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Out of the off season slumber awakes a sleeping giant… Full Court Pest is back to start the season off with a full preview of the Home Country (in lieu of town) Toronto Raptors. The Raps have had the most active off-season of any team in the NBA and stand at a cross roads with regard to Chris Bosh and thus the future direction of the franchise.
Lets take a peek at the full roster as it stands today:
|3||Marcus Banks||G||6-2||205||11/19/1981||Nevada-Las Vegas||6||3|
|7||Andrea Bargnani||C-F||7-0||250||10/26/1985||Rome, Italy||3||7|
|0||Marco Belinelli||G||6-5||200||03/25/1986||Bologna, Italy||2||0|
|4||Chris Bosh||F||6-10||230||03/24/1984||Georgia Tech||6||4|
|8||Jose Calderon||G||6-3||210||09/28/1981||Villanueva de la Serena, Spain||4||8|
|1||Jarrett Jack||G||6-3||197||10/28/1983||Georgia Tech||4||1|
|15||Amir Johnson||F||6-9||210||05/01/1987||Westchester HS (Los Angeles, CA)||4||15|
|12||Rasho Nesterovic||C||7-0||255||05/30/1976||Ljubljana, Slovenia||11||12|
|26||Hedo Turkoglu||F||6-10||220||03/19/1979||Istanbul, Turkey||9||26|
|21||Antoine Wright||G-F||6-7||215||02/06/1984||Texas A&M;||4||21|
Obviously, Toronto has prudently been sticking to it’s somewhat unofficial plan of signing Euro players. Something that makes undeniable sense to us at Full Court Pest. When Euro players and their families will enjoy Toronto, the most multi-cultural city in the world, and many American players (and people) believe our government buildings are under igloos, creating a Euro haven means free agents become easier to sign and Toronto becomes the ideal destination for the fastest growing group of ballers on the planet. Create a system that favors skill players and you’ve suddenly turned an unattractive US sell into the first place Euro’s want to play.
So where does that leave us with Chris Bosh? (Note: CB4 is from Texas, about as non-euro as planet earth gets) He does not seem happy with the past few seasons disappointments but this season promises a much different outlook as the first full season without Sam Mitchell running the team. Unfortunately, due to Mitchell winning the COY award 2 years ago, his firing didn’t actually happen till last year. Success oddly can sometimes castrate actual progress. Sometimes Sam Mitchel’s face oddly resembles a knife in a Jewish delivery room. At least it was a success with the now thankfully defunct, www.firesammitchell.com blog.
In lock step with that firing Andrea Bargnani picked up where his rookie campaign, of 06-07, left off. A developing big showing that his skills can translate to wins. Bargnani’s production appears to have been directly linked to the coaching/freedom he received. Unfortunately this much reported hole in the post which they’ve wasted many assets trying to fill with the likes of Marion and Jermaine O’Neal now appears self-imposed. Bargnani’s flashes went from moments in games, to scoring 20 PPG on + 50% shooting from 3 for the entire month of March. Bargnani’s highly developed skills started taking over late season games which should continue now that he has his footing. He’s not all offense however as he also averaged well over a block a game.
The nice shooting touch will work well to stretch the defense with new swing man Hedo Turkaloo. He proved Toronto’s Euro Destination strategy was a winner when he reneged on an agreement with Portland after Hedo and his wife realized what living outside of the States and in Toronto would mean to them culturally. While Turk is a notoriously poor defender he’s yet another long player with plenty of range. Hedo has also learned to close out big games in his Orlando years becoming a match up nightmare with Rashard Lewis. Combined with Bargnani and Bosh I can’t see any way of defending 3 bigs over 6’10” who are all mobile, can take you inside, and shoot from the perimeter. 5 through 3, Toronto will be an absolute match up nightmare for any team in this league to defend much like the Magic were with Hedo last year.
Orlando’s real problem (who shouldn’t have come close to challenging the Cavs let alone win that series) was the lack of a true point who could run the team. They were offensively broken, especially after Nelson got hurt, as their strategy down the stretch was to throw it to a scorer and see if they could get it in the hole. Dwight literally was jumping up and down waving his hands while open in the post as swing players (usually Hedo) were trying to split/collapse defenses on the perimeter. This will not be an issue in Toronto as they have about as pure a point guard as humanly possible.
If Jose Calderon was Heroin, the Toronto Raptors would be awaking with a massive hypodermic needle sticking out of a lipstick red dot on their chest after winning a Twist Contest. They’d also crush eyeballs under their toes in Tarantino’s later kung-fu films. With his shot improving every year and last year’s season being the all time best free throw season in history (at 98.1%) Calderon threatens to improve even more as he pulls his game together and is the core to Toronto’s offense. With a system built around him any skilled player can be thrust into the mix as he facilitates the offense. He’s not Steve Nash yet, but has yet to only approach his potential.
