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Jump Ball: Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun and Franchise Preview the Upcoming Raptors' Season

Will Bargs take the next step this season?  Wolstat thinks there will be a step in the right direction...Franchise isn't so sure.
Will Bargs take the next step this season? Wolstat thinks there will be a step in the right direction...Franchise isn't so sure.

In the first of the season's "Jump Ball's," Franchise and the Toronto Sun's Ryan Wolstat talk about the upcoming Raptors' season as well as some classic hip-hop...

We've discussed this before at the HQ, but one of my favourite things about having media access to the Dinos, is getting to know the great group of young journalists covering the team.

The media version of the "young gunz" if you will.

Whether it's the National Post's Eric Koreen and his witty insight, or Holly MacKenzie's unquenchable thirst for all things basketball-related, there's a great group of younger reporters on the scene who are helping to change the Toronto basketball media landscape.

Another member of this group is the Toronto Sun's Ryan Wolstat.  Besides his excellent "Courtside" blog, Ryan pens regular pieces for the Sun and is one of the more knowledgeable basketball heads around.  We've had a many a discussion over the years on various topics from college ball to classic hip-hop, and so I figured it just made sense to have a little back-and-forth with him here at the HQ.

To that end we bring you the first edition of "Jump Ball" this season where Ryan and I get into the upcoming Raptors' season, review the summer moves by the team and more.

Franchise:  So from the time we were watching prospects work out for the Raptors back in May/June right up until Media Day, give me your thoughts on Toronto's summer, from the draft to the end of free agency.

Ryan Wolstat:  Let's start with the draft. I think the Raptors did very well to get Ed Davis at 13 and even to get big Alabi late in the second round.  Davis has steal potential. He'll never wow with scoring, but he should be a steady big man for years to come who provides rebounds, blocked shots and inside scoring. He has decent hands and a nice touch. With some polish and hard work his ceiling is probably a prime Jermaine O'Neal, which isn't too shabby.

Alabi should get some time in the D-League. He needs to work on his rebounding and on biting on pump fakes, but he also has a very nice touch for a big man and an instinct to block shots. Neither will help the team win games right away, but down the line, when the squad is ready to be competitive again, Davis should be a very good starter and Alabi could be an excellent backup five.

As for free agency, I have defended the Amir Johnson contract. It is a lot of money for sure, but everyone got paid this summer. At least Johnson brings it on both ends. He is automatic close to the basket, plays very well with Andrea Bargnani, Jarrett Jack and Jose Calderon and is the best defender, rebounder and shot-blocker on the team until Davis proves otherwise.  Once Davis is ready to start, perhaps as soon as a year from now, Johnson will be an excellent  third big. No problem with his deal.

Can't say the same about Linas Kleiza. I like that he will bring some much-needed scoring to what might be the worst scoring team in the league, but he got a bit too much money for my liking.

I also would have preferred to see Matt Barnes snatched up instead (said the same thing when Kapono was signed, Barnes has been a guy I think the Raptors should have added for years now).  Apparently Kleiza can score down low, which will be needed, but he isn't the greatest defender.

I have been very impressed with both the work ethic and attitude of DeMar DeRozan and Sonny Weems. They have been working on their games all summer, spending time in the city and talking it up and generally being good pros.  I don't see the ceiling for Weems that some do - I think he will be a pretty good energy guy/scorer off the bench, but DeRozan has made me rethink some things about him.  He looks bigger and also more confident on the court. He was one of the three best players in summer league and while sophomores should be better than most, it was still a statement.  If he can knock down his jumper consistently, he can be a pretty good starting guard in this league.

Watching him last season, I wasn't sure that would ever be the case.

I don't think the off-season has been a disaster for the Raptors, but it has been a C at best.
Getting rid of Calderon in the failed Bobcats trade would have bumped it up to a B+ (hard to get an A when you lose your best player). Without the Turkoglu for Barbosa deal, the off-season would have been a D, so that was a bit of a coup.

My turn, what do you see as the club's biggest weakness?

Franchise:  Pretty much in agreement with your take on the off-season.  Not a fan of the Kleiza deal, don't mind the Amir contract (looks worse combined with some of the other cap-hogging deals on the books) and would have been thrilled with the Chandler deal. The one thing I'm still not sold on is DeRozan's potential, although having seen DeMar first hand in Vegas it's hard not to be optimistic.

Weaknesses...hmmmm...where to start.

I wrote a series of posts this summer on the team's defence and how it might have improved incrementally based on the off-season transactions, but it's still not going to be locking anyone down, and thus a weaknesses.

However it's on offence that I'm really worried.

The loss of Bosh is going to be huge in this capacity, not just in terms of his 20+ points a game going to Miami, but also his ability to get to the line, something I don't think people are talking enough about.  This team still has no shot creators, and while I despised Hedo since his days in Orlando, he at least could do some facilitation and creation.


