The Toronto Raptors kick off their abbreviated 2011-12 campaign with a pre-season match against the Boston Celtics tomorrow afternoon. The HQ's Sean Tepper gives his thoughts on the match, and on the broader season...
With the NBA's shortened season ready to tip-off in less than 10 days, the Toronto Raptors' first of two preseason matchups against the division rival Boston Celtics will be a lot more exciting than they should be. Unlike the preseasons of years past, NBA teams don't have the luxury of steadily getting their starters up to speed with the regular season set to start on Christmas day. On Friday, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers told the media that he will let his starters play more minutes than they usual would.
While we can expect to see extended minutes from solidified starters such as Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Jermaine O'Neal and Ray Allen, it will be interesting to see which Raptors Dwane Casey puts out on the hardwood and how long each of them will play; especially with the team's starting line-up still very much up in the air. Whether or not they win or lose their two preseason games is completely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but with that being said, these games can go a long way in helping Casey evaluate the players that he has to work with for the length of this cramped season. Here are three things to keep an eye on in this one.
1. Jose Calderon vs. Jerryd Bayless
This is one of the team's most interesting position battles because statistically speaking, both of these players put up very similar numbers. On one hand you have Jose Calderon, who in 68 games played (55 of which he started) averaged 9.8 points per game (PPG) and 8.9 assists per game (APG) while playing an average of 31 minutes a night. In his six year with the organization, Calderon has proven to be a steady hand at point guard who has enough ability to play the position, but will never be a game-changing option at the 1. On the other hand is Jerryd Bayless, who in 60 games as a member of the Raptors (14 of which he started) averaged 10 PPG and 4 APG while playing roughly 22 minutes a night. There's no doubt that at 23 years old, the fourth-year point guard brings more energy to the team's offense, but unlike his Spanish counterpart, Bayless' defensive play has received a lot of praise from both Casey and Bryan Colangelo. With the team's mindset transforming into a more defensive one, it would not be surprising if Casey elected to start the former Arizona Wildcat.
On the Boston side, despite being injured Rajon Rondo should see a healthy number of minutes, and if he does, it will be interesting to see which one of the two main Raptors' options outlined above, gets the bulk of duty against him.
2. The Raptors' Frontcourt
For better or for worse, it appears the Raptors' starting centre tomorrow will once again be Andrea Bargnani. While I'm sure that Bargnani's effectiveness will be heavily debated in the comment section below, I would like to focus on some of the other players that make-up the team's front-court. Although Casey has gone on the record saying that he intends to start Ed Davis at power forward, while Amir Johnson will come off the bench as both a power forward and center, it will be interesting to see just how many minutes each of them will play. As a rookie, Davis showed a lot of promise when he filled in for the injured Andrea Bargnani, and was equally as impressive when he came off the bench to replace Johnson. I'm intrigued to see how Davis will adapt to playing more minutes in a starting role, especially with his history of injuries, as there is no doubt that he will be an important fixture for the franchise's future and their new defensive identity.
And, as the Dinos patiently wait for the arrival of Jonas Valanciunas, the team has signed both Jamaal Magloire and Aaron Gray to fill the void for the time being. While both of these players are solid pickups from a stop-gap perspective, we'll see if either ends up logging a big chunk of minutes at the 5, or if Casey continues to feel that Bargs is the team's best option there. Not only this, but between Gray and Magloire, who ends up getting more run?
Toronto struggled with opposing team's big men last year (just revisit the "stubs" from last year) and with Kevin Garnett slated to play extended minutes and Jermaine O'Neal's battered corpse still haunting the hardwood, Toronto's big men will have a tall task ahead of them, despite off-season upgrades.
3. Dwane Casey
This might be the most interesting person to keep an eye on throughout the course of Sunday night's game. When the Raptors named Casey their new head coach in July, there was a lot of hype surrounding the defensive genius that made a name for himself in Dallas. Although it is only the preseason, it will be worth watching how Casey handles the transition from assistant coach to head coach once more, and how he conducts himself around his players. In addition to this, it will be equally compelling to get a preview of the defensive schemes that he has drawn up. With no franchise player on their roster, it will be up to Casey to motivate his young group and get the best out of them night in and night out.