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The Forecast...Part I

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Chris Young of the Toronto Star recently came out and wrote in his (highly entertaining, save for hockey talk) blog, that he expects the Raptors to finish the season with 27 wins. Surprisingly this is the same number of wins that the team had last year with its 1-15 start. On-line sports books? They have the over under at 32.5. Chuck Swirsky however thinks the Raps could squeek into the playoffs. I am thinking the Raps should manage somewhere between 33 and 36 wins, but who knows.

The reality is that you are measured as a team based on your wins and losses. If the Raps do have another losing record, which according to those above, is a distinct possibility, how else can you measure success? On an individual level here’s how I would define a successful seasons for each of this year's 06-07 Raptors.

1. Andrea Bargnani: How weak is the 2006 draft in the minds of most? If the lack of talk about the this year's rookie class and their potential impact is any indication...very weak. When was the last time there was so little fanfare surrounding the first pick? Many Raptors fans, and NBA fans in general, know so little about Andrea Bargnani that it's tough for people to determine what he will bring to the table. The fact that he did not participate in the World Championships meant many still remain in the dark when it comes to this 7-footer.

Let’s not pretend there is no pressure on this giant to perform though. Toronto fans are harsh on high draft picks that don’t bring something to the table right out of the gates (see Hoffa.) Soon enough Bargs will be feeling the pressure of being the Raptors' first number one pick. There are definite minutes to be had in the front court and his production is going to be closely monitored.

So what is a successful season for this kid? Well I for one am setting the bar high. I want to see Charlie numbers, about 13 ppg and 6 rebounds. In fact I want bigger rebound numbers. Seem unreasonable? Considering Bargs was arguably the best player on one of the best teams in the second best league in the world...I don’t think so. The quality of basketball in Europe, albeit different, is high. Higher than the NCAA? Hard to compare apples to oranges, but he should be able to bring a lot of things to the table and create difficult match-ups. The only thing in my mind preventing him from a solid season is foul trouble. I have set a high standard for Bargnani this year and anything short of a solid contributor would be disappointing for me.

2. Chris Bosh: Get better. Considering his age and the summer he has had, for Bosh to have a successful season he has to be better - in particular in crunch time. Far and away this teams best player, he needs to be sure that there are no 1-15 starts, that he does whatever possible to help this new group gel, and he has to continue to lead by example. One thing about Chris Bosh is he hates to lose. Now he needs to take that hatred for losing and turn it into a knack for winning. Bosh will continue to put up great numbers, and hopefully he finds himself on the All-Star team again this season. That to me however is not enough. Each year he has shown improvement, another element to his game if you will, and I expect no different this time around.

The reality with Chris is that he has such passion and desire that you can tell he is never satisfied, or least not to date. I don’t expect the new extension to have the Shawn Kempt effect where he will now sit back and show no improvement. I expect Chris to show more and do more. Hopefully however, the Raps have added enough depth now that Chris does not have to shoulder so many minutes this season. I will be evaluating Chris this season on how he performs in crunch time. He’s about to start being paid like the man...hopefully he can BE the man.

3. Jose Calderon: In order for Calderon to have a successful season in my mind he has to show two things. First, he has to show that his play at the World Championships was no fluke and that he has improved his all around-game. The second, is that he has to show that he can bring this improved game for 82 contests.

It would be easy to say that if Calderon shoots a higher percentage he has had a successful season. Unfortunately I don’t think that is going to cut it, in my eyes, or in the eyes of the main decision maker...Bryan Colangelo. Calderon needs to be the guy that you bring off the bench and in doing so, the offence does not miss a beat. Provided TJ is the starter, Calderon is going to shoulder a heavy load ensuring the team’s second unit is a strong one. Let’s not discount an improvement in shooting percentage though. I expect opposing players to give Calderon the shot until he starts making it on a regular basis. So from this aspect it will be easy to evaluate Calderon’s success. See how far away the opposing team’s defender stands during the first 15-20 games of the season, and then compare it to games 50 on.

Maybe the easiest way to determine if Calderon having a successful season is to compare it to a classic commercial for All-State. Regardless of whether the team is behind by 10 or up by 10 I want to think, “You’re in sure hands with Calderon.”

