DeMar DeRozan is going to be a premier rookie, Hedo Turkoglu was a good get and they have better backups up front and at point guard. I like this team now. They're going to be back in the playoffs.
The big story is going to be whether they can keep Chris Bosh as a free agent this summer. It's important for them to have a good year because if they don't make the playoffs, it will be devastating. They'll have to blow it up if Bosh leaves, and they'll have no shot of keeping him -- none -- if they're not a playoff team. This is one year they can't afford to lose one of their key guys to injury.
I would not rate Bosh as an elite player because he has not shown that level of consistency to be up there with Dwyane Wade and those kind of guys. But Bosh is in the next tier, that's for sure. He's a very good player, but if he's your No. 1 player, your Nos. 2, 3 and 4 players have to be significant guys like Turkoglu. Bosh, however, doesn't have that level of talent around him, so they'll probably be a bottom seed in the playoffs.
Bosh looks tougher. He's built himself up physically this summer. He's become a much better post player in recent years so that you can now play through him, and he's tougher defensively. He's just getting more seasoned. Now it's time for him to go to the next step and be a true leader and put the team on his back and get them into the playoffs. Bosh has been dealing with injuries in recent years, and my gut tells me that if they were one of the top teams, he'd find way to play more often and not miss some of those games. But I don't think he's been dogging it by any means. The injuries have affected him in little ways. He's not as lively rebounding, he struggles on that second jump and he can be boxed out now. The alley oops and all those kinds of things, he didn't want any part of that when he was complaining about his knee.
Just because of the year that he had in the playoffs with Orlando, Turkoglu gives them instant credibility. He's a hard guy to match up to with a 2 or 3 because he's a legit 6-foot-10, he handles the ball very well, he can see the floor and he makes passes above the crowd. Let's be clear: If you really show attention toward him, he can be guarded. It's not like he's out of this world. He can't dominate when a good defensive team is focused on guarding him. That being said, he is terrific one-on-one. You can isolate him on the elbow and he can run a team in a pinch as the point forward. He's an outstanding passer who can pass off the dribble and he's a good finisher. Over the last two or three years, he has developed a scorer's mentality. He really expects to score now. The other good thing about him is that he's a strong clutch player. You can run plays for him at the end of the game and he'll find a way to get it done.
Another thing I love about Turkoglu is that he'll do his share of work on the defensive boards and then he'll bust out with the ball, so now you've got a big player pushing it up the floor and creating immediate mismatches because the people who are getting back are small and they'll be the ones who have to pick him up. He was smart to pick Toronto over Portland because in Portland he might have disappeared. In Toronto, they'll play more of that European, Mike D'Antoni style where they're more wide open with fewer post-ups. It's just going to be more wide-open dribble-drives, back cuts, move the ball, advance the ball, spread the floor, take the three. All of that stuff is hard to guard. The problem is that the teams that play that way are teams that do not defend, and Turkoglu is the embodiment of that. He cannot defend a chair. I mean, he cannot defend at all.
Andrea Bargnani has to become more "NBA-ized." By that I mean he still has a lot of that European stuff to his game. He doesn't get back fast enough defensively, he doesn't get physical enough and he settles too much for the jump shot as a 7-footer. He should be more of an asset inside, especially as a rebounder, though I did see signs of him trying to do that last year. He hasn't shown that he's a real tough, hard-nosed guy. He's very skilled and he knows how to play, but he needs to be more in tune with what it takes to be successful in the NBA.
Right now, Bargnani can't defend any position other than the 5, so he has to get stronger and do his work early defensively rather than wait for his man to take position in the post and then try to guard him, because by then it's too late. He doesn't move his feet well defensively, and that needs to be addressed in order for him to take it to the next level and be a starting center for a playoff team. As a 4 man, he can't guard the position at all. I guess he needs to model his game after Mehmet Okur, a perimeter-shooting center who can handle himself physically inside. I trust Bargnani as a shooter. If it's not a highly contested shot, I feel like it's going to go in. He has a great release, form and arc with great range and pretty good quickness to get the shot off.
I also like their decision to bring back Rasho Nesterovic to back up Bosh and Bargnani. Nesterovic is a bona fide center who can post up a little bit.
Jose Calderon is a very good point guard. He's a very, very good passer and a willing passer. You've got to get out and play him because he has good range, though he's a little bit streaky. But he's another guy who doesn't play defense like he has to. He plays make-believe on the defensive end. He's got OK toughness. He comes across like he's trying to be a tough guy, but down the stretch he's not as tough as he acts, and he can be taken out of the play. Last year he was simply worn down at the end of the season, and that's why it was crucial that they brought in Jarrett Jack as his backup this year. Other teams picked up on Calderon being tired last year and they pressed him. They kept turning him and turning him as he brought the ball up because he was wiped out. Calderon can't beat you north-south because he doesn't have blow-by speed. He needs to go east-west to get by guys, and that kind of extra effort wears him down more and more. If you can tire him out, now the entry pass he's making becomes deeper than he wants it to be and everything becomes more difficult.
Jack is a very physical player who will come in and beat people up. He's a tough kid who doesn't turn the ball over, and he's a better scorer than he's given credit for. He plays within his limitations. For example, he doesn't have blow-by speed, but he gets a shoulder in front of you to get by you and finish. He is also a very good defender, and all of that makes him a good complement to Calderon. Coming into the league he was viewed as a combo guard, but he's done a good job of honing his point skills.
I'm high on DeRozan. He's not a great shooter, but you already have Turkoglu and Bargnani, so it might not be bad to have a slashing, tough, hard-nosed guy, a competitor with a well-built NBA body who will back down to no one.
Amir Johnson is a decent pickup. He defends and rebounds, and though he's not a good offensive player, they don't necessarily need more of that with Bosh and their other guys up front. He's not a demanding, high-maintenance player who will need the ball. He can go in for a spell until Bosh is ready to get back in the game.
Those blue-collar hockey fans in Toronto will love Reggie Evans. I see him slowing down. He can't play for long durations, but he probably won't need to do that with this team. Just go in and defend and use your fouls.
It looks like coach Jay Triano is trying to make the right people happy -- team president Bryan Colangelo and Bosh. It will be a good thing to see Triano involving Bosh in decisions because to be confrontational and not give the time of day to your best player is not the thing to do. He knows this is a great opportunity and he wants to hang in there. He's a Canadian, he knows he's fortunate to be in charge there, and as much as he's going to try to appease the right people, he's also going to know that he has to win. It's interesting they hired [former D'Antoni aide] Marc Iavaroni as an assistant. That gives a clear indication that they want to put in some of D'Antoni's system, and yet Iavaroni did a poor job of putting in those sets when he was the head coach at Memphis.
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.