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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

SDH's 2012/2013 NBA Worst to First Previews and Predictions: 22. Toronto Raptors

Overall Win/Loss Record :  23-43 fourth place Atlantic Division

Last Season’s Rank

27
Projected 2012/2013 Finish

22
Last season’s Team Statistics and League Rank
  • Points Scored: 90.7 (28th)
  • Points Allowed: 94.0 (9th)
  • Team FG%: .440 (23rd)
  • Opponents' FG%: .435 (9th)
  • Rebounds per game: 42.0 (17th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 40.5 (6th)


Returning Individual Statistical Leaders

Projected Starters Based on Last Season’s Performance, Veteran Seniority and Projected Impact

Key Reserves Based on Last Season’s Performances, Veteran Seniority and Potential Impact.
  1. Jose Calderon (PG)
  2. Linus Kleiza (F)
  3. Jonas Valunciunas (C)
  4. Ed Davis (F/C)
  5. Terrence Ross (G/F)

2012/2013 Projection:  31-51 last place in Atlantic Division, vastly improved, but not nearly good enough for an already stacked Eastern Conference.


Analysis:

Despite just winning 23 games last season, the Toronto Raptors proved to be one of the toughest teams in the league.  The Raptors ranked in the league’s top 10 ten defensive team as they ground their opponent’s offensive production to a halt.  In one season, the Raptors went from being one of the softest teams in the league to one of the most physically imposing teams as they ranked first in the league in fouls called. And they did so without their leading scorer, Andrea Bargnarni, who was on his way to having a All-Star season, missed most of the season due to injury while their second leading scorer Demar Derozan struggling offensively.  Much their losses had to do with Toronto’s inability to score a basket, especially in the clutch; however, they made up for it with their grit and effort on the defensive end fighting to the very end in most games win or lose.

This whole shift in culture was thanks to Raptors Coach Dwane Casey who consistently preached defense and mental toughness going into each and every game.  He even managed to inspire and challenge Andrea Bagnarni, who had a reputation of being allergic to defense, to improve his effort defensively and it turned on to have marvelous results.  Although it did not show statistically, Bargnarni’s effort on the defensive end vastly improve, especially in providing help defense for his teammates.  His efforts to also play tougher defensively in the paint also improved his reputation in the league as he showed opponents that he would not be pushed around anymore.  Because of Casey, Bargnarni actually improved as a player becoming more of a leader for his team and a threat on both ends of the court.

If it were not for a nagging back injury that shelved Bargnarni for more than half the season, the Raptors probably would have had a better shot to make the playoffs last season.  When Andrea played, the Raptors went 13-17 compared to 10-26 without him and a whopping 12-5 when he scored 20 points or more.  If he were able to play the whole season, the Raptors probably would have gone 30-36; unfortunately however, his absence left the Raptors with a humungous void that none of his teammates were capable of filling. Save for Demar DeRozan, who struggled offensively coming off a sensational second season, none of the Raptors could be counted on to put the ball in the basket.  Most of the other Raptors’ offensive production relied on Bargnarni’s ability to space the floor, and draw double teams to open them up; however, without him, there was no spacing and they were left to fend for themselves. 

Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo has supposedly ended the possibility of the Raptors offensive drought by acquiring players to provide extra depth offensively while increasing the team’s toughness on the defensive end as well.  He acquired one of the most underrated point guards in the league in Kyle Lowry, who not only led the Houston Rockets in assists (6.6 per game), but was also was second on the team in scoring (14.3ppg) and, despite his diminutive size of 5’ 10”, one of the best rebounding point guards in the league averaging close to five per game.  Along with Lowry, Colangelo added much needed perimeter shooting by signing Landry Fields who proved not only a solid shooting stroke as shown by his .344 three point field goal percentage, but has also been proven to be a excellent rebounder and perimeter defender.  Add the long awaited arrival of Lithuanian big man Jonas Valunciunas, who Colangelo picked 5th in last year’s draft along with this year’s draft choice, sharpshooter Terrence Ross to add with their current roster, the Raptors have a much more talented and deeper team than last season.

Armed with the same toughness, grit and devotion to defense as last season, Toronto will certainly start to turn some heads North of the border.  Unfortunately, despite the roster upgrades and improved outlook, the Raptors will still be hard pressed to make the playoffs this season.  Thanks to Brooklyn Nets GM Billy King' s adding 200$ million in new salary commitments and the Philadelphia 76ers acquiring who many believe to be the second best center in the league, the Atlantic Division has become the toughest in the league with four teams capable of winning 45-50 games.  Short of a miracle or major catastrophe occurring this season, Toronto will most likely be at the bottom looking up in the Eastern Conference once again.  At least the Raptors, with Casey’s steady hand guiding them, will face this daunting challenge with the same grit, hard working demeanor, and defensive intensity as they had shown last season.  So win or lose, it will still be a season where Toronto Raptors fans can hold their heads up high as they know that they will have a team that will fight no matter the odds.