It’s hard to believe, considering the Raptors’ not so successful past, that this is the first time in franchise history without a Raptor in one of the All Star weekend events. Unless, of course, you count Andrea Bargnani’s appearance in Kobe Bryant and Sprite’s latest promotion.

But with the lockout-shortened season, the All Star break actually marks the official halfway point of the 2011-2012 campaign for Toronto. So let’s examine where this team is after 33 of 66 games have been played and how things have changed since December.

The record and expectations: Not many people predicted the Raptors to win more than 20 games this season, so you’d have to say that from a win/loss perspective, 10 wins at the halfway mark is either right on par with our expectations, or perhaps even a little ahead of them. Based on my game-by-game predictions, I expected the Raptors to be 9-24 at this point.

The compete level: While none of us expected many wins, we all hoped that the appointment of Dwane Casey as head coach and his subsequent “pound the rock” mentality would result in a more consistent and inspiring effort from the Raptors. After 33 games, the Raps have an average point differential of -5.1, which isn’t that bad considering the team is 13 games below .500. Throw in a road win at MSG, a home win over the Celtics and a couple of great performances against the Lakers and Spurs, and even a 40-point loss in Boston and a loss to the lowly Bobcats can’t hide the fact that for the most part, the compete level we were all hoping for has been there.

The defence: Complain all you want about the inconsistent and at times painful to watch offence. At the end of the day, I’ll take it over the historically bad defence we’ve seen over the last couple of seasons. I am a firm believer in the theory that you can build a solid foundation on defence and find your offence along the way rather than trying to outscore everyone and never establishing a defensive mentality during the early stages of your rebuild. The numbers don’t lie. Opponents points per game are down from 105.4 last season to 94.3 this season. Opponents field goal percentage has dropped from 48.2 in 2010-2011 to 43.4 in 2011-2012. Most importantly, after back-to-back seasons of a 30th-ranked defensive efficiency stuck at 110.2 and 110, (dis)respectively, Casey has the Raptors holding down the 17th-ranked defensive efficiency at 101.1.

I was realistically asking for a jump from dead last to bottom five or bottom 10 at best. Considering where the Raptors were defensively with a similar roster last season, being a middle of the pack defensive team is a testament to Dwane Casey’s wizardry. How good will this team be when Casey has a more talented and more defensively competent roster?

The development: This will be and should be the most debated portion of the first half of the season. On one hand, you can look at guys like DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson and say that each of them has either stagnated or regressed from last season, but certainly hasn’t progressed. On the other hand, you can look at Andrea Bargnani’s 13-game All Star caliber sample, James Johnson’s emergence or even Linas Kleiza’s performance since returning to action and say that there have been signs of internal development. As frustrating as it might be, we’ll have to sit on the fence right now and wait until late April to determine just how this season of development has fared.

The draft: The way things are currently shaping up, the Raptors would be in line for the league’s fifth-worst record, and look to be in a hot “race” for one of the last seven or eight spots overall. Based on what I’ve seen from the NCAA so far, I think the Raptors would be crazy to pass up Anthony Davis if they were to win the lottery, despite the log-jam at power forward. Outside of Davis, I believe drafting Harrison Barnes, or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist if Davis and Barnes are off the board, can give the Raptors’ future fortunes a massive boost. That’s not to diminish the potential of guys like Thomas Robinson, Andre Drummond and Jared Sullinger or to diminish how players like Bradley Beal and Jeremy Lamb could help Toronto, but as of right now, I believe Davis, Barnes and Kidd-Gilchrist could be integral pieces of a legitimate contending core a few years down the road.

The future: The future of this franchise has not and will not be decided by a 33-game sample in a lockout-shortened season, but I do find it interesting just how quickly the future “core” has changed in the minds of many fans. From what I could gather, a lot of Raptors fans were expecting to come out of this season looking at a core of DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis, Jonas Valanciuns and the 2012 lottery pick, with Andrea Bargnani either being good trade bait or an amnesty candidate at worst. Just a few months later, I think a lot of those same fans are now anticipating a three-man core of Bargnani, Valanciunas and the aforementioned pick, with a guy like DeRozan now being looked at as merely a supporting cast member. Who knows how things will change between now and the end of the season (for the record, I’m expecting a big second half from DeMar and more consistency from Ed) or even between the end of the regular season and draft night, but I can tell you that watching the young players jockey for positioning in the “core” will be what I’m most looking forward to in the second half of the season, including seeing whether Andrea can pick up where he left off in January.

Comments (20)

  1. It may be a small thing, but it’s still kind of heartening to see Il Mago in that kind of company, and characterized as “international elite”. You wouldn’t have seen that in any of the previous 2-3 seasons.

