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The Lure of Potential

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Perception of course is not always reality and Franchise ponders about the true potential of this year's version of the Toronto Raptors...

As many readers know, one of my favourite sports writers is none other than the Globe's Michael Grange.

Grange always gives it straight via his blog, From Deep, and often, makes me think about something I hadn't thought of before, especially in regards to the Toronto Raptors, or puts a new spin on it.

A great example of the latter?

Yesterday afternoon's post discussing his take on the Dinos with only one pre-season game remaining.

In it, Grange astutely points out that:

Pre-season is pre-season, but a glance at the league standings more-or-less corresponds with the general expectations of what the standings will look like when the ball goes up for real: In either conference there are no projected top-four seeds that are simply stinking it up. In the East Cleveland is 3-3, but they have Shaq on their team – just guessing he’s not going too hard just yet – and have had a serious flu bug to deal with. But Orlando and Boston? A combined 10-1. Out West the Lakers, Mavericks, Jazz and Spurs are a combined 15-6. Denver is 2-3 but had a trip to China to cope with. The bottom third of the standings in each conference look about right, with clubs like Minnesota, Sacramento, Memphis, Jersey and Toronto all struggling. The Raptors better hope they’re the exception.

The argument has always been that pre-season is just that, pre-season, however it's hard not to agree with Mike's logic here.  In fact it was after witnessing Toronto's .500ish pre-season play last year that I revised my earlier expectations in terms of wins and downgraded my estimate.  No, I didn't think that pre-season was an exact case of "what you've been seeing is what you're going to get," but there were certain things that stood out for me as likely causes for concern; from the back-up point guard spot to wing play.

However this year I'm not going quite that same route.

Last year the team was trying to change styles of play by incorporating Jermaine O'Neal into the mix, but there wasn't the same plethora of new player and chemistry issues to deal with.  I also still firmly believe that this current squad boasts superior talent in comparison to last year's team, and that eventually (read December), we'll see a team with some true promise.  And as discussed yesterday, that promise may not be realized for a year, but in any event, I expect to see improvements over last season.

Recently however, it doesn't seem that everyone else agrees.

Chad Ford twittered yesterday that he expected the Suns and Raptors to both miss the playoffs, and various other "experts" are placing the "overrated" label on this current version of the Dinos.

Bryan Colangelo just weeks ago was being viewed once more as the Legomaster for being able to turn Duplo blocks into those cool pieces from the Lego Space sets... to speak.

But now after x number of pre-season games, you can already hear the naysayers starting up the bandwagon.

So here's where Grange really comes in.

After reading his post yesterday I got thinking about the current make-up of this team; is this team in fact overrated?  Do the pieces brought in this off-season by BC simply look better than they are because they are "new" or "different?"  After seeing Joey Graham frustrate you with his potential for three plus seasons, isn't it easier to be swayed by a Marco Belinelli or an Amir Johnson; players that have shown glimpses of promise with other teams, but have never got the opportunity to really show what they can do?

I think so, and I think that's a major point we all need to be wary of prior to the season's tip-off.

It's always easy to fall in love with potential - that's why players like Gerald Green and Saer Sene get drafted each year.  And sometimes there's a good reason a player hasn't gotten the opportunity to "live up" to his potential.

It's because it isn't there.

Take Amir Johnson.

Even I was extremely excited about having him on this team this season and wondered if in the end, he might be challenging Reggie Evans for key back-up minutes at the 4.  However Sunday's game against Boston made me realize why in all likelyhood, this isn't going to happen.  He's just not great at anything other than blocking shots and scoring off of put-back dunks.  Several times he was given post-up opportunities only to show about as many polished moves on the blocks as Fergie.  (In fact she probably has more.)  It wasn't pretty.

That's not to say that Johnson and the various other new members of the Raptors' bench aren't upgrades over last season, they are...

...but I want to emphasize that it's all relative.

Last year the team was basically relying on fringe NBA players to back-up the starters.

This year there's definitely an improvement in talent, but let's not confuse this group with the Lakers 6 through 12.  Luke Walton would be a sixth man candidate for the Raps, not a 9th or 10th guy like he is with LA.

Therefore I think the truth regarding Toronto's potential this year falls somewhere between the 50 win plateau that many were throwing around prior to the season, and Grange's comparison of the pre-season standings to that of the eventual regular season.  When the Raptors figure things out offensively, I think they'll be alright.

I hope so in any event.

Vegas has the Raps pegged for 41.5 wins, and yesterday, I bet on the over.