Sometimes I let my imagination out of the corral, and let it romp around a big pasture for a while before reining it in.
Let’s look at the Toronto Raptors’ 34-48 won-lost record of last season. Of those 48 defeats, 11 were decided by 2,1 or zero points. [20-second timeout: the Raps lost 7 of 9 overtime games, which are the games with a zero-point margin, i.e., at the end of regulation time.] DeMar DeRozan made 34 of 120 3-point shots in ’12-’13, or 28.3%. Let’s “give” him 11 more makes, one in each of the losses under consideration. That would push his shooting percentage to 37.5, nowhere near the league-leading rate. Now we win 11 more games, and our record is 45-37, comfortably in the playoffs.
Right about now, you may be getting exasperated at this seemingly silly exercise, and I wouldn’t blame you. However, I do have a point, which is this: for the Raps to enjoy a better season, and even make the playoffs, we don’t need lightning to strike and turn all of our players into All-Stars. Asking for 11 3-ball makes instead of misses for one player is hardly a huge demand of the basketball gods. DeMar doesn’t need to transform into Kobe Bryant’s successor as the NBA’s best shooting guard (although that would be nice!). We need incremental growth – better shooting from beyond the arc for DD, a return to health and form for Landry Fields, a full season of the Jonas Valanciunas we saw in the last 20 games, Terrence Ross to emerge from his cocoon.
I’ve tried to show through this woulda-coulda-shoulda scenario that the margin between winning and losing is often wafer-thin in the NBA. The Raps are closer to being a good team than a bad one. I’ll go out on a speculative limb and suggest that Masai Ujiri sensed the same thing when he came on board as General Manager, which is why he didn’t blow up the roster as many observers thought he might. (Dumping Andrea Bargnani hardly qualifies as a radical move; what would have been radical is NOT moving him.) Nor did Masai fire coach Dwane Casey, whom I’ll profile next week.
There are sound reasons for optimism among Raptors’ fans. As we get closer to Opening Day, we’ll take a longer look at those reasons.
Brian Boake is Senior Editor for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.
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