habit of breaking down as the season wears on. Hedo Turkoglu, the Raptors’ big offseason acquisition has a knee injury that is said to be minor (aren’t they always?), and is suffering from fatigue having taken very little time off this summer.
Prognosis: There are no major injury concerns with this team, and the Raptors do have much more depth this season, which should help out if anyone goes down with injury.
Hedo Doesn’t Work Out
A big question in the minds of some of the skeptics is whether Hedo Turkoglu will be able to duplicate the year he had two seasons ago, when he set career highs in PPG, PER, assists and rebounding. This past season was not as good as that season, as Hedo was not nearly as efficient. Hedo may be a very talented player, but there is no question that he isn’t very consistent, and his play doesn’t just vary game-to-game, but also quarter-to-quarter and season-to-season. Which Hedo will the Raptors get? Will it be the efficient Hedo that we saw two seasons ago, or will it be the 2-16 (FG-FGA) Hedo that showed up in many Magic games last season? The chemistry that Hedo had with Dwight Howard was incredible, and their pick and roll was one of the Magic’s best offensive weapons. Hedo would hook up with Howard via an alley-oop, often in spectacular fashion. Hedo also played into the Magic’s gameplan, because a lot of the time, some of the off-balance shots that Turkoglu would put off the rim would actually be “assists” to Dwight, who would get the offensive rebound and put it back in. There is always the chance that things don’t gel as well as they did in Orlando with Hedo, because Bosh, while a very talented offensive player, isn’t exactly the type of guy you can throw 12-foot high lobs to and expect him to throw it down, nor is he the dominant offensive rebounder that turns every miss into a make.
Prognosis: It will be interesting to see how well Turkoglu will work here in Toronto, because he is not the most reliable player. It seems to be feast or famine with Turkoglu; on his best nights, he is hitting shots from all over the floor, making plays and creating mismatches, and at his worst, is hogging the ball and shooting you out of the game. The Raptors need a whole lot more of the former.
I think this is one of the nightmares many fans have going into this season. Bargnani looked incredible last season, shooting a career high 56% TS%, getting 15+ PPG, and finishing the year with 3 straight months of ~20 ppg scoring. Many fans and people with the organization believe that he’s out of the woods, and that he won’t go back to the horrific stretch of play that he had in the 07-08 season, but are we being a little too premature? Bargnani had a very bad summer for the Italian national team, where he scored a meagre 10.3 PPG on 40% shooting, including going 2/13 from 3-point range. The Italian coach was admittedly very poor, and there was a rift between the player and his coach (not dissimilar to the Bargnani/Smitch situation?), and Bargnani pulled no punches when he talked to the Italian papers about it. Bargnani seems to have some motivation issues, which can turn into morale issues, so the question is whether he can be motivated and positive enough to continue to play hard even when he has an inevitable stretch of bad games.
Prognosis: While the chances of Bargnani going back to suck-mode Bargnani that we saw in ’07/’08 is slim, the potential is certainly still there. Jay Triano still has to work his magic with the big man, and give him a clear, defined role, as well as plenty of minutes to prevent a repeat of two seasons ago.
I believe that there are a number of ways that the Raptors could self-destruct this season, but that doesn’t mean that they WILL. There will be many things that will go right for the Raptors, and those things may be able to cancel out, and overtake some of the weaknesses of the club. Also, some of these weaknesses may not even be weaknesses at all! Hedo may work just fine, and Bargnani could have a stellar season and there could be no significant injuries to any of the star players. This is simply a list of the most likely things that could hamper the Raptors’ season. At the end of the year, if the Raptors fail to make any significant progress, I think that at least a few, if not all of these factors will have come into play.