As you noted, this might be one of the worst scoring teams in the league and I think the team will struggle to find a consistent top option.  I'm just not a Bargs believer and while I think he'll have some 20+ point performances, I just don't see him doing it consistently leaving guys like DeMar, Sonny and Kleiza to pick up the slack.

That would be my A1 weakness but defence, depth, experience and even chemistry aren't far behind.

Let me throw it back to you now, do you think Bargs steps up next season and finally reaches that pinnacle that Colangelo foresaw when he drafted him first overall?

RW:  I'm expecting Bargnani to step up. He'll get the most touches and opportunity and he'll be playing with a perfect complement up front in Amir Johnson. As good as Chris Bosh is, he simply did not complement Bargnani's game the way Johnson does. Johnson is a bundle of energy. He will clean up messes, hit the boards hard and convert efficiently offensively without holding onto the ball for too long.

Bargnani is never going to be a superstar talent and he'll never justify going No. 1. But, nobody was going to take Brandon Roy or Rajon Rondo there and I prefer Bargnani to LaMarcus Aldridge and Tyrus Thomas so it wasn't as horrific a pick as most people make it seem. The guy is still a solid NBA player, flawed, but solid. I would have taken Rudy Gay then and still think that would have been the better move, but it didn't happen, so you move on.
Bargnani will average 20 points a game or so, and I think his percentages go up because he will be more involved and without Bosh kicking the ball out to him, he will be taking closer - and as a result - easier shots.
I can see 21/7 with a block on slightly improved shooting (48.5%, 38% from three) with more room to grow. The key is what does he give you at the other end? Gifted offensive players that give everything (or almost everything) back at the other end have never been the type I am high on. Andrew Bogut may only be half as skilled as Bargnani as an offensive player, but I'd take him (healthy) ahead of Bargnani every time because he is a dominant defender who also contributes offensively.

Next question: I'm running with Jack, DeRozan, Kleiza, Johnson, Bargnani as my starting five with Weems, Davis, Calderon being the first three off the bench. Who would you start?

Franchise:  Looks like we're pretty much in agreement again here on these two.  Like you, I worry that despite Bargs' offensive prowess (think he'll average a shade under 20 and 7 on the season) he'll give it all back on the other end but that he and Amir are much better fits up front.

And I've got the same starting five.  I debated Wright originally at the 3, but seeing how Kleiza played at the FIBA World's, not sure how anyone can grab that starting spot from him without injuries coming into play.  I'd say Wright then is relegated to being the fourth option off the bench unless someone gets into foul trouble, or Triano wants a better defensive match-up early on.  (Aka, similar role to the one Antoine Wright played last year.)

Volleying it back to you - does Jay last the season despite what looks like a 30ish win team?

RW:  I believe Jay will last the season, as long as the team doesn't go 1997 Raps on us and struggle to win 15-20 games.

There isn't much pressure, the team seems to have done a good job on selling rebuilding with young, explosive athletes. As long as DeRozan takes a big step and one or two of Bargnani, Weems, Johnson, Kleiza (though that is pretty much a certainty after his Worlds performance) do as well, I think he's fine.

Barring a major incident, which is always a worry with the Raptors given their history, I think Triano is here until the team is ready to get competitive. Then he will be on the hot seat when they actually have expectations.

Back to you - how does the Ed Davis injury impact the team, if at all?

Franchise:  I think that's a fair assessment of the Triano situation and my take too.  It's hard to say at this point what Colangelo TRULY expects from this group, but I think it would take a sub 25 win performance to move the needle in this respect.

As for Davis, I think it depends.  If he's truly out for only 6 weeks, then I think the impact will be minimal.  He won't be expected to be an impact player right off the bat anyways so can be eased back into things.

However if he's out for longer (we all remember what happened with Reggie Evans last year) or if this is the start of a trend, then it's a lot more concerning in terms of impact for a variety of reasons.  First it obviously impacts the team this year as it robs the Raptors of a player who can legitimately impact games with his defence and rebounding.  Second it impacts Ed Davis' own development, and thus the Raptors' immediate future.  If he misses the bulk of year one, it's a season wasted and thus puts the team back a year in terms of his level of contribution.  Most importantly though, if this is the start of a trend and he just can't seem to stay healthy, the pick will look about as impactful as the drafting of Rafael Araujo...

And finally, lobbing two back. 

First, how many wins do you think this team notches realistically?  I'm going 30 right now, but could see it being as low as 25.  I don't think it's Nets epic level of awfulness though.

Second - what classic hip-hop album title would you choose to describe this coming Raptors' club? I'm going with "Ready to Die" regarding the fans reaction this year if the team fails to win 25, and Bryan Colangelo's legacy so far via The Roots - "Things Fall Apart!"

RW:  For wins I'm going with 32.

Just not enough talent. DeRozan will take a big step forward, but needs to take a couple more than that. Still not convinced Kleiza is a stud and still think the defence will be poor, especially when Amir fouls out.

Injury to a starter will mean 27 wins.

Nice picks for the second part to this question.

Mine along similar lines?

Moment of Truth ... 

And Stankonia :)