Saturday, October 10, 2009

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

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