Welcome to the 2008 - 09 NBA season! I trust the summer was too long and the Olympics a good preview to the upcoming season!
The Toronto Raptors head into the new season with hope and a belief that they can challenge in the Atlantic Conference. I will lay out what i believe are some of the good things they are anticipating, and a few apprehensions I feel at this point.
Here is the opening night roster:
7 Andrea Bargnani - PF
4 Chris Bosh - PF
43 Kris Humphries - PF
21 Nathan Jawai - PF
6 Jermaine O'Neal - PF
3 Hassan Adams - SF
14 Joey Graham - SF
24 Jason Kapono - SF
8 Jose Calderon - PG
5 Will Solomon - PG
33 Jamario Moon - SG
18 Anthony Parker - SG
1 Roko Ukic - SG
The first thing that strikes me is that they offer no true Center! i think that losing Rasho Nesterovic could be something that will haunt them down the road as they are left with a lot of PF's and no one who can bang underneath night after night! Jermaine O'Neal has the POTENTIAL to be the inside help that Chis Bosh has been waiting for, but we won't know that until we see how much and how intense he plays. He has battled the "great potential" tag his whole life and with the Pacers, he was stagnating! i hope that he can play to that potential we all saw his 2001-02 Most Improved Player year! At 30, life for a big man can become a series of aches and pains which we have seen. As much as i like the deal, i am a bit hesitant to say it was a great improvement over what we had! if he can play to his averages of 14.3 ppg and 7.7 rpg, he could fill the void in this talented Raptors front court!
Chris Bosh will mature even more this season and become a greater force as he edges his scoring and boards up, his team will rise the standings with him!
The tandem of Joey Graham and Jason Kapono have the potential to score from almost any part of the floor. The problem we ran into last year was a lack of commitment to outside defense! I am not sure that letting Carlos Delfino walk and bringing in Hassan Adams will help in either aspect, but we can only move on and see which of the 3 will step up and play some defense! I believe that the issue last season was a lack of intensity on defense from the front court including Chris Bosh, but for sure the perimeter defense let too many games slip by them and in the Atlantic Division this season, that won't be acceptable at all!
I would love to see Andrea Bargnani and Jamario Moon emerge as top level players and become 15 point 7 or 8 rebound a game guys which would see a huge increase in bench scoring or a more balanced starting 5 if Jamario and Anthony Parker platoon as they did last season. If Andrea struggles, i suspect he will become a failed experiment and i am sure there are teams that would love to have him wandering around the perimeter! With the wealth of PF's we have, he could be used to find another SF to shore up the perimeter.
With the offense now in the more than capable hands of Jose Calderon, the addition of Will Solomon could be a huge factor. He looks more than able to step in and run the show and should allow the Raptors an interesting up-tempo option off the bench with Moon, Joey Graham or Jason Kapono with Andrea cutting.
As i see this team at this point, there are many questions i find unanswered! I am not sure that they are a lot better than they were when the season ended in the spring, but the POTENTIAL to be better is left in the hands and hearts of this group of men. I think if Jermaine can play 70+ games, this team will win around 45 which is about what they won last year! The lack of true Center will hurt them in the Atlantic Division as they play teams like the Celtics with Kendrick Perkins and Glenn Davis - though both are undersized, they are very adequate playing and banging it out down low. the 76ers will offer Samuel Dalembert and the Nets will present the rookie Brook Lopez as well as Josh Boone. As the season plays out, I can see this team making a move for either a true post or a larger PF who can help O'Neal contend underneath. I think the SG position is very solid, and i think that the PG position could use another body.
SO, over all, i see the Raptors as a team that is unknown in a lot of areas with the loss of T.J. Ford and Carlos Delfino leaving holes that will be tough to fill. I also see potential as this team can now present a very solid front line of Chris Bosh, Jermaine O'Neal and Joey Graham or Jason Kapono. With Jose Calderon in the PG and either Moon or Parker, this team will be fun to watch! I see them ending up 2nd in this division with 47 wins. I see them 5th or 6th in the conference behind the Celtics, the Pistons, the Magic, and the Cavaliers. Tonight we shall see if Sam Mitchell is up to the task of guiding this team to play with their hearts.
Bring on the games!