On a scale of 1 to 10, how excited are you about the return of Raptors' basketball?
I'm at a 14, possibly 14.2.
Sure, it's only pre-season, but considering this team has a lot of questions in terms of rotations and line-ups for the coming season, pre-season in my opinion should be a little more interesting this year than in year's past.
And after sitting at Jack Astor's last night with one of my co-writers, Ray Bala, essentially entranced by the new-look Miami Heat, well, the fact that NBA basketball is back period is a breath of fresh air.
Tonight of course, the Dinos kick off their season in Vancouver, against home-town hero Steve Nash and his Phoenix Suns. The match features some interesting subplots considering it marks Hedo Turkoglu's first game against his former team (Leandro Barbosa's as well), the Suns first game without the services of Amar'e Stoudemire, and of course, Toronto's first game without Chris Bosh.
With that in mind, instead of our regular season "3 Keys," our pre-season previews will be more akin to "3 Things the HQ will be watching for tonight."
Let's kick it off with rotations...
1. Rotations: The pre-season is a chance for coaches to do a lot of things; evaluate player development, examine match-ups, start to establish team chemistry on the court, etc, etc. It's also a good chance to see just who works well with whom in terms of line-up combinations.
I'm expecting to see a starting five of Jack, DeRozan, Kleiza, Bargnani and Johnson tonight but beyond that, I'd say most everyone gets minutes. And I wouldn't be surprised to see guys like DeRozan and Kleiza play major minutes, even though it seems most have them penciled in for key roles with this team come regular season. These players just haven't played much together as of yet so unlike a team such as the Magic or Hawks who have had essentially the same core for the past few seasons, Toronto once again is starting fresh to a certain extent.
2. Offensive execution: Who's this Chris Bosh guy everyone's talking about? Oh, you mean the guy who had 20 points and 6 rebounds in just over 25 minutes of action for the Miami Heat last night?
Yep, that guy.
We've talked about the impact of his absence ad nauseam this summer but tonight we'll get a first taste of what it is to be Bosh-less.
On this note then, I'm extremely curious to see just who is featured in Triano's new-look O. The popular guess is the ball goes to Bargs first, but will Kleiza get more opportunities to score? How about DeRozan and Weems, just what roles will they play in terms of scoring the ball? Will we indeed see more emphasis on ball movement without Bosh holding things up in the post?
I expect of course this to be a bit of a work in progress, but tonight should be our first taste of what to expect offensively from the Dinos this year.
3. Defensive Improvement: I realize it's pre-season and the team is trying to incorporate a ton of new faces, but much like the offensive execution, tonight should give fans a first peek at what Triano and his new coaching staff is trying to do on D this year.
There's been lots of talk about defensive focus in the papers so far through training camp, but is there any different schemas that Toronto is looking to incorporate? Or is this simply a matter of accountability primarily. I argued this off-season that Toronto should look to the zone much more often on D and we'll see this pre-season if Triano has inclinations of doing such a thing too.
Most importantly for me though, is against a team like Phoenix that likes to get up and down the court, how will Toronto's transition D look. Will the Raps look to create their own offense off stops in transition, or will we see the same problems that manifested themselves defensively all last season.
My guess is there won't be much in terms of apparent change as of now, but I'll be looking for subtle hints that improvements are on the way.
As well, the argument has been that removing Bosh from this side of the equation won't hurt the team much and I'm curious to see how this plays out this season, starting with tonight's match.
The game is being shown on TSN at 10 PM EST and we'll be kicking off our live-blogging schedule for the year tonight at that time.
Drop by and chat Raps as the team puts an end to an arduous off-season and begins their 2010-11 schedule!