  2. For the record, league wide offence is down substantially – which leads to all of the defensive stats you cited. The only one that can really be pointed to and be proud of is the improvement from “30th-ranked defensive efficiency stuck at 110.2 and 110, (dis)respectively, Casey has the Raptors holding down the 17th-ranked defensive efficiency at 101.1″.

    As for DeRozan, yes, I expect him to have strong games in the second half when Bargs is out, and weak games when bargs comes back, and weak games when it is Jose’s turn to sit out and tank the season. He still isn’t efficient, but at the moment, he is getting all of the shots. He will never be a star, but should be a good complimentary piece for the Raptors (or someone else).

  3. ” I think a lot of those same fans are now anticipating a three-man core of Bargnani, Valanciunas and the aforementioned pick”

    awesome. Toronto’s 3 man core consists of:

    1) a complete and utter unknown
    2) a guy who has yet to step on an NBA court
    3) a guy who strung together a total of 13 solid games after 5 years (and 367 games) of failure

    watch out world, here we come.

    • Well what did you really think was gonna happen after Bosh left?

      Personally, I was glad to see him go. We were nothing more than a mediocre team, who’s $13.5 million dollar player wasn’t even good enough to win one playoff series. The raptors ‘soft’ label by other teams was large in part to bosh being our main guy. He doesn’t get a lot of respect from other big men in the NBA and I think he was more of a cancer than a ‘franchise player’ that we couldn’t afford to lose. This is not LA or NYC, we can’t just sign a bunch of all-stars to win games for us. But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope for the future. Chicago built their team through the draft, and so did OKC…and those are 2 of the best teams in the league right now.

      If you were happy with team that was in the playoffs but was never actually going to win a series, than I’m not sure where your head’s at. Bosh needed to go, and this team needed to be re-built through the draft n acquiring young talent..as is the nature of sports.

      Better times are ahead for this franchise..and I can pretty much guarantee that it’ll be better than anything Chris Bosh brought us.

      • you missed the point. I don’t have a problem with this team rebuilding… but they are rebuilding based off hopes and dreams and no substance. lets call a player a ‘core’ peice when he’s played in the NBA and can strap together an entire season.

        we don’t even know who this next draft pick is, seen Jonas on the court, and Andrea played well 1/6th of a shortened season (and is still the worse rebounding big in the league).

        On another note, this mess you see here is not Bosh’s fault. Its Brian Colangelo’s….

    • Haha, yeah, it’s pretty sad but that’s all we got to look forward to until we luck into a star through the draft.

      We’re probably going to be Minnesota (2007-2011)/Sacramento east for a few years.

    • You sound like a real jerk. What do you mean by five years of failure. You know what? you’re not even worth wasting my time on troll.

  4. Good analysis.. Also worth mentioning, would be our improved interior defence. Ever since the Oakley-Davis era, this team has been soft around the basket. For ‘pts in paint allowed’, I believe we were dead last in 2010-2011. I remember at one point this season, we were either 1st or 2nd in the entire league in this category. Pretty amazing, considering the team hasn’t changed much from last year.

  5. RaptorBlog drinking game: Take a shot whenever Joseph uses the word “core”.

    Jesus dude, we’re barely a year and a half into a “full fledged, tear it down, blow up the foundation and then blow up whatever’s under that before we try to build it back up” tank job, we don’t have a core. If we had a core, we wouldn’t be on the way to another Top 5 pick.

    • I agree PBI. That’s the problem. There’s too many pieces that aren’t good enough to build around with this team.

      DeRozan and Bargnani are both good players, but they aren’t “core” players IMO.

      I know Toronto fans are tired of losing, but hitting picks around 10th-15th aren’t players worth building around most times.

      Serious consideration needs to be made to actually tank a couple years and get gauranteed top 5 picks, and build it right. Otherwise, they’ll be no better than they were at only 40 win seasons. 7th-8th seed playoff team is the best case scenario for the current group of players.

  6. I’m seeing the glass half full. Good fair assessment.
    Would your win prediction be on pace with a healthy Bargs?

    The way I see it, with the expectations coming into the season, you cannot be disappointed with the results so far.
    Unlike PBI, I don’t find our situation sad at all. In brief period Casey has had to work with his players our defence, our # 1 concern, has shown improvement. Although only 13 games, it sure appeared that Bargnani “gets it” now. Do you realize if he maintains what he showed, we have that all star talent we so desperately are seeking? If Jonas stays healthy, I’ll jump the gun, we have a talent. This years top 8 or so pick will eventually contribute, and I agree with Joseph that both Demar and Ed will have a better second half. Good cap situation and a GM currently in Orlando discussing the futures of Barbosa and Calderon.

