Friday, December 25, 2009

Raptors at the Christmas break...

Whoa. What happened to the S&C? This site has been inactive for the past 20 days, and recent news hasn't been updated. But my school and basketball schedule has been very hectic (thanks coach), so it's hard keep up with the news in Raptorland.

So what's happened in the last 20 days? A winning streak, then a losing streak, and now we're back on the winning side. Typical right?

The Raptors defeated the Richard Hamilton-less, Tayshaun Prince-less, Ben Gordon-less Pistons on Wednesday 94-64. I don't care how injuried the team is; allowing 64 points by a terrible defensive team is impressive. The Raptors are now 14-17 and winners of 3 straight going into the Christmas break.

The Pistons scored 27 points in the 2nd half of Wednesday's loss, and shot a Raptor-defense best 28% from the floor. The Raptors have held their last 3 opponents to an average of 83.6 points....Good morning defense. About time you woke up.

Jarrett Jack has filled in nicely for the injured Jose Calderon. In the last 3 wins, Jack's been averaging 15 points and 7.6 assists in just 29 minutes (thanks again for addressing the back-up point guard position, Bryan Colangelo. Can you imagine if Roko Ukic was still our back-up?).

Maybe the schedule is a little easier, but nonetheless. Here's a team that was a poor 11-17 just 8 days ago, and now seem to be turning the corner. Hopefully, this hiatus in the schedule won't affect the Raptors winning ways. They've been off since Wednesday, and don't play again until Sunday against the Pistons.

All I wanted for Christmas was a winning team. Maybe that'll come true. Maybe.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Week in the S&C: Episode 1

Due to my lack of blogs, I've decided to set up a podcast. Every Saturday, I'll be coming to you via audio to recap the week that was in Raptorland.

Behind another dominant performance by Chris Bosh, the Raptors won for the first time in 6 tries last night. Hedo Turkoglu hit a game winner in overtime and the Raptors won 109-107. The Raptors are now 8-13, and will be looking to stay on the winning side of things as they face the 7-10 Bulls tonight.

Friday, November 27, 2009

As a Toronto Raptors fan, I deserve better

Close your eyes. Flashback to October 27th. The eve of the 2009-2010 Raptors season. So much excitement. The wait was finally over.

Now flash forward to today, one month later. Where's your excitement now?

The Raptors are losers of five straight on the road, and staring down a 7-10 record. Huh?

I knew the Raptors biggest issue would be defense, but I didn't think it'd be this embarrassing. My basketball coach always to say me "Take pride on defense. It all comes from the heart". I wish he could say that same thing to the Toronto Raptors. It's one thing to be a poor defender--but it's another thing to not give a damn. No hustle, no spacing, no energy. Just "o" defense (another term used by my coach). Before tonight's loss to the Celtics (they gave up 116 points tonight), the Raptors were giving up 111 PPG. That's just pathetic.

For as happy I am the Raptors got Hedo Turkoglu, he's not living up to his 5 yr/$53M contract. Not one bit. On Wednesday, he had 5 points, and he's only averaging around 13.5 PPG overall. I rest my case.

I've heard all the excuses: the tough schedule, the team needs to gel, yada, yada, yada. Last I checked Chris Bosh will be a free agent on July 1st. Time isn't on the Raptors side. They need to win. Immediately.

Of the Raptors ten losses, eight have been against teams who made the playoffs last year. What's that mean? It means the Raptors can't beat the better teams in the league.

The past two games (both losses), I've done something I've never done before. I turned the TV off before the final buzzer sounded because I was so frustrated with the poor effort put forth. I'm worried the poor start to the season is the beginning of the end. Are you?

I know it's only November, but I expected more. Prior to the season started, I predicted a 51-31 record. That means the Raptors will have to go 45-20 the rest of the year. Yikes.

As a die hard Raptor fan, I deserve better. We all deserve better.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Recapping the West Coast Trip

What adjectives can be used to describe the Raptors' trip out West? Disappointing? Infuriating? Sad? The Raptors had plenty of opportunity to win against the Suns and the Jazz, but came up on the losing end in 3 of their 4 games.

