Want the 06-07 season to start as much as we do? Well apprently the fans are not the only ones as many members of the new look Raptors have decided to settle in early and start playing some ball well before the official start of training camp.
Yeah training camp. When was the last time there were so many questions heading into the season? With so many unknowns is there another team in the league that will have a more interesting, more competitive camp then the Raps? Other than Bosh and Nesterovic, is there anything really settled in Raptor-land right now? Here's the match-ups that we at the HQ are looking forward to watching.
Calderon vs. TJ Ford
Job Description - A quick-footed, pass-first point guard to start. Vocal leader and a general on the floor. Pesky defense a plus. High shooting percentage a bonus but not required.
If there were such a thing as the "NBA classifieds" during the off-season, Bryan Colangelo likely would have posted the add above. As a result, TJ Ford and Chris Bosh now make up the Raptors version of the Texas two-step. When the deal was made for Ford many praised Colangelo regardless of the high cost. It would therefore seem like a no-brainer that Ford is the starting PG. But is it that cut and dry? Read the job description again...doesn't that fit what Calderon brings to the table as well?
Six weeks ago it was crystal clear that Ford was the PG of the future for the Raps. Now with the World Championships behind us the picture is a little murky. There is no debating that Ford is considered the more established player of the two despite the injury history, but as we've been saying here at the HQ, are their games all that different? There is definitely enough PT for both players, and each will likely log heavy minutes, but when it comes down to who plays at crunch time, nothing is written in stone. It will be very interesting to see who can develop the best chemistry with the players around him. Sure Ford and Bosh are close but Calderon will have the advantage of having built up some chemistry with a number of the guys from last season and will be relied upon by players like Garbajosa, and to a lesser degree Bargnani, to help make the transition from the European game to the NBA.
Essentially it should boil down to who has improved their shot the most. If the Raps still plan on running the pick and roll even half as much as last season, it stands to reason that the better shooter should get the most time. Of course...lest we forget the political element. Considering what Colangelo gave up for Ford, you have to believe (unless Calderon drastically outplays his counterpart) that at the end of the day it will be TJ that gets the benefit of the doubt...at least in terms of whose name Herbie calls during the introductions.
Parker vs. Peterson vs. Graham vs. Jones
Arguably going to be the best battle in camp and the boys better bring their A game. When you look at the starting line-up the 4, 5, and to a lesser degree the 1 spots (see above) are filled but the 2 and 3 spots are up for the taking. It's going to be the basketball version of musical chairs with two spots and four guys to fill them. What makes this battle even more interesting is that the losers won't necessarily be one of the first guys off the bench. Let's take a look at each.
Fred Jones may be at a disadvantage from the get-go. The reason is simple. A back-court with a 6' PG and a 6'2" SG is simply too small. The defensive liabilities are too large, despite wing-span, and it would be hard to make up for that at the other end. Raps fans will see Ford and Jones in the back-court together at times but not at the opening tip-off unless Jones really outplays the other three. The other disadvantage facing Jones is that he is not in the running for the three spot. So that leaves three...
When you think Morris Peterson you immediately think of his break-through season. Peterson easily had his best NBA season last year and is a glue player. He re-found his willingness to get to the hoop, still shot well from outside and played his patented tough D. A leader on this team and entering into a contract year it would seem that #24 should be penciled in at the two spot. But not so fast. Mo Pete has been the sixth man for this organization on a number of occassions in the past and he could be a perfect second unit player. I am hard pressed to believe that either Graham or Parked will outplay Peterson, and when you add in the leadership and defense it almost seems silly to debate this, but the importance of having a strong second unit is understated and Mo Pete would be the perfect leader for that unit.
Joey Graham on the flip side, is a player that needs to take a page out of Mo Pete's playbook and take his game to the next level. No more excuses for this guy as he has had a whole off-season to work on improving his footspeed and develop his game. No-one expects him to suddenly become Ron Artest over-night (Artest the player, not the headcase) but adjusting to the speed of the game is no longer a valid excuse. Graham and his development, despite being a Babcock child, should still be a priority for the franchise at a mid-first round picks are something that need to be valued. Graham has more athletic ability than either Peterson or Parker and he is going to need more minutes to turn that athletic ability into a solid game. It Graham expects to start he has to start wearing heart and intensity on his sleeve and take it strong to the hoop without getting called for the charge. He also needs to show a higher basketball IQ. Fortunately for Graham his jumper is fairly consistent (a pleasant surprise) and if he can harness his athletic ability, he could play himself into a starting gig during training camp. There may be no other player on the Raps who will have such pressure to perform.
Graham and Peterson we know and have watched. Anthony Parker is the great unknown here. Parker is a do it all sort of player with good athleticism. He also has one of the best player profile photos on NBA.com. Parker is obviously coming off two of his best seasons as a professional baskeball player winning back-to-back MVP's of the Euroleague. A second chance at the NBA you have to believe that Parker is going to come into camp with something to prove and will give both Graham and Peterson a run for thier money. What we here at the HQ expect out of Parker is something similar to Shane Battier and it would be this type of play that would get him into the starting line up.
How will this play out? If I am Coach Mitchell the players who simply play smart basketball and the toughest D get the nod in my books.
Slokar vs. Tucker
Obviously these guys play different positions but the question here is who manages to stay with the big club and who ends up in the D-league. As a Raps' fan, this battle equates to a a no-lose situation as both guys could probably use some time in the D league to develop their games, but from an individual standpoint both will want to stay in the world of private planes, first class service and more than a $12 allowance for meals. During the pre-season games it will be interesting to see which guy brings something to the table that may be missing from the current line-up.
Enjoy the pre-season....it's going to be a battle from within.