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RaptorsHQ 2007-08 Season Preview

It doesn’t seem real.

Leafs fans are chanting "Let’s Go Raptors," Kobe may not be a Laker in a few weeks and the Backstreet Boys and Brintney Spears have a new albums out.

Am I living in some bizzaro world?

Or is the NBA season finally upon us after what was certainly the longest NBA off-season on record.

I mean come on, did they have to take eight months off?

Oh wait…it was only about four?? Well it FELT like eight!

Here at the HQ, we’ve passed the summer by looking at draft picks, free agent camps (hello Jamario Moon), lots of international play, and even some of the Raptors in-game staff and their roles with the club. It has not been easy like summer's past.

But finally, we get back to our bread and butter – Raptors’ ball.

Last night got me warmed up for tonight’s Raps action with looks at the Rockets, Lakers, Spurs and Blazers on RaptorsTV (for all those fantasy ballers with LaMarcus Aldridge on their squads, give yourselves a big high-five) and I can’t wait for tonight’s tip-off…even if it is against the lowly 76ers.

Like we did last year, the HQ is going to look at three key points when previewing each of Toronto’s games, however this year we’re also going to add something else – the opposing team’s blog’s take on the game. We won’t be doing this for every game, but for various matches during the season we’ll be reaching out in the blogosphere to get some nuggets of wisdom from an assortment of websites.

But before we take a closer look at tonight’s match, let’s take a closer look at the 2007-08 edition of the Raptors now that the roster is set, starting at point guard.

The Point Guards:

TJ Ford, Jose Calderon, Darrick Martin - Best point guard situation in the league? I would say so. It certainly beats the mess in Houston that’s for sure. Right now the only other trio that I’d put near the same level as Toronto’s dime-droppers are Golden State’s Baron Davis, Monta Ellis and Troy Hudson and Ellis plays shooting guard quite often for G State. In addition, Ford and Calderon are point guards in the pure sense of the word, unlike Davis and Ellis. Sure Davis can pass the ball, but as anyone who’s ever had him on their fantasy squad knows, he also throws up a lot of shots.

No one expects Martin to play much thankfully but having Jose Calderon as a backup is an incredible luxury. Look around the league, is there ANY other backup as good? On top of that TJ is coming off a great pre-season where he looks ready to have a break-out year. Perhaps an All-Star one? Well to do that in the East, injuries aside, he’d probably need to beat out the likes of Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Ben Gordon, and Joe Johnson at this point. Yes, some tough competition at the guard spot, but I think TJ is really going to turn some heads this year. And with Calderon’s ever more deadly outside shooting, this position is going to be a major key for the Raps this year. I’m expecting a more in-control TJ, and an even more aggressive Jose to form the perfect 1-2 punch. Oh…and some excellent butt-slapping, gum chewing and clapping from Darrick Martin for the perfect 1, 2, 3 combo…

As we’ve discussed before the sky is the limit with this PG combo but it could also be the x-factor for the season. For the teams sake let’s hope that the PG’s can embrace their given roles for the benefit of the team because if everyone is not on the same page then some grey clouds could be in the forecast.

The Shooting Guards:

Anthony Parker, Carlos Delfino, Juan Dixon - Another position that looks to be an advantage for Toronto. Sure, it’s not like we have Paul Pierce at this spot, but Parker has proven to be an effective scorer and Toronto’s best individual defender. He’s also a great compliment to Chris Bosh with his outside shooting touch and makes CB4’s job inside that much easier. Carlos Delfino started to come on strong towards the end of pre-season and could be a real factor off the bench for the Raptors with his athleticism and rebounding from the 2 or 3 spot. And finally, Juan Dixon. I felt Dixon had a solid pre-season, looked to be in good shape, and could provide Toronto backup help at the 1 along with veteran savvy and automatic offense off the bench. His reward for this – rumours of Toronto management considering buying him out. This spot in my mind has to think defense first, and opportune scoring second in order for Toronto to be successful this year. Some of the league’s best 2-guards will be matched up against these players and if the Raps can get stops at this position, it will go a long way in determining the outcome of games.

Individually, I’m looking for different things from all three players this season. From Parker, I’m looking for more of an "attack-the-basket" mentality. He’s such a great shooter that the more he gets to the line, the easier the game will be for Toronto. From Delfino, I’m looking for energy. In his final two pre-season games, Del was all over the court grabbing boards, looking for tip-ins and cutting to the hoop. This is what I expect from his this season, essentially playing the role of organized chaos off the bench, giving opponents fits and mixing things up for the Raps. Finally from Dixon, I’d like to see improved shot selection. We know the kid can score, as a Duke fan, I still have nightmares of him in his Maryland days. But this year I’d like to see him hound opposing guards at every opportunity at one end of the court and help facilitate the offense at the other.

