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Young Raptors Bring Hope After Tough Season

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Video: Barbosa Pre-Game | Game Highlights | Triano | DeRozan | Bayless | Davis | Johnson
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Mike Ulmer - raptors.com
April 13, 2011

TORONTO -- Someone asked Jay Triano on Wednesday whether it bothered him that the Miami Heat stars people had come to boo, Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, would not be in action against the Raps on the season finale.

“I wish we were in a position to have to answer those kinds of questions,” he said.

Yes, even at home there is no clamour over injuries that put Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, Amir Johnson, Leandro Barbosa, Sonny Weems and Reggie Evans into their civvies.

They are temporary casualties to a higher cause. Typical of it was Wednesday’s 97-79 defeat inflicted by the Miami Heat.

“Our injuries have accelerated the growth of our younger players,” Triano said. “When the veterans come back they are going to be fighting against guys who have gotten a little bit better."

The moral of the 2010-2011 season is simple enough. Having a young team means you sleep like a baby. Every couple of hours, you wake up crying.

But when you get to the other end of the journey…

The Raptors end the season at 22-60, a record hastened by a team-wide string of injuries that left the team at 3-11 over the final 14.

The club that started last night, Ed Davis, DeMar DeRozan, Jerryd Bayless, Joey Dorsey and James Johnson had combined points per game average of 41 points. That won’t cut it too often.

Especially when veteran Eddie House burns you for 35 points.

But what you have after 82 games is a better idea of what you have. You know, for example, DeRozan didn’t carry his inconsistent rookie play into his sophomore campaign.

“When we look where he is as a second year player in the league and compare his game to that of some of the great second year players in this league, he’s in great company,” said Triano.

DeRozan finished the season with better than 17 points a game and more importantly, he provided the team with what it needed most, an explosive swingman who is learning how to pick up the game and shake it. He had 18 against the Heat.

“He’s worked on his jump shot to extend defences. That has helped in his ability to drive to the basket,” Triano said. “He’s getting stronger and he’s learning how to best use that strength.”

After a knee injury delayed his NBA debut by six weeks, Davis quickly established himself. As a starter, Davis has averaged 10.7 points and 8.2 rebounds and he stands fourth in rebounding and third in blocks among first year players. His season included a 15-rebound night and three 10-rebound nights in a row. The ceiling on his potential has been obliterated.

There were, of course, plenty of other pieces. Amir Johnson made his fifth NBA season by far his best one and averaged 9.6 points, 6.4 rebounds a night. Knocked out of the lineup by a sore left ankle, the 24-year-old Johnson kept the snarl while avoiding the foul trouble that had had long undermined his game.

In his first year as the undisputed stand-alone weapon, Bargnani turned in his best offensive performance with 21.4 points a game. Jerryd Bayless continued to establish himself as an intriguing point guard. He played nearly 42 minutes and carded 21 points.

Leandro Barbosa showed himself to be a worthwhile bench player with just over 13 points a night. Sweet-natured Reggie Evans grabbed every rebound that fell anywhere in the 416 area code.

All that, of course, does not a future make. The Raptors will undergo the draft lottery in June but right now they are sitting third from the top.

With another highly-rated young player and cap flexibility to use at a time of labor peace the picture dramatically outshines the won-loss record.

Barbosa is gaining a consultation on his injured hand and could be looking at surgery that would sideline him for six months.

He also has a player option that would allow him to opt out of his contract. Barbosa said he would consult with his family and agent but clearly, he sees something aside from the losses.

“For me it was great, different. I told Jay we I never lost so many games but I loved it,” Barbosa said. “It was a good experience, I learned a lot, from the coaches, from everybody. That, for me, means a lot. “