Chris Bosh carried the load for the Raptors on Wednesday, putting up 32 points and 17 rebounds in the loss--something that isn't unusual. Bosh has been putting up MVP type numbers all year, but doesn't get enough support. The Calderon-Jack experiment hasn't worked at all. Andrea Bargnani, for as good as he'll be one game, will go completely cold the next. And frankly, I had higher hopes for Hedo Turkoglu--yes, he's been playing good, but considering his fantastic playoff run with the Magic, I expected more.

The Raptors are now 5-7, and losers of their last 3. What scares me the most--the Raptors have seven losses. Six of those are against teams who made the playoffs last year. Granted, the Western Conference is better than the Eastern Conference, but nonetheless... For a team that should play post-April 2010, losing six out of seven to playoff teams is certainly a concern.

Just how bad was it? Well, the Raptors opponent field goal percentage was just above 50%. The killing game was Wednesday, as the Nuggets shot 62%.

During the 4 game stretch, the Raptors opponent averaged 106 points per game.

The opponent averaged 49 points in the paint, compared to the Raptors who averaged 39. On Wendesday, the Nuggets dropped 68 of their 130 points in the painted area.

Obviously, this isn't the start Bryan Colangelo, Chris Bosh and the Raptors had in mind. Maybe I'm overreacting, because there's sill a ton of basketball (70 games to be exact) left to play. But at the end of the day, keeping their franchise player, Chris Bosh, is biggest priority. If the Raptors have any chance of re-signing him, they need to win. Now.

The Raptors take on the Heat tonight at the ACC.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Raptors lose a heartbreaker...

The 5-4 Raptors faced the red hot 8-2 Phoenix Suns, as the Raptors west coast trip continued on Sunday night.

Right from the get-go, the game shifted into the Mike D'Antoni up-tempo offense. Both teams fired away, hitting jumpers and penetrating the paint for points. Hell, with 8:09 left in the 1st quarter, the score was 16-12. I felt like my eyes were shifting rapidly from one side of the TV to the other. The Raptors led most of the way (their biggest lead was 10), but for the most part, only a few possessions separated the opponents.

But just like any classic Raptors game, the Suns found a way to take the lead late in the game. With 7:41 left in the game, Steve Nash hit a dagger 3 pointer to go up 87-84.

Back and forth the teams went, exchanging leads. All while my mood was flip flopping like a middle aged woman going through her annual PMS symptoms. It was not a pretty sight.

With 38 seconds left, Steve Nash drove the lane and scored from the left side while Jose Calderon committed a killer foul. Suns up by 100-101. It was at this point that I started praying and firing away at my Twitter.

With 12 seconds left, the Raptors put the game in Hedo Turkoglu's hands, calling on him to shoot the game winner. The shot was up.....and off the back iron. Raptors lose. Suns win. I was on the ground in disbelief.

While sitting there, I just thought of two things: A--how did we even contend with these guys? B--how did we lose? I wasn't this heartbroken over a loss since Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Nets in 2007. This was one of few occasions where the Raptors gave a 100% effort for 48 minutes--but somehow still lost. It was so frustrating.

And the thing is--I have no complaints. The Raptors played amazing. I mean, to be THAT CLOSE to a beating an 8-2 team on the road is hard to do. No question, last nights game was the most exciting of the season. The fans in attendance definitely got their moneys worth. It's hard to see your team lose, but it's even harder when the effort doesn't match the result. I've had 21 hours to recuperate from the loss, but it still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Alright, well since I've vented, I guess it's time for me to get up off the floor and move on with my life.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What a night

The Raptors were at the Staples Center last night, fortunately not playing the Lakers, but rather the Clippers. Since the game was on the west coast, tip-off didn't start until 10:30 eastern time.

The Raptors came out flat as a board. The Clippers shot 75% in the first quarter and had a commanding 34-17 lead. Against the Clippers?

Then I fell asleep on the couch. Big mistake.

The Raptors began to chip away at the lead, and even cut the lead to single digits at half. The Clippers saw their 17 point lead drop to 9 at halftime.

From there on out, the Raptors were in the drivers seat. The game was tied at the end of 3, then then the floodgates opened. The Raptors outscored the Clippers by 15 in the 4th, thanks to a 16-0 run to end the game. Wow. What a comeback. Raptors won 104-89. The Clippers' biggest lead was 22, setting a franchise record for the largest deficit to earn a win by the Raptors.

