Team Preview: Toronto Raptors
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The hiring of 2004 Executive of the Year Bryan Colangelo away from the Suns last offseason created some optimism among the fan base, but no one with the possible exception of Colangelo himself expected the Raptors to turn their fortunes around quite so quickly. The team leapt from a 27-win doormat in 2005-06 to 47-win Atlantic Division champions in 2006-07, with franchise player Chris Bosh getting much-needed help from Colangelo imports T.J. Ford, Anthony Parker and Jorge Garbajosa, as well as from first overall pick Andrea Bargnani. The end result was another Executive of the Year award on Colangelo’s mantle, and a distinctly Euro-flavored roster capable of making noise in the watered-down Eastern Conference.
Statistically, the Raptors were about average or slightly above, which was still a marked improvement on the previous couple of seasons. The club finished 11th in the NBA (but second in the East) in scoring with 99.5 points per game and 10th in scoring differential at plus-1. Toronto also managed top-10 finishes in three-point shooting (ninth, 36.3 percent), free throw shooting (sixth, 78.8 percent) and assists per game (tenth, 22.2 apg). The foundation is in place for a free-flowing offense that relies on ball movement and the outside jumper, but the roster’s lack of size and toughness in the middle handicaps the defense (the Raptors finished 27th in the league in rebounding differential, with –3.1 per game, and their 3.9 blocks per game ranked 25th).
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
The Raptors’ rotation hasn’t changed much from last season. Kapono will step directly into Peterson’s spot on the depth chart at small forward, while former Piston Carlos Delfino will pick up a few minutes at the two and three. Much depends on the health of Bosh, who is battling plantar fascitis in his left foot and has missed at least 10 games in each of the last two seasons. When healthy, Bosh will play nearly 40 minutes a night, but the team’s roster depth suggests that Anthony Parker will be the only other player above 30.
Rasho Nesterovic returns as the starter at center, though he averaged just 21 minutes last season and doesn’t really fit the Raptors’ style of play. Nesterovic is more of a role player than a starter, and his minutes are likely to dwindle further. Depending on the Raptors’ opponent and game situation, Bosh and Bargnani will both see at least 8-10 minutes at center, though their primary position is power forward. Kris Humphries, whose play improved during the second half, averaged 11 minutes a game up front and could push Nesterovic to the bench completely if he continues to develop.
Bosh and his 35-plus minutes are locked in at the four, with Bargnani as his primary backup. The rookie averaged 25 minutes last season but played 30 minutes a game in the Playoffs after his return from an appendectomy, and the latter figure is more likely to be what he sees in his sophomore campaign. Humphries will see occasional minutes at power forward as well when the Raptors go with a big lineup. Garbajosa, who was averaging almost 30 minutes a game between the three and four spots before breaking his leg on an awkward landing under the basket, provides needed toughness and should get around 25 minutes again provided he’s fully recovered from the gruesome accident. Kapono should see 25 minutes as the starter at small forward. The odd man out is likely to be the inconsistent Joey Graham, who averaged 18 minutes a game last year but will be competing with Juan Dixon, Luke Jackson and Delfino for backup minutes at SF and SG. Minor offseason acquisitions Maceo Baston and Jamario Moon will battle returnees Pape Sow and Uros Slokar for the leftover court time at PF and C.
Parker was rock-solid in his first NBA campaign after a long stint as a Euro-league star, averaging 33 effective minutes a game, and his court time at shooting guard seems secure. The Raptors’ two-headed point guard monster of T.J. Ford and Jose Calderon is also the envy of a lot of other teams in the league. Ford is the starter and will see 30 minutes a night, but Calderon will also get 20 between PG and SG.
Rasho Nesterovic - TOR [C]: Nesterovic was brought in basically to fill up space in the paint. The Raptors want to limit the amount of time Bosh spends banging with larger bodies under the basket, and Nesterovic was an available and reasonably priced option. He won’t see enough playing time to be of much use from a fantasy perspective, as his 6.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 1.0 bpg averages attest, but he is the only true center on the Raptors’ roster. In the event of a long-term injury to Bosh or Bargnani, Nesterovic could see enough minutes to be useful in deep leagues.
