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Raptors Players Look Ahead With Optimism

Related: Watch Thursday's News Conference Video | Ulmer: Triano Hopes To Keep Teaching, Learning
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Mike Ulmer - raptors.com
April 14, 2011

TORONTO -- It was the strangest of 60-loss seasons.

The development of DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis and Jerryd Bayless as well as the promise of a high draft choice overshadowed, even obliterated the misery of a 22-60 record.

Andrea Bargnani spoke to that dynamic, Thursday, at the Raptors locker-clean-up.

“The young guys played more minutes and that’s great,” Bargnani said. “But next year we have to win more games.”

Yes, yes they do. That’s what 2010-11 was about. It will be the storyline whenever the NBA meets again to convene a regular season.

“Twenty-two wins is not a really positive season,” said guard Jerryd Bayless. “but not too many young guys will get the opportunity to play like that. I didn’t play in my first year at all. You look at Oklahoma City or Portland (fourth and sixth in the west). Those teams let the young guys grow. Look where they are.”

Without cornerstone player Chris Bosh, the Raptors resolved to squeeze as much as they could from centre Andrea Bargnani. With an average age of 25.12, the Raptors had the greenest team in the NBA aside from the baby-stepping Minnesota Timberwolves.

But when DeMar DeRozan showed himself fit and ready to advance after a diligent summer, he quickly became one of the focal points of the season. While the 21-year-old saw his floor time increased by a third, he doubled his points per game from 8.6 to 17.2. His improvement was the fourth-highest upsurge in the NBA last season. When injuries knocked out a succession of players, Reggie Evans and Leandro Barbosa to name two, the youth program was accelerated. Ed Davis, 21, turned in an astonishing 7.1 rebounds along with 7.7 points a night. With Jose Calderon out with a sore ankle, Bayless averaged 22.5 points over the final nine games of the season.

“The injuries changed the direction our team had to go,” said coach Jay Triano. “Our team was young. We were going to rely on those players.”

That meant wretched periods including a 2-15 January and a 13-game losing streak.

But there were moments, enough to cement the impression of an unshakeable future.

In November, DeRozan scored 26, one less than Andrea Bargnani in a win over Orlando. In April, the Raptors would victimize Orlando again behind 24 points from DeRozan and another 23 from Bayless. Ed Davis’s 17 points represented the team high as the Raptors beat Dallas. The Raptors squeaked out a one-point victory over the Celtics, in Boston.

“We know we got better,” said Amir Johnson. “We showed some signs beating the top teams, Boston and Orlando.”

Johnson, just 23, turned in his best NBA season with 9.6 points per game and 6.40 rebounds.

Consistently undersized, the Raptors were often overpowered. There was, Triano said, no other way to demonstrate how far his players had to come.

“The only way to get better is to get embarrassed by guys,” he said.

And while that happened with regularity, the vibe in the dressing room didn’t waver.

“Everyone just kept it professional. When the game was over we would think about the next game and play hard every night,” Davis said.

DeRozan pledged to come back better.

“I want to polish up a lot of little things, stretching my range out, continuing to work on my ballhandling,” DeRozan said. “I want to use the summer to be stronger, especially if I m going to be down there with the big guys rebounding. I have to get stronger.”