After dropping 34 in the 1st quarter, the Clippers only managed to score 18.3 points over the next 3 quarters. The Raptors defense finally decided to wake up, and slowly began to chip away offensively from there.

Marco Belinelli played 28 minutes off the bench to provide some much needed scoring for the Raptors. He loomed large in the second quarter, where he scored his nine of his 15 points to help cut down the big lead. Belinelli also hit two crucial three-pointers in the fourth quarter, pulling Toronto to within a point at 83-84 with nine minute to play and then building a seven-point advantage at 96-89 with 3:10 remaining. Thanks again for that bench, Mr. Colangelo. It's games like these where it really pays off.

Chris Bosh had another monster game, pouring in 21 points and 14 rebounds. His streak of 7 games of having 25+ points came to an end. Jose Calderon, whose impressed me the past few games, had 18 points and 8 assists.

All in all, I loved the effort of the Raptors. While I didn't see the 80% of the game, I was certainly happy to see I got a text message at 1:00am, updating me that the Raptors won. The early holes the Raptors have dug against Chicago and LA have been discouraging, but the team's ability to respond in the past two fourth quarters has been promising.

But if the Raptors want to beat the Suns tomorrow, they'll have to play a full 48 minutes. Taking the 1st quarter off against the Suns and Nuggets won't cut it. These west coast teams are far too good. But hopefully, this big win will boost the Raptors' confidence.

I guess Friday the 13th is a bad luck day after all.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Oh boy...

A win is a win. A loss is a loss. A terrible loss ruins my night.

Although I was unable to watch the Raptors-Hornets game last Friday, I did manage to take a look at the box score. The big obvious that stuck out, besides the fact the Raptors won, was the 90 points posted by the Hornets. 90 points? Impressive. Besides the 21 & 18 by Chris Paul, the Hornets were pretty much shut down. Toronto's field goal percentage a shade under 51, while the Hornets shot 48%.

The next night, the Raptors were in Dallas to face the Mavericks. Chris Bosh's homecoming.

Again, I was unable to watch the first half, but thanks to the invention of text messaging I noticed the Raptors were down by 7 at the half way point. Then I got home. Crap.

Right off the bat, the Mavericks started to separate themselves. Chris Bosh couldn't/didn't defend/care Dirk Nowitzki, as he lit it up from downtown. The Mavericks got ridiculously easy penetration points. The Mavericks made the pick and roll look like the most dominant play in basketball. The defense in itself looked like a high school team.

And this doesn't take an expert to figure out--the Raptors lost 129-101, and the Mavericks shot 62% from the field. You read that right. 62%. That's not one quarter. That's an entire game.

Where do you start? The Raptors have played 6 games, and 2 have resulted in the counterpart scoring at least 125 points (no overtime). It appears the pre-season issue is very much a reality. Will this poor defense-good offense scheme work for 76 more games? I know we're only 6 games into the season, but nonetheless--it wouldn't matter if it was game 1, or game 55. The defense is an obvious problem.

And it doesn't get any easier. The Raptors will face the Tony Parker-less Spurs tonight at 8:30. Hopefully some adjustments have been made, but I'm expecting it to be high scoring affair. How will Chris Bosh match up with Tim Duncan? Will CB actually give a rats ass this time?

Be sure to check it out. I know I will. And I'm sure the occasional couch pillow will be thrown at the TV. Oh, the stresses of being a Raptors fan...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Jose Calderon: Cause for Concern?

Largely due to the bench, the Raptors defeated the Pistons at the ACC last night 110-99. Chris Bosh had 25 points, while Andrea Bargnani posted 22 points and 12 rebounds...that's right folks, 12 rebounds for Ill Mago.

But I'm not here to write about the victory. I'm here to write about a more serious concern, and that is the play of PG Jose Calderon. In 31 minutes of action, Calderon put up a measly 9 points and 1 assists, which didn't come until late in the game. Ouch.

Calderon's season has been off to a very slow start, particularly at the defensive end. Play after play, Calderon gets burned by PG's. I can think of a handful of times last night when Rodney Stuckey, an average PG at best, blew by Jose Calderon for an easy lay in. Calderon's defense was a problem last year and the same concern is still prevalent.