All of the guys are going to be called on at some point in the season to perform. Parker seems like a sure thing but to get the maximum out of the position Delfino and Dixon are going to need to exceed expectations. It’s very possible that Delfino is another one of those moves made by the Legomaster that gives him the reputation that he has. Lost cost, high return.

The Small Forwards:

Jason Kapono, Joey Graham, Jamario Moon – And now the wild card. We could also throw Carlos Delfino, Andrea Bargnani, Jorge Garbajosa and even Anthony Parker in this category as it could very well be SF by committee this season. The signing of Kapono in the off-season was supposed to address this spot on the court and while Kap-One has looked deadly from downtown at times, he’s also been doing his best Dell Curry impression defensively. This is year three of course for Joey Graham, and despite the fact that his option was just picked up this is probably his last chance to show that he belongs in the league. He started to come on towards the end of last year but who knows just how much time he’ll get this year to show his stuff. And last, but certainly not least, replacing Mo Pete on the Franchise favourite list – Jamario Moon! He and Delfino are officially Franchise’s two favourite Raptors and I’m excited to see just what this kid can do as the season goes on. I’m not expecting him to see a lot of action, but if Joey isn’t getting the job done in his limited role, I for one see Moon taking his spot in Mitchell’s rotation.

So expectations from these three? From Kapono, I know he’s not going to be a Shane Battier on D. Therefore he simply must hit his open shots. If he does this, and manages to keep players in front of him as much as possible, I’ll be content. If not, it will be tough for me to come down from my pulpit concerning my misgivings about this signing. If he consistently gets beat of the bounce leaving Bosh and Bargs to step-up that means rotations are going to have to be tight, easy hoops or foul trouble for the bigs. From Graham – consistency. Saying that is like beating a dead horse, but clearly BC see’s something here or why else would he exercise the option. The Nets didn’t pick up the option of Antoine Wright. It’s not that Graham needs to be consistently good in all areas, just one. I don’t care if it’s him consistently playing D or consistently sitting on the bench, just SOME REGULARITY. Maybe I need to get him some Metamucil…
And from Moon, I’d like to see him do the little things in the limited time he gets. A blocked shot here, a charge there, those things that sometimes can have a huge impact on the flow of the game.

The Power Forwards:

Chris Bosh, Jorge Garbajosa, Kris Humphries – These next two groups will probably be used interchangeably by Sam Mitchell but for ease of reading, I’ve broken them into two groups. Bosh of course is the team’s go-to player, Garbo is the enforcer with the broken leg, and Humphries…well, he’s somewhat of a SF trapped in a PF body. In my mind, this and the center position are going to be the most important ones on the court for Toronto to have a successful season. Bryan Colangelo has built this team around CB4 and the Raptors need him to repeat the success of last season. They also need a healthy Garbajosa to help on the glass and stretch things out offensively. And from Humphries, the team needs less one on five offense, and more of the grit, hustle, rebounding and intensity that he brought towards the end of last season.

From Bosh therefore my expectation, and hope, is that he plays at least 70 games. I’m not convinced he’s 100 per cent healthy and he may not get to be until the off-season. Therefore it’s extremely important that he has some gas in the tank come stretch drive time and hopefully Sam Mitchell does a good job of keeping him rested. As Bosh goes, so does this team. My expectation from Garbajosa is quite similar, that he stay healthy. Unfortunately due to his play in pre-season and lack of use, this seems like an injury waiting to happen and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned. Garbo was one of the key glue guys on this team last year, perhaps the most unheralded of all the players. I was expecting big things from him this year after a season of adjusting to the NBA game. Now however, I’ve had to lower my expectations and as I said, I’m almost cringing in anticipation of seeing him take a nasty tumble on that un-healed leg at some point. As for Humphries, I’m thinking the opposite of Garbo and my expectations for him this season are quite high. He’s got all the tools to become a solid back-up for CB4 and approaching a contract year, I’m hoping he shows that he can bang in the paint with the best of them.

Can CB4 be the face of the franchise for 82 games?
Can CB4 be the face of the franchise for 82 games?

On a whole this is a nice rotation at the four spot as each of these guys brings something a little different. Athleticism, defense, IQ, bulk, scoring….depending on the flow of a game Mitchell may use all of these guys.