4. T.J. Ford: All eyes on you TJ. Bargnani needs to thank TJ now, and every game for the rest of the season because the guy that is going to be under the microscope the most this season will be Ford. TJ HAS to perform. Think being the number one pick brings pressure? How about being the return on trading away a young and talented big man who was a fan favourite to boot!

So what does TJ need to do in order to have a successful season? I frankly just want to feel like the franchise didn’t make a huge mistake trading Charlie. If TJ makes me feel like the deal was at least even, then I will have no complaints. Of course getting me to feel that way won’t be easy as I expect the Bucks front-court to have a very good year.

I will closely be watching the relationship between Mitchell and Ford (provided Mitchell manages to keep the job.) The relationship that a team’s PG has with its head coach is crucial to any team’s success. If Ford and Mitchell are on the same page, and Ford can keep this what should be high-octane offence running on all cylinders, then I should be able to look back in hindsight and say he’s had a successful season. If Ford turns out to be a big mistake...

5. Jorge Garbajosa: Defining success for a 29 year old rookie is not something that is done everyday, in particular one who has never played an NBA minute. Actually one could argue that Garbajosa has actually gotten more publicity than Bargnani which is somewhat odd considering one guy was the first pick in the draft, while Garbajosa won’t even be the first or second guy off the bench in all probability.

With Garbajosa, I fear the expectations are actually too high. There just seems to be this sense in the media and amongst fans that we are getting a Charles Oakley like player. Someone who will do the dirty work, push some guys around and make this team tougher. Not sure this is the case. No doubt after watching the World Championships Garba has high basketball IQ, but he does like to sit outside and didn’t get down in the blocks and mix it up much. There is also the very real risk that he has a tough time adjusting to the NBA and his shooting percentage take a substantial dip.
For this season I just hope Garbs is a guy who is competent coming off the bench when called, and makes the investment made look like a smart one. If he can live up to the nickname the “Garbage Man” because he does the small things, and not because all of his minutes come in garbage time, then cool. I also hope he manages to stay away from the Pau Gasol woodsman look. The last thing I want to see at games is a bunch of guys growing “Garbage Man” beards.

6. Joey Graham: Joey is the one guy that Franchise and I argue about constantly. Franchise has been very disappointed with the guy that was once supposed to be nicknamed the “Sky Pilot.” I on the other hand, still believe that Joey could be a really solid player. Well this season will have a huge impact on who wins this argument. Much of it will depend on whether he can play well enough to get substantial minutes as there is somewhat of a logjam at the positions he plays.

Some of you may think I am WAY off-base when I say this, but I think from a personality standpoint there are some parallels between Bosh and Graham when comparing their rookie seasons. There was a while there when people were harping on the fact that Chris was not vocal enough, did not show enough killer instinct, and needed to show some ferocity like KG did/does. Those voices seem to have, on the most part, faded away. Not because Bosh is running around screaming and flexing on the court, but because people now understand that this is not his personality. Graham is similar. With that physique one would expect to find him in the off-season running around in the woods looking to tear the heads off of small woodland creatures...or at least hanging with Ronnie Artest. Not the case. It’s not his personality.

Joey Graham is a guy who needs to feel comfortable and confident. There were games last year when looking at his body language he looked out of place, especially playing a position he had never really played in college and being asked to guard some of the best players in the L. There were others however when he started to look comfortable with the ball in his hands outside of twelve feet, and when he showed an ability to score in a lot of different ways. To be successful this season Graham needs to (a) fight for enough minutes to show improvement, and (b) be the confident player that he can be.

Oh, and some better defence would sure go a long way as well.

7. Kris Humphries: Hmmmm...be better than Hoffa was? Funny, talk about a guy going into the season with NO expectations. Whether the trade was fair or not (which I don’t think it was, it was just simply out of necessity by both teams) Kris comes into a situation where if he plays the right way, he could get some burn and make Colangelo look very bright. He could also languish at the end of the bench much like Aaron Williams did the past few seasons.

If Kris can use whatever minutes he can get to become a strong rebounder then fantastic. Fact is if he manages to grab 3 rebounds a game in the few minutes he can get, then in my opinion he has been successful. By the way, this guy is barely LEGAL in the US, and could be better than people think. Many think Mitchell will fall in love with Garbs or someone else like he did with Bonner. I’d put my money on this guy...

HOWLAND