On the other hand, Calderon's backup Jarrett Jack, had a terrific game. In 31 minutes (same as Calderon), Jack had 9 points, 6 assists, and actually played defense, which is something the Raptors aren't accustomed too.

But when asked if he was happy with his play, Calderon didn't hesitate.

"No. I could get better in what happens on the floor and (my) offence and defence have got to be much better,”

“It's only four games into the season right now,” he said. “I try to give my best but when we are winning it (his stat totals) doesn't matter. I have to practice to play my best basketball (but) we have guys who are playing really good so it's great.”

“A lot of that has maybe been due to the rust and the fact that this is the first time in his career he had that much time away from professional basketball,” said Raptors coach Jay Triano.

Excuses, excuses, excuses, right coach? I've heard it a million times--battered body, hasn't played in a while, he needs time, yada, yada, yada. I'm sick of it--I want results. And time isn't something the Raptors have on their side right now. Last I checked, Chris Bosh will be a free agent in 7 months, and if the Raptors have any shot of keeping him, they need to win. Now.

Last year, I made a bold prediction, stating I thought Jose Calderon would be a top PG in the East this season. Given the slow start, this may not be possible.

Granted, we are only 4 games into the year, and there's 78 more to go, but it's all about first impressions. And as of right now, I'm not too impressed with Jose Calderon.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pistons at Raptors

The short handed Pistons will be heading north of the border tonight to face the Raptors at 7:00. With Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince both sidelined, Ben Gordon scored 23 points while Rodney Stuckey and reserve Will Bynum each added 20 as Detroit, now 2-2, avoided a third straight loss with an 85-80 home win over Orlando on Tuesday. The Pistons will be looking for back-to-back wins and 5 straight victories over the Toronto Raptors.

The Raptors will be looking to end their 2 game losing streak, as they fell to Orlando on Sunday 125-116. Despite a monster game from Chris Bosh, the Raptors let the Magic score 51 points from 3 point land and allowed JJ Reddick to drop 27 points.

What To Watch For:

Although it's only 3 games, the Raptors defense looks to be a major concern. Luckily, the offensive game (led by Chris Bosh who is averaging 31 PPG) is allowing the team to stay in contention. But at the end of the day, it's all about defense.

Containing the "no names": Anyone else noticed that "not so good" players always have big games against the Raptors? JJ Reddick dropped 27 points on the Raptors' defense the other day, and Will Bynum will be coming off a big game. How will he perform tonight?

Stuckey vs. Calderon: Rodney Stuckey has always been looked at as an average PG. Given Calderon's poor ability to defend, will he get exposed yet again tonight? Which PG will have the better night?

Be sure to watch the Raptors at 7:00 on TSN2. Hopefully, the Raptors can get back to .500 tonight.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Week 1 Thoughts

NBA basketball is in full swing, as the Raptors have now played 3 games in the 2009-2010 season.

Let's start with Wednesday's game against Cleveland. The home opener. A new start. Everyone's excited about the season starting. Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon make their return to the ACC (which by the way, both got a huge applause). The Raptors played exceptional defense, en route to a 10 point victory. Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani had monsterous games, as CB posts 21 points and 16 boards, and Ill Mago put up 28 points. While LeBron had a triple double, the Raptors defended him well, as he was only able to score 23 points. Great start. Everything and everyone looked great. Raptors 1-0.

The Raptors then went on the road to face Memphis. Supposed to be an easy win, right? Think again. Raptor lose 115-107. Chris Bosh had another great game, posting 35 points and 12 boards. However, the Raptors couldn't contain Zach Randolph, has he scored 30 points.

Back to the ACC on Sunday, the Raptors faced the Orlando Magic. Vince Carter made his return to the Air Canada Centre with another team, but didn't play because of injury (ring a bell, Raptor fans?). Despite being without Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, and Mickael Pietrus, the Magic won 125-116. Raptors close the week 1-2, losing 2 straight. Yikes.

Now, it may just be week 1, but the pro's and con's of the Raptors have definitely been exposed. To be positive, the offense seems unstoppable. The Raptors have posted over 100 points in all three of their contests thus far. Chris Bosh is putting up superstar numbers, as he's averaging 31 PPG and a shy under 15 RPG. Rookie DeMar DeRozan seems to finding his way. He's not playing the minutes I'd hope, but I like what I've seen so far. The bench is dramatically improved from last year--Jay Triano is rotating the bench guy's in nicely.

