10 Thoughts on the Toronto Raptors in 2011-2012 (NBA Preview)

1.  Of every team, this is the single hardest to write about.  It’s a strange team filled with soft players who don’t play defense that didn’t add much.  What they did add was a brilliant defensive coach, Dwane Casey. As good as Casey is, this team  has so many poor defenders, it might take a miracle to get them to compete nightly.


2. The biggest culprit here is Andrea Bargnani.  He’s an elite scorer who doesn’t rebound at all, especially for a center, and doesn’t try.  Luckily the Raptors finally have some more size and might be able to finally let Bargnani be an insanely unguardable stretch 4.


3. The real prize of this, however, isn’t getting Aaron Gray on the floor, but rather next year when #5 pick Jonas Valanciunas comes to play in Toronto.  Jonas is a top talent at center.  He’s young so still thin, but willing to bang and a beast on the boards, with any kind of speed, and on defense.  The Raptors may have a franchise center, the rarest commodity in basketball.  If Casey gets them playing D and then they get an anchor of that caliber…


4. If this squad really wants to play defense though, Juan Calderon has to go.  Calderon is a bad defender who is excellently efficient on offense. Unfortunately, he’s so bad on defense that unless the Raptors somehow get Dwight Howard, not happening mind you, that he cannot be covered for, especially as so much of the league has elite point guards.


5.  Unfortunately, Calderon’s backups are pure shooters.  Leandro Barbosa is a lights out scorer usually, but likewise pitiful on defense.  That leaves the Raps looking outside for help at the one unless former high pick Jerryd Bayless can break out.   Bayless actually tries on defense and with Casey’s coaching, could be good there.  The problem is he’s another score first player – the last thing this team needs.


6.  The scoring load will be handled by Bargnani and DeMarr DeRozan, the latter of whom is already a special scorer.  DeRozan has an excellent mid-range game and true explosiveness, but offers nothing else, from passing to defense to rebounding.  One dimensional scoring won’t make the Raptors a winner, so now that the offense is developed, it’s time for DeRozan to work on the rest of his game.


7.  Linas Kleiza is penciled in as the starting 3, and he’s not really much more than rotation filler.  With Casey on board, this spot should belong to Sonny Weems who can be an elite defender if he focuses his efforts that way.  With all the scoring, getting Weems to be a true lockdown wing would add another element to the roster.


8. The Raptors also have two very good 4s, one who can hold down the starting spot while the other could develop into a star.  The former is Amir Johnson, who needs to add strength to defend better, but is a good rebounder and scorer in the frontcourt.  If he keeps his foul rate down and adds strength, he may yet live up to his contract.  Better though is last year’s draft pick, Ed Davis.  While Davis is likewise raw and needs strength, he’s also got a ton of upside as a rebounder, shot blocker and scorer.  The Raps can let the last develop slowly, but if his athleticism turns him into Marcus Camby light, they should be thrilled.


9. As usual with bad teams, most of the bench here is a mess, but unlike many, the starting lineup is full of poor fits as well.  It’s not that the players are bad, it’s just uneven and stacked with too many similar players. 


10.  Things are getting better, Raptors fans.   With Valanciunas coming next year and another high draft pick, so long as the Raptors pick wisely and listen to their coach, the rebuild from the mediocrity of the Chris Bosh era will be quick and have a higher ceiling than either the Bosh or Vince Carter teams of yore. Keep that in mind, because this year’s going to be brutal.


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