    • I am almost certain that with a healthy Bargs and team at full strength, I’m sure the Raptors would have been at .500 or close to it, give or take two of three games.

      • Not even close man. Being a .500 team or close to it puts you in the playoffs in the eastern conference. There’s no way, even if everyone was healthy this team would have won more than 25 games with the reduced season, and that’s being generous.

        • How can you make bold predictions like that when this team has already performed over expectations, without their best player for more than half of the total games played?

          Would you have predicted Philly to be ahead of the Magic, Knicks, Celtics and Hawks at the all-star break? Probably not.

          You can say whatever you want about the the teams we beat with Andrea in the line-up (or some of the losses), but the fact remains that with him IN the line-up, we are just under .500.

    • I was referring more to the long-term situation of this team which is based on nothing but buying a lottery ticket ever year and hoping for the best, assuming that this franchise has aspirations that are higher than just being a team with a .450 to .500 winning percentage and sneaking into the playoffs.

      As for the short term, the defensive improvement is very nice to see but again, it came at the expense of significant regression from Davis and DeRozan and if we’re going to highlight Casey’s positives, let’s also examine his negatives ie over reliance on vets and trying like hell to win games when the team should be trying to see what they have in their younger guys and running Bargnani into the ground when he should have been careful with him coming off his first injury.

      Again, it all depends on your expectations for this organization. If you want them to max out as a team that sneaks into the playoffs as a 7th or 8th seed than I can see why many of you have such a positive outlook because that is certainly doable within the next couple of years but I’d like to see them aim higher.

  7. Relying on vets? Really? What vet is taking minutes from Derozan or Davis? Are you referring to J. Johnson and Kleiza? Kleiza’s 27 and JJ is 25. And both have deservedly earned more playing time.
    DeRozan minutes are only behind Bargnani’s and in all honesty he has not really earned all the minutes.that he has been given. And Davis has not played as good as we have hoped, and his minutes reflect it. That’s how you develope, you earn your minutes.
    My expectations are a winning team. To be in the discussion. And this team is in the best situation then they have been in years to get there.

  8. Joseph, you’re right about a good defense being more important than a good offense. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t watch enough basketball. I really liked the addition of coach Casey since day one. But what I fear is that with the mediocre pieces that he’s been given, people are going to expect so much out of this team in a couple of years. Then they’re going to blame him when the team is only a 40 win playoff team with a 7th or 8th seed.

    But it could very well be no better, or no worse than it is right now by holding onto players that aren’t the future of the team (Calderon, Barbosa). If they can find a way to trade them, even for a salary dump to a team like Indiana, they should do it. Get as good a pick this year as possible.

    What they really need to tank a couple of years, get gauranteed top 5 picks and get players that can be built around. It’s the same Raptors fans who think this is a great core of players who are going to be the same ones five years from now wondering why they could never get past the first round.

    You’re also right about Davis, Barnes, Gilchrist being the 3 guys that can make an immediate impact. Either of the three players mentioned give the Raptors a legitimate player to build around. The problem is, those 3 will likely go 1-2-3 in June, so if the Raptors can’t get a top 3 pick, they will be in A LOT of trouble going forward.

    However, IF they get the #1 pick, somehow, say good bye to Bargnani for good Raptors fans because Davis will be taking his spot.

    • Also, I’m not sure what the situation is with Dwane Casey and Ed Davis, but I’ve been really disappointed with his play so far this year.

      Specifically because I thought with Andrea starting at PF, and then him getting injured, was going to be a fantastic opportunity for Ed to prove himself as an every day NBA starter. The minutes were there for him, but he just didn’t get to take advantage of it.

      Whether it’s because he’s just better suited for the bench right now, not showing enough effort in practice, or if he just simply isn’t progressing the way he should be. Something’s going on that worries me about the potential of Ed Davis.

      He looked like a promising big man that could defend the paint, but also be a nice replacement for Bosh. But now, I’m starting to have second thoughts about how good he will actually be.

  9. On the one hand I’d like to be optimistic, on the other hand, to think this team is gonna climb out of the hole after just two top 10 picks…..that’d be damn lucky.

    Oklahoma had to draft Durant, Westbrook, Harden, and Green to climb out of the basement. The Clippers drafted Griffin, Jordan, and Gordon, then had to make a major trade to climb out.

    That kind of talent is on a totally different level than what the Raptors are looking at….

  10. you’re going to draft a player then get rid of a 5 year 1st pick overall thats developed into a top rate player?? You dont build championships by drafting players, you build championship teams off other peoples draft picks that they have developed and we pick off with MONEY !! Way of the world, way of the sports world. LA stole Gasol, Peace, Boston took Garnett and Allan, and Miami swiped Lebron and Bosh.

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