The obvious problem is the defense, in a major way. While the defense impressed me in game #1, these past 2 games have shown me the defense needs a ton of work. Jose Calderon's poor defense was exposed big time yesterday afternoon--Jameer Nelson dropped 30 points on the Spanish point gaurd, and made him look silly with some of the moves he was making. As a team, the Raptors let the Magic score 51 points from downtown yesterday, and let JJ Reddick drop 27 points. That's gotta be close to his career high. All in all, the perimeter defense looked awful, and was the big reason why the Raptors came out on the short end of the stick in yesterday's affair. Of course, the big issue coming into the season unlimited offense and a limited defense. That issue is definitely prevalent thus far.

In fact, the PG duo of Calderon and Jarrett Jack hasn't met my expectations. Jack's numbers are very low, and for a guy who was supposed to bring immediate defense, hasn't blown me away. While I'm happy with Calderon's assist numbers, he seems to be forgetting to shoot the ball. I'll be looking at the box score and see him with 5 points and 12 assists. He needs to remember he's got a good jump shot, and actually get involved in the offense.

Calderon missed 3 free throws in the 2008-2009 season--he's missed 4 so far.

Now, I realize we're 3 games into an 82 game season, and maybe I should calm down. But at the end of the day, the defense will determine the Raptors fate.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

October 28, 2009: The Long Await Is Finally Here

Finally, the 6 month, 13 day wait is over. Finally, October 28th, 2009 has arrived. Finally, we get to see the rebuilt Toronto Raptors tip their 2009-2010 season off against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Finally, we get to see Hedo Turkoglu, Jarrett Jack, Marco Belinelli, and Antoine Wright make their Toronto Raptor debuts. Finally, Toronto Raptor basketball is back.


I can't begin to describe how excited I am for tonight's game. I woke up this morning thinking to myself Toronto Raptor basketball will be here for the next 6+ months. Amazing.

I can't wait to see the player introductions. I can't wait to hear the excitement of the crowd just prior to tip off. I can't wait to see DeMar DeRozan dunk for the first time. I can't wait to see how many pounds Chris Bosh actually gained this off-season. Hell, I can't wait to see LeBron James do his pre-game ritual when he throws the rosin in the air.

And to be perfectly honest, I like the fact that we (yes, we) open the season against the Cavs. Yes, it's a long 82 game season, but it's all about first impressions--will the Raptors be able to contend with the elite teams in the East? Well, tonight we'll get our first glimpse.

A few thoughts:

How will Toronto be able to contend with The King? He dropped 38 on the well defensive Boston Celtics team. How many will he drop on the Raptors tonight? Whose going to step up?

Anthony Parker & Jamario Moon return to the ACC tonight. What's the crowd's reception going to be like? Boos? Cheers? I predict cheers for both players, but it will definitely be interesting to see what happens.

Remember when Shaquille O'Neal called Chris Bosh the "RuPaul of big men" last year? Although Chris says it's water under the bridge, we all know it's not. Bosh wants revenge. He'll get a chance at it tonight.

I'm assuming newcomer DeMar DeRozan will be guarding LeBron James tonight. In other words, a rookie will be defending last year's MVP. How's this going to work? Antoine Wright is finally healthy, and has proven to be a good defender in the NBA. Don't be surprised if Antoine, although coming off the bench, sees the floor more tonight than DeMar.

When it's all said and done, I believe the Cavs will come out victorious. But I also predicted that the Cavs would win last night against Boston, so who am I to predict?

But frankly, it's not a big deal if we lose tonight--there's 82 game in a season! I'm just glad the NBA season is now in full swing, and Raptor basketball has returned.

Get ready, folks. Let the games begin.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Top 5 Things To Watch For In 2009-2010: #1

#1: Defense

I could write about the Raptors' defensive disasters for days. What adjectives can be used to sum up the defense in 2008-2009? Jose Calderon's poor defensive was exposed big-time last year, and didn't help that a bum hamstring limited his quickness.

The Raptors averaged giving up 101.9 PPG, and the defensive efficiency was at a ridiculously high 110. Terrible numbers. Just terrible. Defense alone caused the Raptors go to 33-49 last year.