The Centers:

Andrea Bargnani, Rasho Nesterovic, Maceo Baston – While the small forward position may be done by committee this season, the center position looks to be Andrea Bargnani’s for the taking. He had a rough off-season with the Italian team, but in pre-season looked to be ready to take the next step from his successful rookie campaign. Rasho looks to have more bounce in his step after a great off-season with his National Team and should give Toronto some much needed help on the glass. And Maceo Baston – well…he may not play. Baston played the least of anyone in pre-season and it’s unclear as to whether this is an indication of his ability, or if he was simply caught in the numbers game.

In any event, this is one position for Toronto that I have great expectations for. From Bargnani, I desperately want to see some inside presence and in particular, rebounding. He’s already done a good job in pre-season of aggressively going to the basket on offence and hopefully that carries over on the defensive end when cleaning the glass. It’s tough to say what his rebounding numbers will be like because "more made shots the less rebounds there are to get". It’s hard not to have full faith in Bargs that he will rise to the challenge as he has done since being drafted. Rebounding will also be key from Rasho as interior play is likely going to be a big question for this under-sized Toronto team. In addition, a few less fade-away hook shots and a few more drop steps from Nesterovic would be nice as well. As for Baston, I’m not sure what I expect. I’d love to say that I expect him to come in and block shots, but I’m just not sure he’s going to see much more time on the court than Darrick Martin or Jamario Moon…which brings us to the Raptors rotation.

My thoughts are that the starters for Toronto include:

PG – TJ Ford
SG – Anthony Parker
SF – Jason Kapono
PF – Chris Bosh
C – Andrea Bargnani

First off the bench?

Of course it depends on things like match-ups and foul trouble but I think the first three will be Calderon, Delfino and Rasho.

From there, it’s a bit foggier. Originally I thought Garbo would be in to back up Bosh but considering how little he played in pre-season, I’m wondering now if that role won’t be Kris Humphries until we see the Jorge of old.

That makes 10, with the two remaining spots being filled by Joey Graham and Juan Dixon with Baston, Moon and Martin sitting things out unless injuries set in.

That could change but I think that’s how things will shake down when the lineups are unveiled tonight against the 76ers.

Aaaah yes, the Sixers.

While the Timberwolves look like the real mess of the league after the KG debacle, I actually think they’re doing the right thing now by rebuilding completely. It’s like GM Kevin McHale said "Hey, if you’re going to go down in flames, you might as well leave the biggest explosion on impact possible!"

But Philly on the other hand, even after trading AI, is still in that "bad but not terrible enough for a top pick" mode. As Raptors fans, we all know that feeling too well…it was one that seemingly plagued the organization for way too long.

For tonight’s game, I’m looking at three key things:

Glass-work: The 76ers will be without center Samuel Dalembert leaving journeyman Calvin Booth and rookie Herbert Hill to do the dirty work underneath. Powerforward Reggie Evans will be responsible for the bulk of the boardwork but this should be a great opportunity for Andrea Bargnani to gain some confidence underneath and for Raptors like Carlos Delfino, to get easy put-backs.

Bench play: The 76ers have some interesting young rookies, but just don’t have the depth and experience of Toronto off the pine. To put it simply, I think the team that wins the battle of the bench, comes away with the win.

Slow down Andre Iguodala: Iguodala’s no Kobe in terms of being a one-man wrecking crew, however letting him get to the rim opens things up for the likes of Kyle Korver and Willie Green who can quickly fill it up from long-range. I’m looking for Parker, Delfino and Graham to shadow Iggy all night and force him into tough shots from outside of the paint.

AI has been a Raps killer since Hoffa's name was called....
AI has been a Raps killer since Hoffa's name was called....

I really think this is going to be an easy win for Toronto. The team looks ready to me, has great chemistry, and much more talent and depth than Philly. It’s also a very important first game for Toronto as after Philly, Toronto takes on the two teams who probably represent their top competition for the Atlantic Division title; New Jersey and Boston respectively.

In fact, I think that once again injuries aside, the Raptors are still the best team in this division with New Jersey and Boston finishing second and third respectively in a close-fought battle.

But enough talk and speculation though, the season is finally back.

We will be at the ACC tonight to see the new intro montage, the new lineups and the start to the new Raptors season.

It’s been a long time coming, but this season promises to be worth the wait.

The HQ

PS: If this isn't enough for ya all the teams previews can be found here.