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

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Raptors Pre-Season Tips Off

The Raptors play for the first time on their home court tonight as they finish up their back-to-back with the 76ers. The two teams battled it out last night in London, Ontatio, as the 76ers beat the Raptors 108-97. Andrea Bargnani was the high scorer for the Raptors, putting up 22 points. Last night gave Raptor fans the opportunity to see seven new Raptor players make their debut, the most hyped up being DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan put up 9 points on 3-7 shooting, to go along with 3 assists and 4 rebounds.

The big story of last nights game was the "poor performance" of Jose Calderon, as he comitted 4 turnovers, and his poor defense was yet again exposed. But quite frankly, is this really big news? It's the first pre-season game, and it's the first time Jose has played competitively since April.

Antoine Wright, Hedo Turkoglu, and Chris Bosh weren't with the team.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Division by division preview: Southwest Division

First off, let me apologize to my fellow readers about the lack of blogs. With school and whatnot, it's been hard to get 30 minutes of free time. The Raptors 2009 training camp has concluded, and I should probably shift gears in terms of my writes, but whatever. Let's take a look at my final division preview, the Southwest.

San Antonio Spurs: Last season, the Spurs had one of the oldest teams in the NBA. It appeared the Duncan-Parker championship era was coming to an end, seeing the teams owner refused to add more talent. But this summer, the Spurs were surpringsly aggressive, trading Fabricio Olberto for Richard Jefferson, as well as signing Antonio McDyess and Theo Ratliff. Not to mention the fantastic NBA Draft back in June. With these dramatic moves, the Spurs are in a totally different league, and it appears a first round playoff exit is near impossible. Manu Ginobili is healthy again, so it looks like the Spurs could have one of the better front courts in the NBA. Look out NBA, the San Antonio Spurs are back.

Dallas Mavericks: Dallas had one of the better summers this off-season, acquiring guys like Shawn Marion and Drew Gooden. The Marion signing will certainly add some flexibilty on the offense and defensive side of the ball. New contractee Jason Kidd may be 36, and may have lost a step, but he still looks like he could play until age 45. I really like the Mavericks in 2009-2010, and the core of the team is basically the same so 50+ wins is certainly possible.

New Orleans Hornets: Chris Paul continues to put up MVP type numbers, but he can't do it all. When Peja's shot is off and David West slumps, it's basically a CP3 show. It appeared the Hornets were in complete disarray, and looked like Bryon Scott could be on his way out of the Big Easy. Then something happened...the Hornets got a HUGE steal by trading for Emeka Okafor, who will supply immediate help on both offense and defense in the low post. Okafor will not only lead the Hornets to the postseason, but put up double double numbers on a nightly basis. The drafting of Darren Collision will also help Chris Paul at the point guard position. Hornets fans could be in for a treat.

Houston Rockets: For a team with so much promise in last years playoffs, the Rockets completely fell apart in just 2 months. Yao Ming may miss all off next season, Tracy McGrady will be on the shelf for a good portion of the year, and Ron Artest signed with the Lakers. But on a positive note, Trevor Ariza signed with the organization, who will bring much needed help on the defensive end, while Aaron Brooks' future continues to look brighter. But at the end of the day, injuries have definitely plagued the Rockets and will prove to be very costly when trying to make a playoff push.

Memphis Grizzlies: Much controversy surrounded the Memphis around draft time, but the Grizzlies ended up signing Hasheem Thabeet with he #2 overall pick. Thabeet's offensive game is still very raw, and it will take time for his low post game to develop. Allen Iverson was another addition to the Grizzlies organization, but his play last year certainly showed his age. While I like the core of the Grizzlies, they still appear to be "chuckers", and I think ball distribution will be a problem. Memphis is still in rebuilding mode though, so please be patient Grizzlies fans.

That's it for previews. Now back to Raptor basketball.