Yes, Bryan Colangelo brought in some help this off-season, but mostly offensive orientated players. It sounds like a lot of offense, but no defense whatsoever. It's hard to win in the NBA when you're giving up the same amount of points you just scored on offense. So all in all, I'm just as concerned this year. And it doesn't help I had a rude awakening when I watched the "olé defense" in the pre-season.

And this is the big reason why many ESPN panelists don't have the Raptors making the playoffs this year. While I disagree, I see the point they're making. I wouldn't be surprised to see a few final scores be 140-138.

If anyone watched the Finals last year, it was obvious how bad Hedo Turkoglu's defense was. Yes, he's clutch, and yes he can score at will--but he can't play a lick of defense. You know why Marco Belinelli rode the pine last year in Golden State? He can't play defense.

To be positive, Jose Calderon is 100% healthy, so expect to his quickness return. Chris Bosh has gained weight, so he'll be finally be able to contend with the Dwight Howard's in the NBA.
But when it's all said and done, defense is what it comes down to. Whoever said "defense wins championships" was 100% on the money. If the Raptors can't play defense in 2009-2010, us fans can kiss the playoffs goodbye once again.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Top 5 Things To Watch For In 2009-2010: #2

#2: The Bench

The 6th man. The under-appreciated guys. The guys who may not be as good as the starters, but can still fill a roll nicely. The bench.

One of the big reasons why the Raptors underachieved in 2008-2009 was largely due to a thin bench. Jason Kapono and Joey Graham couldn't do it all.

Bryan Colangelo realized this; so what'd he do? He signed Jarrett Jack and Rasho Nesterovic, and traded for guys like Marco Belinelli, Antoine Wright and Amir Johnson. Talk about a revolution.

Although I'm happy with the new and improved bench, I have my doubts. It sounds like a ton of offense but not a lick of defense. Rasho, while he brings athleticism to the backup big man position, has a limited defensive game. It's overrated. Marco Belinelli didn't play much in Golden State, something that was thought to be a questionable decesion by head coach Don Nelson. Will Belinelli prove him wrong?

But at the end of the day, the bench will arguably shape the success of the Raptors this upcoming year. A solid starting rotation, coupled with a good bench, and the Raptors off-season moves could actually be a success.

Kudos, Bryan Colangelo.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Top 5 Things To Watch For In 2009-2010: #3

#3: Chris Bosh's SPG

*SPG=Smiles Per Game

As every Raptor fan knows, Chris Bosh will be entering his final season under contract with the Toronto Raptors. Bosh publicly said he won't accept a contract extension, and wants to stick to his "original plan of being a free agent in July 2010".

So what does this mean? It means the Raptors must of a hell of year for the superstar to stay in Toronto. With the additions of Hedo Turkoglu, Jarrett Jack, Marco Belinell, etc, Bryan Colangelo hopes the Raptors can contend with the Eastern Conference's elites.

For me, it's all about getting off to a good start. If the Raptors go 4-12 in the month of November, that should say something. The Raptors face 7 2009 playoff teams in the first 10 games. These games should be a prelude to Bosh's happiness, because it will show if the Raptors are capable of playing with the better teams in the league.

If the Raptors are not successful enough to keep Bosh in Toronto then it will be a major step backwards for the franchise. Only Chris knows what it will take for him to stay with the Raptors. But I'm confident that he will do more than his share to make the team a winner. The biggest and most important thing Bosh can do to make the Raptors successful is to step it up on the defensive side. Blocks, steals, and stops will make or break the Toronto Raptors. Jack Armstrong believes, as do I, that CB4 still has another level to his game that is yet to be shown--this level needs to be exposed in '09-'10. But at the end of the day, improvements to Bosh's game won't be enough to put the Raptors over the edge--it must be a team effort.

Alright, Bryan Colangelo. This is your last chance. Let's hope it pays off.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Top 5 Things To Watch For In 2009-2010: #4

Tonight I'll be looking at the fourth most important thing to look out for in 2009-2010.