* Andrea Bargnani – TOR [SF,PF]: Last year’s first overall pick was expected to be something of a project as a rookie, an intriguing player with length and a nice outside shot, but also a skinny kid who would struggle to adapt his game to the NBA. Those expectations were met in the first half of the season, but Bargnani found another gear once he got his feet wet, averaging 14.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.2 three-pointers in 21 games during the season’s final three months. Appendicitis cut short his regular season, however, and although he made it back on the court for the Playoffs, he was clearly not at full strength. Despite his seven-foot frame, Bargnani is primarily a perimeter player, and he will likely never put up the rebounding totals you’d expect from a player his size. However, his three-point shooting ability will help make up for that lost value. Assuming he stays healthy this time, look for Bargnani to at least match his second half totals from 2006-07 over a full season, but his potential ceiling is much higher.
* Chris Bosh - TOR [PF]: Bosh cemented his place as the Raptors’ franchise player last season, averaging a double-double (22.6 points and 10.7 rebounds, both career highs) while also chipping in 2.5 assists and 1.3 blocks. His percentages (49.6 percent from the floor and 78.5 percent from the line) were also solid. His lingering foot injury is a concern, but Bosh’s diverse skill set, talent and work ethic allow him to produce even when he’s less than 100 percent, and make him one of the NBA’s elite players both in real life and fantasy terms. He’s still only 23, and last season would have been his first out of college had he stayed at Georgia Tech for a full four years. Provided he stays reasonably healthy, there’s still a lot of room for growth in his numbers, especially with the talent being added to the roster around him. Look for his assist totals to take another jump up this season as he gets more adept at kicking the ball out against the inevitable double-teams he will face.
* Jason Kapono – TOR [SF]: Kapono had an astoundingly impressive year from the outside in 2006-07, sinking 108 three-point shots on just 210 attempts. That was good for the fourth-best three-point percentage in league history (51.4 percent) and earned him a sizable raise in free agency. Odds are a few of those shots will clank off the rim this time around, but that doesn’t mean his fantasy value will necessarily dip. In the Raptors’ offense, Kapono’s primary job will be to get open outside the arc and wait for a kick-out from a penetrating Ford or Calderon, or an outlet pass from Bosh, and open shots should be very plentiful. He won’t contribute much in other categories, but Kapono should be able to top last year’s 10.9 ppg, and he could be among the league leaders in three pointers as well.
Jorge Garbajosa – TOR [SF,PF]: Euro-league veteran Garbajosa proved to be an important addition to the Raptors, averaging 8.5 points and 4.9 rebounds through 67 games while providing plus defense and leading by example with his toughness and effort. A bad fall and a broken leg ended his season early, however. Garbajosa was recovered enough to play internationally with the Spanish National Team this offseason, and he should be fine by training camp. Expect similar production in his second NBA campaign.
Joey Graham – TOR [SF]: The Raptors’ other first round pick from the 2005 draft that also netted them Charlie Villanueva, Graham has been a frustratingly inconsistent player through his first two seasons. His overall numbers remained flat in 2006-07 (6.4 ppg and 3.1 rpg, compared to 6.7 and 3.1 as a rookie), but he decreased his fouls and turnovers, a sign that he’s at least making fewer mistakes on the court. The Raptors continue to add to their depth at Graham’s swingman spot, however, bringing in Dixon and Jackson late last year and signing Delfino this offseason. Graham will need to show significant improvement this season, or it will likely be his last in Toronto.
Luke Jackson – TOR [SF]: Jackson got a late-season tryout with the Raptors in 2006-07 and produced a stunning 30-point effort in the regular season final against the 76ers, when the team was resting their main weapons prior to the playoffs. He’ll have an uphill battle in training camp just to stick on the roster, however, and will likely be a regular resident of the inactive list if he does.
Pape Sow – TOR [PF,C]: A summer league neck injury cost Sow almost the entire 2006-07 season, hurting his development. The Raptors like his size and athleticism, but Sow is still a very raw player and doesn’t appear to be ready for a regular spot in an NBA front court rotation.
