We know all about names like DeRozan and Davis, and where they fit in the Raptors's plans. But what about guys like James Johnson and Jerryd Bayless? The HQ's Scott Campsall takes a look...
We have been hearing the same mantra for months now. The most important part of the upcoming season will be the growth and development of the young core the Raptors currently have under contract. Management and the coaching staff have committed to this plan full force as evidenced by both the free agent moves that management has made, and the ways in which the coaching staff have discussed how they plan to manage the rotation this season.
Now playing more minutes doesn't necessarily equate to development of talent; this is where the process of talent evaluation is going to come into play for the coaching staff, and for the front office. If certain players don't show that growth and development over the course of the season than they very well may find themselves on another team come opening day of 2012.
But of the five aforementioned youngsters, the upcoming season is not only going to be about development. Some of it will come down to proving they even belong in the league, let alone with this team.
Demar Derozan was a high first round pick, and a guy that this team has all but committed to building around as one of their main building blocks; Ed Davis is another guy that fell into the Raptors lap in the draft and has shown a specific skill set to defend and rebound, to the point where I believe the coaching staff is comfortable with what he can and cannot do. And Amir Johnson has far acceded expectations in almost every area of his game; at this point, it seems like you know what you are going to get out of Amir Johnson on a night to night basis.
That leaves perhaps the two most interesting young players on the Raptors roster not named Andrea Bargnani.
Yes, what about Jerryd Bayless and James Johnson?
Are they part of this team's future?
Both come into this season with a great deal to prove. Neither have a particularly comfortable contract-Bayless is a restricted free agent at season's end and Johnson has one year remaining on his deal after this season-like Ed Davis and Amir Johnson, and neither have really proven their worth on an NBA roster as of yet. For both of these players the upcoming season will be about taking advantage of the minutes and roles they will be given and showing that they can be effective NBA players.
Bayless is undoubtedly a skilled player; he came into the league with high expectations and was considered a steal when the Pacers-who eventually dealt him to Portland-drafted him 11th overall in 2008. He has shown a clear ability to get to the basket and score, but what he has not shown is the ability to run the point and get his teammates involved on a consistent basis. Up to this point, Bayless' production could perhaps be explained by a lack of opportunity to play extended minutes and show his skills as a floor general. That is until last season when he fared relatively well after being given the reigns as a starter for the final stretch of the season.
Yet, the question still remains; can Jerryd Bayless be a starting point guard in the NBA?
There have been glimpses, you could see them even in Toronto's pre-season match against the Celtics, but they just haven't been consistent. One minute he's finding Ed Davis under the rim for a dunk, thanks to a sweet no-look pass, the next, he's leaving his feet to make a play, resulting in a turnover.
We simply do not know the answer yet regarding Bayless' future at the 1, but what we do know is this: if he doesn't show that he can be that guy this season, he may never get another opportunity to show that he can run an NBA team again.
That doesn't mean that he won't crack an NBA roster ever again, because he will. It just means that if he doesn't figure it out this season, he may see his career mirror that of a player like Jason Terry, who has made a heck of a career out of being a high energy scorer off the bench but never quite figured out how to be a starting point guard in the league.
James Johnson is in a similar position at this point in his NBA career. Johnson is a little younger, yet he doesn't have the glitz that comes with being a lottery pick and was given up on rather quickly by an NBA institution of sorts in the Chicago Bulls.
During his short stay in Toronto he has already shown that he has some surefire NBA skills; he can rebound, defend and even block shots (as we saw against Boston Sunday.) But where's the O? All of those skills are fine if your goal is to be a backup, but James Johnson doesn't seem to keen on spending his career coming off of the pine. For Johnson, this season will be all about how well he can shoot the ball, in addition to doing all the other things he has shown he can do on a regular basis, otherwise it could be argued that Toronto was better off keeping Julian Wright, who does many of the same things.
If the Raptors have indeed committed to DeMar DeRozan, which it seems like they have, than they are going to need a small forward that is going to make the 3 point shot on a consistent basis. DeMar hit the long ball against Boston and worked hard on this area of his game in the off-season, but a consistent shooter beside him couldn't hurt. The Raptors' coaching staff can preach defense all they want, but at the end of the day if you cannot make shots than you cannot win games.
Having said that, Johnson has gained some leeway with his play as a starter last season and unlike Bayless, he has a more realistic opportunity to begin the season as the starting small forward of the Toronto Raptors. Whether or not he keeps that job will depend entirely on how well he performs during the beginning stretch of the season.
Above all, it will be important for both players to get consistent minutes this season and develop their skills in game situations. Both have seen enough time on practice courts, the real test here for both Johnson and Bayless will be to prove that they can hang as starters at the NBA level. There future in the NBA is on the line, and both these guys know it.
With the Raptors win-loss record something that Dino fans are already beginning to deem unimportant, it will be the storylines of players like Bayless and Johnson that keep the upcoming season compelling.