#4: Andrea Bargnani

I believe Bargnani holds to the keys to success for the Raptors in 2009-2010. Can the Raptors really afford to have their starting power forward to have another "slump"? While I'm happy Bargnani broke out of his shell last year, his shell still needs to break more. As much as I love the guy, he's still not playing up to his #1 overall pick. His game, while it has high points, still needs to develop into a complete package. Can this be achieved? Absolutely. But his defense needs work. His rebounding needs work. He still makes stupid mistakes. At the end of the day, Bargnani can only control what Bargnani does.

Bargnani must put it altogether by October 28. Toronto can't wait until December like last year to see any progress. If it's going to happen, it's got to happen right away. The Raptors' face 7 teams from last years playoffs in the first 10 games of the season. These important games will really show me if Bargnani's taken that next step.

Raptor insiders said Bargnani's game got increasingly better over the summer. But all in all, it comes down to game production and how he can perform over 82 games.

Bargnani signed a 5yr/$50M extension over the summer. Way overpaid in my opinion, but I'm only saying that because I don't think he's $10M per year talent. That can change, however. Bargnani has the chance to prove to haters he's worth that type of money.

I'm pulling for Bargnani. I really am. I like the guy and I think he has a ton of potential. I pray his momentum from last season carries over into 2009-2010. I, along with Bryan Colangelo, believe in the guy. But considering he'll be entering his 4th NBA season, this is a make or break year for Andrea Bargnani.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Top 5 Things To Watch For In 2009-2010: #5

One week left. I can't believe the season is vastly approaching. I remember thinking to myself on the evening on April 15, "thank God this season will finally be over with tonight". That was 6 months and 6 days ago. Hard to believe. Now, I can't wait for the revolutionized off-season to be in full swing.

In spirit of the final week of pre-season, I'll be doing my top 5 things to look out for in 2009-2010.

#5: Offensive Rebounding

Here's a stat that may be surprising, but it was a huge problem for the Raptors in 2008-2009. Last year, the Raptors averaged just 24 offensive rebounds a game. In other words, 29th in the league, San Antonio being team worse in that category.

Rebounding has always been as issue for the Raptors, especially since Andrea Bargnani can't rebound to save his life. The Raptors front court consists of a 6'10 guy, another 6'10 guy, and a 7 footer. Chris Bosh reportedly gained 15 pounds this off-season, and I expect his rebound numbers to be even higher than they were last year (he averaged 10.0 last year). But at the end of the day, Andrea's game will determine the success of the rebounding game. Has he really improved this off-season, or are Raptor front office people just saying this to make fans happy?

One more week. To be exact 165 hours, 38 minutes, and 45 seconds. Can't wait.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

...Now for my preview

Close your eyes. Think back to when you were four or five years old. Think about your favorite toy. Remember the good times? Remember how much fun you had with that one toy?

Although Bryan Colangelo is 44, he reminds me so much of a 5 year old, in the sense that he can't wait to play with his new "toy". Colangelo took full blame for the disappointing 2008-2009 season, and promised fans he'd make up for it. So what'd do? Colangelo brought in 9 new players, named Jay Triano head coach, as well as made some other coaching moves, for instance adding Raptor legend Alvin Williams as an assistant.

This revolution all started back June when the Raptors drafted the USC product DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan's a freakish athlete, and probably has the best chance to make the Slam Dunk Contest as a rookie. But just a few weeks later, Bryan Colangelo & the Raptors shocked the NBA by signing Hedo Turkoglu. While his contract may be too lucrative, there's no denying the talent. Turkoglu was a big reason why the Magic made the Finals last season, and he's certainly a force to be reckoned with.
Then, all the pieces started to fall in place. The Raptors signed guys like Jarrett Jack, Marco Belinelli, Rasho Nesterovic, and Antoine Wright. Following this very busy off-season by Bryan Colangelo, the Raptors now have a very solid starting 5, as well as a very deep bench, which was missing last year.

I'm expecting big things out of Jose Calderon next year. Calderon was supposed to "break out of his shell" last season, but because of injury, he, like the entire team, fell short of expectations. Calderon's fully healthy now, and I expect more offensive production, as well as a much improved defensive game, which Calderon struggled with last year.

Andrea Bargnani actually played like a #1 overall pick last year. His defensive and rebounding struggles at times, but he can score from all over the court. I expect Bargnani's game to continue to develop, but in the back of my mind I realize there's a pattern--Bargnani had a good rookie year, terrible sophomore year, then a great third year. Will this cycle continue or has Bargnani officially emerged?