Maceo Baston – TOR [PF]: Baston, who got a taste of the NBA with the Raptors in 2002-03, returned to the NBA last season and proved to be a serviceable backup for the Pacers, averaging almost nine minutes a night through 47 games. He’ll provide front court depth for Toronto.
Uros Slokar – TOR [SF,PF]: Slokar got his first exposure to the NBA last season, appearing in 20 games for the Raptors. He’s still a project who needs to add some bulk to his frame. If he makes the club, Slokar will probably be a frequent member of the inactive list.
Jamario Moon – TOR [SF]: Moon had a good season in the CBA last season, but he is a long shot to make the Raptors’ 15-man roster.
* T.J. Ford – TOR [PG]: Many observers thought that Colangelo’s first major trade as Raptors GM was a huge mistake, as impressive rookie Villanueva was sent to the Bucks for Ford. The deal proved to be a steal for Toronto, however, as Villanueva battled injuries in Milwaukee while Ford thrived in the Raptors’ Suns-styled offense. One of the fastest players in the league, Ford is still learning how to use his speed to maximum effect on the court, but he still finished sixth in the NBA in assists (7.9 per game) last season while setting career highs with 14.0 points per game and, more importantly, 75 games played. With Calderon available to spell him liberally, Ford doesn’t need to pace himself, a big reason why he was able to post a career year despite playing over five minutes less per game than he had the season before with the Bucks. As the back injury that cost him the 2004-05 season fades in his rearview mirror, Ford seems poised to develop into one of the league’s best point guard options.
* Anthony Parker – TOR [SG,SF]: Originally drafted in 1997, Parker spent three seasons trying to catch a break in the NBA before heading across the Atlantic and becoming a bona fide star in Europe. He came back to the U.S. last season and proved to be, if not a star, an exceptional complementary player, playing over 33 minutes a night with 12.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.1 apg and 1.0 spg while shooting 47.7 percent from the field and 83.5 percent from the line. He quickly became a key defensive player for the Raptors as well, and his steady play at both ends of the court gave his flashier teammates (Bosh and Ford) more room to maneuver. Parker will be 32 this season but should still have a few good years left in him as a wingman to the Raptors’ younger guns.
Jose Calderon – TOR [PG]: Calderon put his inconsistent rookie season behind him and embraced the Raptors’ new up-tempo style, proving to be more of a 1B option at point guard than a No. 2. During eight games in late January and February when Ford was hobbled with ankle injury, Calderon was electric, averaging over 35 minutes a game with five double-doubles,14.4 points and 9.5 assists per night. (Toronto also went 7-1 over that stretch). His numbers on the season (21.0 minutes, 8.7 points and 5.0 assists) were obviously less impressive, but the team has the utmost confidence in Calderon’s ability to run the offense. So far Ford and Calderon have been able to co-exist peacefully with no conflicts over minutes, but if Calderon does at some point demand a trade to a team where he can start, the Raptors should be able to get a huge return for him. Until then, Calderon probably won’t see enough court time to be a viable starter in most formats, but he should be an immediate pickup if anything happens to Ford.
Juan Dixon – TOR [PG,SG]: Dixon provided a little spark and some depth for the Raptors’ stretch run after being acquired from Portland, averaging 26.3 minutes, 11.1 points and 2.8 rebounds in 28 games with Toronto. Those minutes were available due to Garbajosa and Bargnani being on the shelf, however, and Dixon will be squeezed for playing time this season. If he can stick as the main backup to Parker at the two, Dixon could come fairly close to repeating those numbers, but it’s more likely that his minutes and production will fall off, especially with Delfino added to the roster.
Carlos Delfino – TOR [SG]: The Argentine averaged more than 16 minutes a game with Detroit last season, scoring 5.2 ppg and adding 3.2 rpg, but he never seemed to fit in with the Pistons’ physical, defensive brand of play. Essentially a larger version of Dixon, Delfino enters camp as the slight favorite to win a backup swingman role over Dixon and Graham, but he still needs to prove that he can carve out a role for himself in the NBA.