Continuing on yesterday's theme of "non-traditional" season previews, Franchise takes one final look at the 2009-10 Toronto Raptors, but this time by way of 8 predications about how things will unfold when all is said and done...
I'm more excited this year than last.
By a long shot.
How's that for an opening statement?
Especially coming from someone who over the past few months has tempered his enthusiasm for this latest incarnation of the Toronto Raptors basketball club, and probably seemed like a bit of a Debbie Downer to many a reader.
But it's the truth.
I just never was a huge believer in the Jermaine O'Neal/Roko Ukic era Dinos, and and while I don't think this new version is an NBA Finals contender, I think that it finally has some pieces to work with that haven't been present in years.
And even outside the Raptors, there are a number of NBA stories that have me pumped to tune in starting this evening; from the reloaded Spurs and Mavs, and up-and-coming Blazers looking to challenge the Lakers out West, to hopefully a healthy Celtics club and a Shaqified Cavaliers team in the East.
Combine that with the strange re-ignition of the Vince Carter rivalry by way of Carter replacing the Raps' key free-agent acquisition on his former team, and various other subplots (the return of Agent Zero, the continuing ascension of Kevin Durant, the possible unintentional comedy goldmine of Zach Randolph and AI playing in Memphis...) and you've got one amped RaptorsHQ member.
To that end, instead of naming keys to the season (defence, rebounding, Andrea's play, blah blah blah), I thought I'd go with 8 fearless predictions in honour of the team finishing with a top 8 spot and a return to the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Let's do it...
1. Chris Bosh has a career season and is the Raptors' lone representative at the annual All-Star Game.
Bosh is saying all the right things so far this off-season, and in spite of a small injury set-back to begin training camp, looks poised to have his most dominant season ever. He's added size and strength, is in a contract year, and was reportedly thinking about things like "spacing" in the off-season instead of the latest PSIII games. All that to say that while I don't think we'll see 30 points and 15 rebounds a game, but it wouldn't be a stretch for me to say that CB4 will finish the season around the 24 points and 11 and half rebound mark, his best marks statistically so far.
However even with hopefully a healthy Calderon, an improved Andrea Bargnani, and the addition of Hedo Turkoglu, I still think Bosh will be the only Raptor representing up North come All-Star time.
2. DeMar DeRozan has a roller-coaster rookie season but makes Rookie Team for All-Star Festivities.
That being said, while I expect Bosh to be the only Raptor rep at the main event in Dallas, I do think that Mr. DeRozan will be the latest in the long line of Toronto players to participate in the annual Rookie-Sophomore match. I'm not expecting a Vince Carter-type rookie season from the former USC swingman as I expect an up-and-down campaign more akin to the recent one from Rodney Stuckey, but I think he'll show enough to get the All-Star nod.
3. Hedo Turkoglu has a solid season but fails to replicate his success in Orlando.
This one to me is pretty obvious. I just can't see how Turk, on a team with two excellent point guards guiding the team's offence, can be as impactful as he was in Orlando, especially with dominant offensive players like Bosh and Bargnani needing touches to be effective. With the Magic, especially after Jameer Nelson went down, Hedo needed to look for his own shot quite often. He had another talented offensive partner with him in Rashard Lewis, but that was about it. Players like Rafer Alston and Dwight Howard often found their scoring as a result of something Hedo created, not because plays were specifically run for them. In fact, most of Howard's scoring came from put-backs and by overwhelming an opponent physically, so Turk hardly needed to ensure that he was the first option offensively.
With the Raptors that's going to be quite different and as opposed to last season's 16.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists, I'm expecting numbers along the lines of 14 points, 4 rebounds and 3.5 assists. He's still a major upgrade at the 3 spot, but I'm expecting more frustrating shot decisions then buzzer-beaters by season's end.
4. Andrea Bargnani shows minimal improvement statistically, but begins to round out his game.
After a great second half of the season offensively, many are expecting this season to be Andrea's breakout year.
I'm not one of them.
This isn't because I don't think it's in him, I do, but I think that simply based on the addition of Hedo, an improved roster of talent, and what I expect to be a career-year from Bosh, Bargs is just not going to get the touches offensively that he needs to maximize his effectiveness. (I'll even go so far as to say that as long as he's paired with CB4, this won't happen but that's a blog topic for another time.) Add on the fact that I don't think he's ever going to be a great rebounder from the center position, and I think a slight jump in metrics, say 18 points and six rebounds a game, to be the end result by the time the season wraps up.
That being said, I am expecting him to continue to round out his game, especially on the defensive end, and continue to show that he has the tools to be a very good player in this league for years to come.
5. Sonny Weems plays more minutes than Marco Belinelli.
Of all the off-season acquisitions made by Bryan Colangelo, I think the Weems "throw-in for salary matching purposes" will end up having the biggest impact compared to expectations. Weems is starting the season on the inactive list due to injury (along with Reggie Evans and Quincy Douby) but I expect him to play a fairly large role on the team this season simply based on his athletic ability and grit. A starter? Hardly. But I do expect him to be a regular in the rotation perhaps as an 8th or 9th man, and I expect him to play more minutes than the much more heralded Marco Belinelli.
6. Toronto starts December with a 5 and 13 record...
No, not exactly an upbeat take on things, but the reality I think is that taking the schedule in November, injuries, and 12 new faces and a new system into account, it's going to be a struggle early on.
7. ...however makes the playoffs.
That being said, I think the team will really start to gel in December, and simply get stronger by the month, eventually grabbing one of the final playoff spots in the East.
I don't see a first round victory in the cards, but it will be an important step back in the right direction.
8. Bosh re-signs for max dollars.
And finally, the big question that will be lurking all season; will Bosh re-sign with the Raps?
I think he will for a number of reasons, ranging from the amount of money he'd be leaving on the table to go elsewhere, his happiness with the club's direction, his affection for the city of Toronto, and his relationship with Bryan Colangelo.
I'm not sure this is what's best for the franchise in the long run, but in the short-run it will continue to provide the club with stability and act as a testament to Bryan Colangelo's ability to attract and retain key free-agents.
Of course the real outcome of that final prediction is a long ways away. Until then, we've got 82 games to discuss, starting tomorrow night against Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in what promises to be a very tough opener to the season.
We've analyzed and broken down the off-season moves this team has made to death.
Now it's time to see how they really perform.