Sporting by far the league’s best assist/turnover ratio at 4.23 no one takes care of the ball better. Two seasons ago, he had an unheard of, ridiculous, insane, 71-1 assist/turnover ration for the last month of the season. That’s considering the raps were playing in a system not built around his special handling/passing skills and without nearly the offensive firepower while the team was playing with 0 emotion. With the organization stating (and acting) on promises to play a run/gun style this year, expect Calderon to start turning heads. For those of us paying attention, we already know he’s playing at an all star level and is a serious contender to lead the league in assists if things go well.
When Calderon is not on the floor TO has picked up Jarret Jack as a more then adequate backup. Jack has spent his career as a cusp starter. He’s not going to take a team over the top, but he’s also not going to sink you when your point or shooting guard need to get off the floor for a stretch. On his best nights, he will take you over the top and win a game for you. That’s everything you want in a reserve.
Rounding out the bench at the 2 guard spot is Marco Belineli. While slightly overlooked on the dysfunctional Nellie run Warriors, his second season saw marked overall improvement towards his very real potential as a solid player in the NBA. An accomplishment when playing behind Corey Maggettee, Jamal Crawford and Monta Ellis: 3 players who have never taken a shot they didn’t like.
Other moves have brought Rasho Nesterovic and Marcus Banks to the fold. While both players have something to offer neither can be described as potential impact players. Demar Derozen, while a rookie, could be seen as a steal at 9’th in this, one of the worst drafts in memory. Anyone who watched him play at USC knows he plays with heart, not ego, and works hard… always. Athletic scoring, rebounding and defense all seem to come naturally to him without taking away from his teammates or the system he’s playing in. Solid starter on a good team will come very soon to his promising young career as a player with the potential to help off the bench right now. After Summer League, ESPN’s David Thorpe ranked him 4’th out of all rookies and claimed he was most impressed by Demarr from the whole summer.
So whats the final ingredient to this team? Well known in Canadian hoops circles, but little known outside them, is interim made permanent coach, Jay Triano. Is he the kind of guy to take this team of gunners and make them run? A resounding YES from Full Court Pest! It was playing for Triano on the Canadian Olympic Team where Steve Nash got his groove back before becoming elite in Dallas resulting in Canada’s best ever international finish in the Olympics. Triano is a Canadian legend in his own right who in all circumstances has gained and held a strong respect from his players as seen as Bargnani’s near instantaneous resurgence under Triano last season. His mild tempered demeanor fits with the European talent on his team. With the respect of Coach K, and legit all-time Canadian hero Terry Fox, Triano seems to be the home town perfect fit for Toronto’s players as well as it’s dedicated fan base.
This leaves us with one player. Bosh. Is Chris Bosh really important to the Raptors now? Personally, I have never thought of Bosh as a franchise player type. I love his game, but I’m not sure if he’s really a Duncan type of player. I’m sure the Raptors would be more then happy if he wanted to re-sign. If he does not, I wouldn’t lose much sleep and seek a trade partner ASAP. The Raptors are a young, energetic, talented team. If they can resist the allure of trying to win right now and make steady moves contention is just around the corner.
So decide now. If Bosh wants to stay, build around him. If he does not want to negotiate to stay by the all star break, make a splash and trade him for someone who does want to stay and join the Raptors talented young core of skill players. Would trading Bosh for Jeff Green and some of OK City’s high draft picks be a bad idea? What about for the freakish Anthony Randolph and Stephen Curry? Would Cuban listen to a Bosh for Dirk trade? One thing is certain: Bosh is coveted in this league. His value will never be higher and legit building blocks could be obtained for him if he’s no longer interested in being that block himself.
Its quite possible this is the year the Raptors turn it around. By finally playing small and running Bosh’s mobility, along with the new arrivals, and Bargnani’s resurgence, Toronto could be on the verge of becoming the league’s next great offensive team. Whenever you take 3 players capable of scoring 20 PPG from anywhere on the court and put them on a team with a great point guard, athletic role players and a coach committed to playing to his team’s strengths, big points is not only possible, but should become the norm with a concept that has frankly never truly been tried in the pro ranks.
Consider how little it would take to get Darko Milicic who excelled in Euro-play as a teenager… would his potential finally reach fruition when surrounded with others who grew up on the same courts as he did? Its astounding that no NBA teams have sincerely tried to copy the Euro model as other sports are trending towards finnese instead of force. European skill players now dominate the yearly NHL scoring books as a similar example a few years ahead of hoop.
Impact European players like Ricky Rubio, Gasol, Calderon, Hedo and Dirk become more and more commonplace and the Raptors plan to use it’s city’s international status as a marketing tool to attract any non-US talent. Not only that, but it appears they are building a team concept geared to reduce the adjustment from international to NBA basketball. We’ve seen veritable NBA all-star teams look lost on the international stage vs skill teams of notorious nobody’s from countries as small as Greece and Puerto Rico. Its almost surprising that it’s taken this long for someone to realize that if Puerto Rico can embarrass Team USA, and Spain can hang with a legit NBA allstar team in international style game, what happens when you try the reverse? A veritable international all star team playing that same skill game in the NBA’s house. The Toronto Raptors are poised to find out.