Toronto Raptors: Ten Bold Predictions

October 23, 2009

by Tarun Joseph…

10. Sonny Weems wins a rotation spot

Enter Sonny Weems, who was once just trade filler in the deal with the Milwaukee Bucks that made both Weems and Amir Johnson T-dot bound in exchange for Carlos Delfino and Roko Ukic. Seven games into the preseason, it’s possible the Raptors might have stumbled on a “diamond in the rough.”

Weems, who has arguably had the best preseason of any Raptor thus far, is young, aggressive, and supremely athletic. Just take a look at his NCAA slam dunk championship on YouTube. Weems has benefited from an injury to Antoine Wright, and so far has shown he deserves to back up Hedo Turkoglu. Not only is Weems very active on the floor, but—as a boon for the defensively challenged Raptors—he seems willing to work on becoming a better defender. All might change once regular season starts, but so far Weems has done his part to be in the mix.

9. For the first 20 games, expect bad defence and a lot of turnovers

What did you think was going to happen for a team that brought in nine new players in the offseason? Adding to the fact head coach Jay Triano is running his first-ever training camp asking for a faster and quicker offensive tempo, and it’s obvious there will be chemistry issues in the early going. From offensive sets to rotating on defence, it will take time for the players to adjust to their new teammates on the floor and work the kinks out. But once these guys start to get used to each other, the team’s discipline should increase almost exponentially.

8. Reggie Evans will become JYD reincarnated

It’s been a while since the Raptors have had in their midst a player who is all about hustle, energy, intensity and—wait for it—rebounding. Reggie Evans is the dirty-work player fans at the ACC have adored since the likes of JunkYard Dog used to play there. Not only will he become a fan favourite, his toughness will give the Raptors a swagger they have missed sorely in past years.

Colangelo acquired Evans to get rid of that “soft” label, and for anyone thinking Reggie is still soft, go check out that infamous clip of him giving Chris Kaman the … uh, “blues.”

7. Marco Belinelli will make both Raptors and Warriors management have sleepless nights

The somewhat underused guard from Golden State brings an offensive flair and creativity to the Raptors. When things are going well, Belinelli will make Colangelo look like a genius with offensive firepower, excellent long-range skills, and even some play-making abilities. Unfortunately, when Marco is a bit off, he will miss many easy shots in a row, make passes that leave you dumbfounded, and let’s just say he’s no Alvin Williams on the defensive end. Belinelli has been consistently inconsistent for much of his career, and the Raptors can only hope they get good Marco more nights than bad Marco.

6. Andrea Bargnani will average around seven rebounds per game!

It’s true! It’s true! You heard it here first. The knock on the former No. 1 draft pick has always been he is too soft inside, and though he may be quick and athletic, his desire for rebounding has been well below average.

Enter Reggie Evans. The guy is notorious for being brutal in practice, and will challenge Bargnani over and over again to either get tougher or sit and watch himself get dominated in practice. And nobody wants to be shown up at practice, especially from a newcomer. When you also consider Andrea is beginning to fill into his frame (he looks a bit thicker this offseason), as well as his growing confidence from his something of a breakout year last year…the odds are he could very well improve on the glass.

5. The Raptors will be the highest scoring team in the East

Chris Bosh, Jose Calderon, Hedo Turkoglu, Bargnani, Jack, Belinelli, Derozan…from top to bottom, the Raptors have some very versatile offensive weapons in their arsenal. They have offensive athleticism, long-distance shooting, they led the NBA last year in free throw percentage and they can score in a variety of ways—esepcially in the open floor on the break. Philadelphia, Chicago, and Orlando will all challenge for the top offensive team, but the Raptors just boast too many scoring options. Now don’t get me wrong, the common trait never intoned about the players mentioned is defence, but the team that scores the most buckets at the end of the game wins, right?

4. Be patient: Demar Derozan will have a much better second half

The gifted young man has a very high ceiling with his explosive athleticism and improving jumpshot, but his time is not here yet. Demar Derozan, the Raptors’ ninth overall pick in the draft, from all accounts seems to be an excellent learner with a tremendous work ethic.

Keep in mind he played only one year of college ball, and in about 10 days will most likely be the starting SG on opening night with the possibility of defending Lebron James. Good luck trying to learn that. Derozan needs more NBA experience, and though he will display bad habits and defensive fundamentals early on, he should really begin to blossom in the second half where he will become more adjusted and all that work ethic will finally pay off.

3. The Raptors will have one of the top five benches in the NBA

Last year, the Raptors’ bench at times consisted of Will Solomon, Roko Ukic, Quincy Douby, Kris Humphries, and the overrated Jason Kapono (led the NBA in stepping out of bounds IMO). That is one ugly bench. But this year’s backup unit is completely revamped, and the new and improved bench could end up being one of the best in the NBA.

Jarrett Jack is a change-of-pace guard and gives the Raptors a legit backup for Jose, while Belinelli and Amir Johnson bring exactly the type of offensive and defensive upside the Raptors need. Reggie Evans and Rasho Nesterovic should provide a more stable presence down low, while Antoine Wright started for most of Dallas’s games last year and could be the best perimeter defender on the team. Yup, anything is better than that garbage bag they called a bench last year.

2. Hedo‘s presence will not be truly felt till playoff time

Bryan Colangelo’s prized free agent signing—and maybe the biggest free agent signing in Raptors histor—will really begin to show his worth come playoff time. Hedo Turkoglu is a big-shot taker and maker, and the Raptors haven’t had that since he-who-must-not-be-named. Hedo has ice-cold blood running through his veins and brings loads of playoff experience, fresh from a trip to the Finals last year where his clutch rating shot up over the roof. Hedo will have a good regular season, but come playoff time he finally gives the Raptors that second weapon behind Bosh whose high basketball IQ will be felt in May.

1. Toronto will advance to the second round, but Bosh will leave

I’ll get to the second part, but yes, it’s true. The Raptors will make the playoffs and finally have the type of depth that can advance a round or two. Considering the fact their core of Bosh, Bargnani, Calderon, and Turkoglu are all either in their prime or just entering it with another year of added experience, and you have a very dangerous team come playoff time.

Unfortunately, nothing short of a Finals appearance will entice Chris Bosh to stay. Bosh, who has been dreaming about free agency for a while, will leave the opportunity to be a franchise cornerstone for the next 6 years or so. Look for Bosh to bolt to the Thunder (yes, that Thunder) for a chance to play with the most dynamic young lineup in the league while still receiving a max contract.