They don't have an identity now -- they lost that when Chris Bosh went to Miami. At least half of this season will be about trying to find out what they are. It looks like they'll try to get younger and more athletic and play more up and down.
They've got only one player who would start for a lot of teams, and that's Andrea Bargnani, a 7-footer who is a tremendous three-point threat. They're going to have to build around him, but at this point I haven't seen anything that would suggest he's a building-block guy. He's a nice player and a good piece, but right now he couldn't be a No. 2 player on a good team. I don't see him ever becoming a double-figure rebounder, and his post-up game is nonexistent, though I'm sure they'll try to develop him in the post this year.
They'll need 20 points per game from Bargnani even as he is subjected to more defensive attention. You're not going to have to double anybody on this team, which means there should be fewer open looks on the perimeter for shooters like him. I expect his scoring will go up but his field-goal percentages will go down.
Amir Johnson got one of those contracts [$34 million over five years] that looks bad the day it's signed. He's a role-playing power forward -- slender and long -- who plays hard and does the little things on the boards and defensively. He understands that he doesn't need the ball to be successful, and he does things to help the team win in areas that don't show up in the box score. He won't help a team like the Raptors because they're going to need more scoring from his position than he can provide. He shoots a very high percentage because he's mainly scoring off layups, but he's going to be a luxury they can't afford this year. The things he does well will go unrecognized on a bad team.
Linas Kleiza can shoot, and now he joins a team that's been known for its shooting. I won't be surprised if Kleiza has a breakout year as a double-figures scorer who shoots threes, because somebody is going to have to score for them.
In the NFL, they talk about finesse teams, and the Raptors are just that -- they're not going to get their noses dirty or be relentless defenders. What they will do, though, is come down and try to make up for their deficiencies by knocking down threes.
DeMar DeRozan has a great work ethic for a young player. He's a terrific athlete, but he doesn't handle or shoot the ball particularly well. Shooting has been a big emphasis for him. He's also not really great at taking guys off the dribble or creating a shot. You'll see gradual improvement because he works hard, but he won't become a star at his position.
They'll be happy to have Leandro Barbosa because their other wings are so young. Barbosa could lead this team in scoring off the bench, and he'll challenge for the Sixth Man Award. He has become a much better shooter over the years. He was always difficult to stop in penetration, and the wide-open Phoenix style encouraged him to improve his jump shot. He used to back up Steve Nash, but on this team, he'll primarily be a 2-guard and a scorer. To make room for him, expect DeRozan to shift to small forward at times.
Jarrett Jack is the better candidate to start at point guard because he's better defensively than Jose Calderon, though they could go either way. Jack endeared himself to coaches just about everywhere he's gone. He'd be a third guard on a good team, but on this team he will make a positive impact while playing heavy minutes because he's solid across the board.
As recently as a year ago, the Raptors felt good about Calderon, but since then he's been exposed as a full-time point guard. His defensive deficiencies show up when he's playing 35 minutes a night, and that affects the entire team and makes them even softer. He can't keep up with the speedier point guards -- they really kill him -- so he's better equipped to defend backups.
When Ed Davis gets back [from a knee injury], he'll be on a slow track as a very raw but gifted guy. He's wiry strong and athletic, and he'll block shots, rebound and run. But he's not very skilled and he has little low-post game. He's not much of a shooter either, so he'll be limited in the pick-and-pop. He'll need more time to develop than most of the rookies at the top of the draft.
David Andersen is a made-for-Toronto player, a big man from Europe who has three-point range. He'll probably play about 20 minutes per game, and he might flirt with double figures in scoring. He's sort of a poor man's Bargnani, so he gives them more of what they already have.
Overall, they'll want to spread the defense and find shots from the perimeter. On the one hand, they have players who can run, but the problem with the up-tempo game is that it favors a more talented team. Teams like the Raptors usually want to limit the number of possessions, but in this case, they probably need to worry more about establishing a style of play that will serve them well as they begin to add talent.
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