Sadly, the Raptors are one of those teams that people outside of Canada don’t pay much attention to. At first glance they seem like one of, if not the worst teams in the NBA. They seem like a relatively untalented team, with many losing seasons ahead of them. What many NBA fans are seeing of the Raptors at first glance is right, and wrong. The Raptors right now are pretty untalented. Their best player is a seven footer that barely rebounds, and struggles to defend (although he is improving). Not to mention the fact that he’s been injured for most of this season. Other than Bargnani, Calderon, and Derozan the Raptors are a team full of role players. In terms of raw skill, they are the worst in the NBA (yes, worse than the Bobcats). But unlike the Bobcats the Raptors have found a way to get their players to work well together, and have a bright future ahead of them.
This year the Raptors have actually been a pretty good team. Injuries to key players Bayless and Bargnani have really hurt the teams success and have forced the Raptors to learn how to play without them. They struggled at first, but have since figured out how to play without their two injured players. In a 16 game span in February the Raptors were 6-10. During that span the Raptors didn’t lose by more then 7, and have lost in the last seconds to the Knicks, Lakers, Celtics, Magic and Spurs. They have been very close to winning every one of the last 10 losses. After that span of games their playoff hopes were realistically gone and the Raptors started playing the younger guys more, and bringing up more D-League guys. Despite that, they have still done quite well in in March.
They’ve had success with great passing, but mostly with great team defense. The Raptors coach, Dwane Casey, who was the genius behind the Mavericks’ championship winning defense last year, has been an incredible coach. He’s gotten this team from worst in the NBA in team defense to the middle of the pack in the defensive rankings. The more time Casey’s had to coach these guys the better they’ve gotten. This whole season they’ve only given up more than 100 points 5 times. Last year at that point it had happened 23 times!! The only thing that must improve is the offense.
The Raptors are clearly missing a consistent scorer, a reliable center, and a solid wing player. The consistent scorer is already on the team roster, Andrea Bargnani, and though plagued by injuries he’s shown huge improvements this season. The reliable center, Jonas Valanciunas, is tearing up the Lithuanian Leagues and getting ready to join the Raptors next year. The solid wing player will come out of next years draft. The Raptors will likely have a high pick in the draft, and this is a draft packed with small forwards. There are many options, including Perry Jones III, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Harrison Barnes, and Terrence Jones. In my opinion, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the most likely pick. If he was picked by the Raps this would become their 2012-13 starting lineup.
PG: Jose Calderon
SG: Demar Derozan
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
PF: Andrea Bargnani
C: Jonas Valanciunas
This offensive minded group will work perfectly with Dwane Casey’s defensive ingeniousness, and as a result this team will be a force in the east for many years to come.