The role players will also play a big role in the success of the Raptors. Marco Belinelli & DeMar DeRozan will have to make up for the lost production of Anthony Parker. Belinelli hardly played last year in Golden State, and DeRozan's a raw rookie Will this work? How developed will DeRozan's game be by the start of the season?

This is also a make or break year for Chris Bosh and the Raptors. As everyone knows, Bosh will be in the 2010 class of free agents. Bosh seems very happy to be a Raptor, but his satisfaction must translate to wins. Otherwise, Raptor fans can kiss Chris Bosh goodbye.

When it's all said and done, injuries will make or break this team. The Raptors can't afford to miss Jose for another extended period of time, or have Bosh miss another 15 games because of a bum knee. If it's going to work in 2009-2010, everyone must be healthy. Period.

As much as I applaud Bryan Colangelo's off-season, all the pressure lies on him. He changed this team, now it's up to him to show Raptor fans another lousy year isn't in store. This past summer showed how desperately he wants Chris Bosh to stay in Toronto. Has he done enough?

All this pre-season Raptors hype is just talk. It doesn't mean anything. But all in all, I'm loving the Toronto Raptors in 2009-2010.

Prediction: 51-31

Ball Don't Lie 2009-2010 NBA Preview: Toronto Raptors

There's no real rhyme or reason beyond the Raptors' improvement this year, as the team hasn't really done much to send itself spiraling toward 50 wins.

Personnel-wise, I should say. Chris Bosh(notes), Jose Calderon(notes) and Andrea Bargnani(notes) should all be better. They were younger last year, they're older this year. Analysis!

And Hidayet Turkoglu is on board, shoring up that small forward position. DeMar DeRozan(notes) is the rookie. Whatever. He can jump, but he could block any shot or rebound in college. Not feeling it.

What I am looking forward to is a full, healthy year from Calderon. He managed 68 games last year, which is a fair amount, but he was at full strength for a third of those appearances, at best. And apologies for relying on a cliché, but he's what drives this team. He's the man with the live dribble that draws attention.

And because I can't help but trust that he's been introduced to potassium supplements and that his wheels will be in place this season, I think the Raps will improve. JC's 28, too. In his prime.

Hedo will help, no doubt, but there will be a feeling-out period. He's not going to have the ball as much (imagine the semi-shock, making the transition from a point forward to typical small forward), and his long-range shooting isn't good enough for him just to be a spot-up guy.

Losing Anthony Parker hurts, replacing that guy's minutes with Marco Belinelli and DeRozan will destroy this team on some, certain, crap, most nights. But Jarrett Jack is an actual backup point man, something the team just didn't have last year. Reggie Evans can board. Not sure if he'll play all that much, but he can clean the glass and the Raps were missing that last season.

Rasho Nesterovic? Cackle all you want, but the more Toronto plays this guy, the better it'll be. Not the best rebounder, but a fantastic defender who will keep defenses honest with his ability to catch and finish.

In a way, Andrea Bargnani attunes to the same ideal, minus the defense. He can't rebound, he can't defend, but he can score. I won't comment on his ridiculous contract (actually, I think I just did), but he is a 7-footer with skills who can put the ball in the hoop.

When you factor in the myriad roles an NBA player has to work through to help his team, I don't know if Bargs actually comes out ahead — he can hit the odd 3-pointer, but what does that count for if he's giving it up on every possession defensively and failing to rebound? But he's stuck in Toronto for a while. Might as well try to make it work.

Not to get too dramatic, but this is more or less it for the Raptors. They have to kill it this year. Depth is there — Amir Johnson and Sonny Weems(notes) and Antoine Wright will help — but Toronto has to really, truly surprise if it wants to keep Bosh in the fold. There are just too many sound teams with free-agent money next summer to toss out 34 wins with a capped-out team (and Hedo's contract hanging around) and hope for the best.

So everything has to fall into place, and the team has to be more than the sum of its parts. And even though we took in 65 games (25-40) from Jay Triano last year, I'm not entirely convinced he's the guy for that job. As a fan, I hope he is, but a lot of things will have to go right for the Raps.

And, for whatever reason — call it the Hedo Effect — I'm guessing things turn around. Keep dribbling, Jose.

Prediction: 40-42