Has the 2010 NBA season been a successful one for the Toronto Raptors to date? Franchise takes a look at this question from a few different angles...
Last year, at the 24 game mark, the Toronto Raptors had 10 wins and 14 losses.
It was an underwhelming start, but five straight wins during the week of December 18th got the club back on track, and a dominant January saw the Dinos look record-wise like a playoff team.
Of course we know how the whole thing played out in the end, but it's interesting therefore to note then this year that the Raps, currently with a 9 and 15 record, are only a game behind last year's pace going into tomorrow night's match against the Bobcats.
This is without Chris Bosh and Hedo Turkoglu, and with one of the younger teams in the league, a team that from game-to-game still seems to be trying to indoctrinate various new faces.
Would you then say that this season has been a success to date?
It's an interesting question, and one that Bryan Colangelo and management will likely be pondering from here on out.
From a talent perspective, it's hard not to say that this season has indeed been a win.
With the exception of a loss or two, the club plays hard every night and has won some games that on paper, it had no business winning. The mere fact that its record this season is virtually the same as last echoes this point, although one could argue that last year's schedule was tougher to start.
Many picked the Raps to sit at the very bottom of the East but at present, they're hovering around the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot.
That's one way of looking at things, and it's admittedly a short-term view.
From a future perspective, I also understand how someone could say this season has been a worst-case scenario.
Not bad enough to fall into the very bottom of the NBA basement, and yet not good enough to challenge for a meaningful playoff spot, this season could end up being similar to the 2008-09 version of the team, the 33 win group that was just enough of pain to grab upset wins, but not bad enough for a top lottery spot. That lottery spot may be a moot point should a lock-out occur, but in any event, at present ESPN.com's John Hollinger has the Raptors slotted for 35 wins on the season, a number which likely puts them just out of playoff reach.
To me though, this season was never about playoffs or a certain number of wins.
No, this one was about advancing in the right direction, both from an individual and team perspective.
Has this occurred?
At just over the season's quarter mark, I'm not sure we can say yet.
From an overall view, the team's defence is again atrocious. It's 25th in points allowed, 27th in defensive efficiency, and generally near the league bottom in all other categories that reflect strength in D.
And last year's high-powered offense hasn't been nearly as good.
13th in the league in offensive efficiency is a solid mark, but the club is in the bottom five in 3 point shooting and after years of being one of the best free-throw shooting clubs in the league, has fallen to 16th overall in that metric.
In my books, this doesn't look like a step forward by any means.
And on an individual basis, things aren't much clearer.
Sonny Weems and DeMar DeRozan look pretty much like the same players they were last year, exhibiting flashes of improvement for a game or two, but the big leaps many were expecting just haven't happened.
Jose Calderon has bounced back a bit, but one can hardly say he's returned to his former dominant self either, and the same could be said for newer acquisitions like Leandro Barbosa and Linas Kleiza; inconsistency has been the name of the game in fact for nearly the entire team.
The brightest spot in my books has been up front where Amir Johnson has taken a big step forward, especially on offense, and Reggie Evans prior to injury re-established himself as one of the league's premier rebounders. Ed Davis and Joey Dorsey have shown some nice upside in limited minutes too, and as a result, Toronto has actually been one of the best in various rebounding metrics, something unheard of in the post Oakley and JYD days.
The other bright spot to me has been Andrea Bargnani.
Bargs hasn't statistically advanced much, but considering my fairly low expectations for him this season he's been a pleasant surprise in my books, especially on offence where with each game he looks more and more confident in his own scoring abilities. He's added a few new dimensions to his O-game which is great to see, and when that part is humming along, he truly is one of the league's tougher match-ups for opponents.
However in my opinion, Andrea's value to the team this year is more of a testament to the club's lack of talent than Bargs' becoming a legit All-Star candidate. He's head and shoulders above his teammates as the top offensive option for sure, but let me ask you something:
Couldn't Al Harrington have essentially the same impact on this team if he and Andrea switched places?
In fact I was awaiting Toronto's match-up with Denver this season with baited breath in order to compare these two players. In the off-season I did a statistical analysis of Bargnani vs Channing Frye, but later on I got thinking that a much better compare is Mr. Harrington, a similar offensive juggernaut when given minutes, and one of the league's tougher covers, especially in his prime.
Sure, Andrea has the upside but look at how similar these two have been in their careers to date:
14.1 points per game, 5.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists.
45 per cent shooting from the field, 36 per cent shooting from long range, 73 per cent shooting from the free throw line with 3.3 free throw attempts per match.
Those would be the career averages of one Al Harrington.
14.2 points per game, 4.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists.
44 per cent shooting from the field, 37 per cent shooting from long range, 82 per cent shooting from the free throw line with 3.5 free throw attempts per match.
Those would be the career averages of one Andrea Bargnani.
I expect Andrea's scoring average obviously to keep climbing in the future, but I doubt many of those other metrics change that much.
Again, this is not a tirade against Bargnani here, the point I'm simply trying to make is that Andrea is what he is; a supremely talented offensive player but one that doesn't contribute enough in other areas consistently at this point to be able to carry the weight himself. We saw this with Bosh and regardless of how you feel about CB4 vs. Andrea etc, etc, the bottom line is Bosh wasn't a big enough individual difference maker in terms of wins, and ultimately that's how Andrea will and should be judged too. He needs help, and as the season goes on we'll see if he can start getting that help, especially from Toronto's supposed "young ones."
Should he get it, then suddenly this might be a very interesting version of the Dinos, one that already this year has been infinitely more entertaining because of their up-and-down style and increased athleticism.
Should the team continue to stumble along though, winning somewhere in that 30 game range, then again as Raptors' fans we'll in all probability be looking again at a murky off-season, a somewhat daunting prospect...
....lock-out or no lock-out...