Raptors’ youth gains valuable experience after 22-win season
It has been an arduous year for the Toronto Raptors to say the least. After completing what is arguably their worst season in the last ten years there is no doubt that work needs to be done, but the question is … where to begin?
In a league where teams are often defined by their superstars, Toronto appears to be searching for a new identity while still in the shadow of Chris Bosh. The void left in Bosh’s spot has yet to be filled and Toronto would undoubtedly benefit from the presence of a replacement.
This season the Raptors attempted to address this hole by building a team around youth and a team style of play rather than a singular star.
Bosh’s departure did come with benefits, as salary cap restrictions forced the Miami Heat to give up their first round pick in conjunction with the return of the one sent to them last year by Toronto. In addition, the Raptors benefited from a $15 million trade exception.
Using the money freed up by the Bosh trade, GM Bryan Colangelo attempted to change the franchise through trades, free agency and the draft. While an initial deal with the Charlotte Bobcats fell through involving Jose Calderon for a package that included Tyson Chandler, the 2005 executive of the year remained active.
The team’s mid-level exception was used to sign Lithuanian scorer Linas Kleiza. Colangelo proceeded to make a trade for Julian Wright and then moved the disappointing Hedo Turkoglu to Phoenix for former sixth man of the year winner Leandro Barbosa.
The team was also able to draft Ed Davis at number 12. Though Davis sat on the bench through the first half of the season while recovering from a knee injury, the rookie showed flashes of brilliance down the stretch, displaying rare shot blocking ability and a deft scoring touch.
The year didn’t start miserably for the Raptors, who opened up the season with consecutive home victories, and a healthy Reggie Evans was able to convert his talents into the NBA’s rebound leader through the first month.
Injuries began to take their toll on the young squad, and the losses began to pile up quickly. By January, the Raptors resided near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, culminating in the losing of 16 of 17 games from January 12 to February 13.
Although he averaged a career-high 21.4 points-per-game, Andrea Bargnani has drawn the ire of fans for his inconsistency, lackluster defence and inability to stay healthy. It remains to be seen if Colangelo still views the Italian seven-footer as a cornerstone of the franchise.
While the final month of the season was composed mostly of meaningless games, the Raptors youth, led by DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis, demonstrated that they could produce solid numbers when given the playing time.
DeRozan, who last season averaged 8.6 points-per-game, saw that number jump to 17.2 in 2011, as he became one of the focal points of the Raptors offence.
Davis had a productive rookie season, averaging 7.7 points-per-game and more than seven rebounds, after much of the first half with a knee injury.
These three players remain integral to the Toronto youth movement, and as they continue to improve, so do the chances of a return to the playoffs for the Raptors in the coming years.
Raptors’ colour commentator Leo Rautins took the time to chat with Observer columnist Janis Bunkis in a one-on-one phone call. We have the Q + A HERE!
Check out Observer analysts, George Fadel, Janis Bunkis and Aaron Korolnek, as they weigh in on the Raptors’ year with a special taping of Full Court Press – All Star Edition
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