Who's leading the charge, and who's taking the back-seat approach after one month?
If you have read any of my recaps or freestyle posts over the last month or so, you know that I was keenly interested in how the Raptors fared over the first 17 games of the season (through the end of November).
I thought the answer would give us a good indication of what type of team we were dealing with this year.
With a tough schedule in the opening month that included playing most of the legit title contenders and a couple of tough road trips, I thought that a 5-12 or 6-11 record should have the team and fans content. That record fell in line with my pre-season prediction of about 35 wins and a 10th place finish in the East.
Well, what do you know? The Raptors escape November at 6-11, with wins over Orlando and Boston to their credit, and a couple of spirited efforts against the Lakers and Heat. As a team, the Raptors may have surpassed expectations for the month, at least lived up to them.
But what about from an individual standpoint? For a young team learning to grow together, the development of the Raptors’ young talent will be more relevant than their win-total.
So, after one month, 17 games and six wins, here’s my evaluation of the 15 players that make up the Toronto Raptors, to date.
Solomon Alabi – We knew what we were getting when the Raptors traded for Alabi on draft night; a project. Anyone who thought the young Nigerian could make an impact this season was dreaming. He’s played a grand total of less than a minute for the Raptors, I believe, and is developing as we speak in the D-League with Erie Bayhawks. Alabi is averaging 9.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.75 blocks in 21.5 minutes per game in four games with Erie. If he keeps putting up solid numbers in the D-League, perhaps an opportunity will present itself this season.
Leandro Barbosa – I don’t think Barbosa has been as good as advertised so far this season, but he’s also been far from a bust. He was probably the Raptors best player in the pre-season, but a wrist injury in the final pre-season game in Montreal and a shoulder injury earlier this season seem to have seriously hampered his season. When healthy, the Brazilian Blur has still shown the eye-popping quickness that once made him a star, and he is one of the few Raptors that usually decides to attack the basket. If you believed he could be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate in Toronto, then you probably see him as a major disappointment. But if you simply wanted him to be a solid contributor off the bench, you probably don’t have much to complain about.
Andrea Bargnani – He still struggles with help-side defence and the fundamental skill of boxing out, but let’s admit it together, Andrea Bargnani has upped his game so far this season. He has shoudlered the offensive load with Bosh gone, and has seemed more than happy to do it. Il Mago has expanded his offensive game to a nice mix of inside-outside, and is one of, if not the best, scoring centres in the league. His rebounding numbers dipped while Reggie Evans pulled down every board available, but with Evans out indefinitely, I think we’ll see Andrea’s numbers at least return to last year’s average. He’s no All Star, yet, but Bargnani is improving, and people are taking notice.
Jerryd Bayless – Finally, Bryan Colangelo made a move with the future in mind. And what a move it was, if you believe, like me , that Jerryd Bayless can become a star in this league. In three games with the Raptors, Bayless has struggled shooting the ball, but has shown an intensity on the defensive end and a knack for getting to the basket like no point guard this franchise has seen in years. It might take him a while to get acclimated to the offence, but once he does, and things start clicking, Bayless will become a major contributor to this team. Both this season and for the foreseeable future.
Jose Calderon – I’m one of the biggest Calderon doubters out there, so it means a lot if I’m saying he has impressed me this season. His jump-shot seems to be slowly coming back to him, as does his burst, and while his defence is still laughable, he no longer looks like the worst defensive player in the NBA. He still would have been the better point guard to trade for obvious reasons, but it looks like he’s stuck here, so let’s make it work. If he can run the offence effectively, put in an honest effort on defence, mentor Jerryd Bayless and eventually let Bayless take the starting job, I’ll have nothing to complain about. Having said all that, I expect that in a few weeks, I’ll be ranting and raving again when Jose proves he should not be starting in the NBA.
Ed Davis – Up until now, much of the debate about Davis has been whether or not he was classy for trying to interact with the fans, or incredibly stupid for risking injury to play in a bush-league pick-up game. With news that the 21-year-old Tar Heel should make his NBA debut on Wednesday, it looks like we’ll finally be able to discuss his game. He averaged 10 points, five rebounds and three blocks in 17.5 minutes per game in two games with Erie. Those are impressive numbers. Come into the Association, don’t try to do too much, play D, contest shots, and take what comes to you offensively. Those are the things I’m looking for from Davis in his first season. It will be interesting to see how Triano handles the rookie’s minutes.
DeMar DeRozan – This is going to be a frustrating season for DeRozan supporters. He has had games (Orlando) where he looks like a budding star ready to break out, and others where he looks like a deer in headlights. I guess inconsistency is to be expected from the second-year player, but DeMar needs to find a groove quickly. If his numbers are slacking but he’s attacking the basket and getting to the line, fans will forgive. If he’s playing like the shy kid on the playground while admitting he’s slacking, things could get ugly.
Joey Dorsey – We haven’t seen enough from Dorsey in a Raptors uniform, but Reggie’s injury likely means we’ll see a lot more in the coming weeks. In the small sample we have seen, Dorsey looks like a physical big who, like Reggie, knows his role and chases every loose ball. His rebounding efficiency will not compare to Evans’, but he has more finish around the rim and should provide some quality minutes here and there.
Reggie Evans – Reggie was, without question, the most pleasant surprise of the early season in Toronto. His hustle and energy became infectious on the floor, and it makes you wonder how much this young team will miss their vocal leader. Sitting in the top-three in the NBA with over 12 rebounds per game, you could make the argument that Reggie Evans is the most valuable player to this team. Time will tell if that is true, but for now, Reggie just has to work on getting back to 100 per cent.
Amir Johnson – I don’t know if you can say that Johnson has been a disappointment so far, but most would agree they may have expected too much, too soon. Amir’s penchant for picking up quick, silly fouls is still haunting him. Until he can learn to limit those calls, his numbers will continue to hover where they are and his place will remain on the Raptors’ bench. Though you have to wonder, in a season that’s supposed to be about development, what’s the harm in starting Amir and letting him foul out every night?
Linas Kleiza – He has been the biggest disappointment for me through 17 games. I didn’t, like some people. expect him to come in and take on the role of primary scorer. But I did expect him to put up more than 10 points per game and shoot better than 25 per cent from three-point range. I think we forget that Kleiza is only 25 and, like most of the roster, still has room to grow. But he is supposed to be one of the more polished Raptors, and he has only shown that in glimpses so far. If the Raptors are to succeed this season, they need more from Kleiza, bottom line.
Peja Stojakovic – Peja probably more showed more game in his first two appearances than most assumed he would show all season. But now he’s banged up and many, including myself, are questioning what his role on this team is. If the Raptors want to surprise some teams this season and squeak into the playoffs, Stojakovic could help get them there. If it really is all about the future, find a deal that works for all parties.
Sonny Weems – No one could have predicted that Weems would be the team’s second-leading scorer through 17 games. Sonny’s mid-range game continues to improve while he reminds us that he’s still a force when he decides to attack. I’d still like to see him attack more often on offence, but if his jumper keeps falling and he continues to play defence, he will have a place in the future of this franchise.
Julian Wright – This guy’s been the epitome of a pro in his limited appearances this season. He works his butt off on the defensive end, never gives up on a play, comes up with timely steals and blocks, shows some finish around the basket and rarely settles for poor shots that disrupt the offence. I think it would be wise to see what Wright can bring you on a consistent basis. It doesn’t hurt to have another athletic wing pushing Weems, DeRozan and Kleiza for minutes.