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3 In the Key – Toronto Raptors Game-Day Preview vs. Timberwolves

Uh oh...don't listen TOO carefully Kevin...

Uh oh...don't listen TOO carefully Kevin...

If someone was to ask me back in September what I thought the five worst teams in the league would be this year, I would have said:

1) Oklahoma (Team needs 10 Durants just to get out of the basement in the West.)
2) Memphis (Some nice young talent in the back-court and wings but…right…they have Darko.)
3) Minnesota (It’s going to take more than Mike Miller and Kevin Love to get this D League crew to the 30 win plateau.)
4) New Jersey (If they were in the West, they’d take top spot.)
5) New York (This team should be worst in the league in terms of their chemistry, however they have enough individually talented players to beat any team on a given night.)

In fact, it would have been a real tough call not to put Memphis at 3 and Minny at 2. Yes, I really believed the team was going to be that bad.

I mean, you take out Al Jefferson and is there a single player on the rest of the roster who would start for a good team? I think not. Even the newly acquired Mike Miller is more of a sixth-man option.

This roster reads like a who’s who of NBA retreads for the most part and even some of the highly touted youth like Corey Brewer, Randy Foye, Sebastian Telfair, Rashard McCants and Rodney Carney have yet to show and prove.

If Carleton is considered "Last Chance U" by Canadian students, Minnesota has to be the NBA equivalent.

David Harrison? Calvin Booth? Brian Cardinal? Mark Madsen? Kevin Ollie? Jason Collins?

Are you kidding me?

However there are those who think the Wolves might surprise some teams this year.

In his team previews, John Hollinger actually predicted that the Wolves would top the 30 win mark this season, thanks mostly to the club’s improved offence due to the additions of Love, Miller and Carney. The team was the 27th worst offensive club last year so one could indeed argue that they have no where to go but up.

However we as Raptors’ fans know just how far that climb can be at times. Back in the Rafer Alston era with only Chris Bosh to really look at as a "light at the end of the tunnel," things sure seemed bleak. It was a few seasons and some new management before Toronto got out of the NBA basement.

In fact, it’s slightly ironic that one of GM Kevin McHale’s head honchos in this rebuilding process is none other than beleaguered former Raptors’ GM Rob Babcock. Babcock is tasked with a very similar situation to the one he inherited in Toronto; one potential All-Star power forward and not much else.

The problem is, he’s working with Kevin McHale.

Does anyone realize that McHale could possibly have orchestrated two trades that led to NBA Championships in the last two consecutive years if Philly wins it all in 2009? The KG deal has been analyzed to death but how about this one; remember how the 76ers cleared cap room to sign Elton Brand? Oh right, they dealt Rodney Carney and Kevin Ollie to Minny, where Kevin McHale said he’d gladly take them off their hands!

Carney might still turn into a decent pro but give me a break here. McHale at times has even made Isiah Thomas look competent!

Alright, enough management bashing for now. I should probably save some ammo for the regular season.

Tonight’s game, while another preseason match against a lesser foe (who picked Toronto’s schedule this year as an aside?), should still be very interesting from a Raps’ fan’s perspective.

Here are four questions for tonight which have peaked my curiosity:

1) Who plays the majority of the back-up minutes at point guard?

While early on in preseason it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that Solomon was going to be the back-up to Jose when the season began, that’s hardly the case. Sam Mitchell in speaking with the media today at practice discussed how pleased he’s been with Roko Ukic’s play and how he needs to get him some more minutes in the final two preseason games. However this may not be at the expense of Will Solomon. Apparently Jose asked to play more last game to get some more rhythm going and now he’ll probably sit more in the final matches so Sam can get a really good look at both Will and Roko. Apparently Roko’s a complete gym rat and has been making like Jay-Z and asking a "Million and One Questions" to the Raptors’ coaching staff.

This is all great stuff to hear and combined with Mitchell’s displeasure over Solomon’s play last game, I’m excited to see just who comes out on top tonight. The bottom line is that the second unit needs to start getting a better feel for playing together and whichever point guard can do that, probably gets the nod. Which brings me to my next question…

2) Can the second unit get on track?

Remember last year when TJ got hurt and Jose took the reigns in the first unit? Well Jose’s play was off the charts and the starters cruised without missing a beat. However the second unit suddenly became very stale offensively and failed to function as a cohesive unit. Neither Darrick Martin nor Juan Dixon were the answer and couldn’t wait for the return of Ford.

We all know how that worked out but regardless, the point here is that if neither Roko or Solomon are able to get the offense going with the second group, then what? At least last year the team had the playmaking abilities of Carlos Delfino to fall back on, and the sometimes sparkplug scoring of Juan Dixon. This year? Not so much, and even though Eddie Jones is now a free agent, I don’t think he’s the answer either.

Therefore it’s going to be interesting to see what lineup combinations Mitchell uses as he looks to find the right mix of subs that works. This extends beyond the point guards as well since Hassan Adams has yet to have much impact and Jason Kapono still looks much more at ease playing with the starters. It sounds like Joey Graham might be back as well so I expect Sam to try his luck with a number of different player variations.

3) Can Bargs keep it up?

He was hardly Dwight Howard on Tuesday night but Dino fans did see Andrea doing some things that he rarely did last year, in particular, taking the ball to the rim. He got to the line eight times, scored on some tough moves in the paint, blocked three shots, and grabbed six rebounds, three of them on the offensive end.

I expect Andrea therefore to play 30 plus minutes tonight in match-ups where he should have the upper hand. He’ll likely be playing against grinders like Mark Madsen and Craig Smith so he’ll have his work cut out for him on the glass, but offensively he’s much more mobile than either of these two, and hopefully we’ll get to see him going one-on-one with Kevin Love as well.

4) Couldn’t Babcock have waited until after this game to cut Hoffa?

Perhaps Rob was saving Araujo from a Vince Carteresque treatment tonight by waiving him only days ago. We’ll never know, but a battle of Andrea and Hoffa would have been worth every penny of the over-priced preseason ticket fare from an unintentional comedy perspective alone.