I had occasion recently to offer an opinion about the Raptors’ prospects for next season to a group of knowledgeable basketball cronies. My prediction of a 42-40 record, and the #8 seed in the East, produced a number of compelling inquiries about my use of recreational soporifics (“What pipe are you smoking ?” & “Are you on drugs?”) and my mental health (“Are you f****n’ crazy?” & “Have you lost what little mind you had?”). Such congenial comments have spurred me to list why I am taking a Pollyanna-ish outlook on what most commentators are expecting to be another lost season, and a trip to the draft lottery.
The Raps will claim the record I predict, IF all or most of the following expectations are met:
- Jonas V is a rookie-of-the-year candidate, and is almost immediately the best defensive centre the Raps have ever had. Yes, I know he’s never played a second of NBA ball, but he’s been a pro player in Europe for several years. He should win a pushover battle in training camp to be the opening-game starter (if he can’t beat out Aaron Gray & Magloire for the gig, we’re sunk). I expect him to respond well to Dwane Casey’s defensive exhortations to protect the rim, and on offense contribute passes, put-backs and alley-oops.
- The team stays healthy. Last year’s foolish schedule decimated many squads, including Our Heroes.
- Andrea Bargnani’s calf injury is not chronic, and he produces offensively all season the way he did at the beginning of last one. Hopefully having a matching Eurotower in JV will help him. Andrea also showed signs of leadership last year; we need that again.
- Our #8 pick forces his way into the rotation, by dint of strong play.
- Our cap flexibility allows us to add a veteran who contributes, rather than doing a crash-&-burn like Turkoglu.
- DeMar DeRozan finds another element to his game, like a consistent 3-point shot. He’s got to be better than 26%, which was an improvement over the previous year’s 9% (gag). I’m not in love with his shooting form, but it’s not dreadful. He’s entering his fourth season, and full physical maturity. For him to average over 16 points with so little contributions from downtown indicates he’s talented enough; he’s fearless at attacking the hoop.
- Either Ed Davis or Amir Johnson take a step forward. Davis seems to have more upside. He has better hops, and a nose for the ball, but his shooting has been poor, and he hasn’t developed an ability to create his shot. Amir needs to pick it up – he won’t be a Rap much longer averaging 7 PPG. However, he has shown flashes in the past of more talent than most muckers offer – that needs to re-emerge.
- Jerryd Bayless stays healthy, and coachable. Jerryd is undersized, and suffers from the delusion that he’s a point guard in waiting, but can provide some offensive punch off the bench at the 2-guard spot.. He shot better than 40% from distance last year.
- My dark horse IF is an intriguing fellow named James Johnson. JJ has developed a reputation as a relentless worker. If he can use that determination to develop a reliable mid-range jumper, he could be the surprise starter at SF. His defense is certainly NBA grade.