One Burning Question Facing Each of the Toronto Raptors in 2012-13
Let’s take a look at one major question that needs to be answered individually for all of the key members of your 2012-13 Toronto Raptors.
Dwane Casey makes cards for his players with words that serve as reminders and motivation for his players to perform in their various rolls. This is kind of like that in a sense. Not sure if it will be motivational in all cases as much as a challenge for an answer to the question.
If we're being honest, some guys have a lot of questions to be answered. If that is the case, we'll try to come up with a general question that covers all of the concerns. We have questions for everyone that matters from Andrea Bargnani to Quincy Acy and everyone in between.
Players only, mind you. I have questions for Dwane Casey and Bryan Colangelo, but maybe we'll save those for another day.
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Can he ever be an NBA All-Star?
Andrea Bargnani is the only first overall pick in the 18-year history of the Toronto Raptors. Every first overall pick is expected to not only change a franchise, but become an All-Star. You might expect some MVP awards and playoff success along with that.
Many felt that last season, Bargnani was on his way to Orlando based on how he started the year. A calf injury that plagued him all year would make his dreams of playing in Orlando in the NBA All-Star Game go up in smoke. He was there, but as a spectator and not a participant.
The Raptors have only ever had three players make the All-Star Game as Raptors. Vince Carter and Chris Bosh are the obvious two names that everyone should know. The other was Antonio Davis, who got a late invitation thanks to an injury that got him a spot.
No, it doesn’t matter if Andrea gets to play in an All-Star Game ultimately. It is just an exhibition game with a lot of hoopla attached to it at the end of the day. What matters is that he is considered that level of talent by people in the NBA, his peers and the fans.
It is a concern that we are this far into Bargnani’s career and we still really can’t classify him in this category. This not saying he needs to be LeBron James or Dwight Howard. It would just be nice if he was closer to that than Andrew Bogut and Kwame Brown.
Is Bargnani a bust? I don’t think that is totally fair to say. That said, is he who he should be or could be at this point in his NBA Career? Not really. A trip to All-Star Weekend would be a sign that he is playing well and finally putting to rest the debate of if he is truly a All-Star talent or not.
Based on his play so far in the preseason, he has some work to do, and the answer is not a positive one.
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Can he convince us that he is a starter on a team that is a playoff contender?
This is a big season for DeRozan and for the Raptors on what exactly they do in terms of his future. The Raptors could sign DeRozan to an extension and gamble now. The reason they haven’t done it quite yet, or might have cold feet, has everything to do with DeMar not living up to his full potential yet.
The Raptors decided to select Terrence Ross, who could be the eventual replacement for DeRozan if things went badly. The reason he was drafted, though, aside from that, was to challenge DeRozan to get to that next level.
He, like Bargnani, would like to be an All-Star. I know this because he said it himself at his scrum on Raptors Media Day and I was there. He sees that has his next step to reach that level. That might be too big a jump for the short-term.
Early signs are good with DeRozan in the preseason, unlike Bargnani. He played well in both Toronto’s preseason contests to date. He is doing one of the things his employers want to see in getting to the foul line. He is getting a few steals as perhaps a sign of some improvements on the defensive end.
DeRozan was part of the U.S Olympic select team that worked with Team USA to get them ready for this past summer’s Olympics in London. DeRozan says he learned a lot from that experience. He talked with guys like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony, looking for some advice and some tricks to getting himself to that next level.
Recently, he said he is more a student of the game learning little things to help improve his game. If the Raptors are going to commit to him long-term, he needs to start pulling down some A’s in that class of "basketball 101."
The Raptors face a similar situation with DeMar that they had with Bargnani a couple years back. They are forced to decide on extending a guy that they have yet to see fully realize his full potential yet. If DeMar can answer the question we asked, the Raptors' choice will be much easier.
Can he be a leader for this team?
One of the things that was not said about Andrea or DeMar was anything about leading this team. In both cases, it may just not be in them.
That is not what people think or expect from Kyle Lowry. They expect a leader and a defensive-minded point guard that can be Dwane Casey’s general on the floor.
Considering the high price the Raptors paid to get him, in a basically guaranteed lottery pick, that is not too much to ask.
Lowry is a reminder of a Raptor fan favourite from the past in Alvin Williams. He came to the Raptors in a trade for their first ever draft choice, Damon Stoudamire. He was the warrior on the most successful Raptor teams with Vince Carter and that whole cast that came one shot away from an Eastern Conference Finals appearance back in 2001.
Lowry knows Williams and considers him a mentor and a friend. They both come from Philadelphia and play the game in similar ways. Alvin Williams had a lot more talent to work with than Lowry will you could argue. However, you could also make the case that Lowry himself is more talented than Williams.
Ultimately, what will define if Lowry is the point guard of the future? The Raptors desperately want and need him to be the leader for this young group.
He had his issues in Houston with his situation there. He faces the fact that Jose Calderon is still around, and that will make things a bit more of a challenge. He also has a sore left leg that has delayed his Raptor debut in the preseason.
He must step up to the plate and lead this team and leave no doubt that he is the future and the present for the Raptors at the point guard position. If he doesn’t, he can ask T.J Ford, Jarrett Jack and Jerryd Bayless how things will go for him in Toronto.
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Can he really accept the role of backup?
Jose Calderon will always say the right thing. He has a knack for that. What comes out of his mouth is not the issue at all. It is what is going on in his head.
Jose is thought of as a team-first player that will do whatever is best for the team.
Yet he has been part of a lot of point guard controversies in his time in Toronto.
Why this is probably speaks to what is truly going on in his head. Calderon may say all the right things and even do all the right things, but in his heart, he still believes he is the best point guard on the team. Which would make you wonder if he can truly accept a backup role on this team?
There are signs of cracks in Calderon’s good-guy image, as Bryan Colangelo admitted that Jose was not thrilled with the Raptors pursuit of Steve Nash and eventual trade for Kyle Lowry. He was a heartbeat away from being traded to the Charlotte Bobcats a couple of years ago.
Can he truly accept being No. 2, or will he just be waiting for his eventual trade or his contract to come to an end, along with his time in Toronto?
The Raptors gave up far too much to get Kyle Lowry to leave any doubt that he will be the starter and not Jose. They have went out of their way to sing the praises of Jose hoping that will be enough to keep him happy in this new unwanted role.
One way or the other, this is the end of Calderon’s run in Toronto, and it is up to him what those last memories of him will be. Will he go out like Vince Carter or out with class like a guy like Jerome Williams? The answer is probably somewhere in the middle of that.
Some hold out hope he would re-sign in Toronto as a backup after this season. Those people just don’t understand or want to acknowledge that is not likely to happen.
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Is he auditioning for 29 other teams or focused on improving and growing as a Raptor?
Some folks might remember this line of auditioning for 29 other NBA teams; it was said by Davis after a game last season in which he performed well. I was in the scrum when he said it. Those good nights were few and far between for Davis last season. If DeMar DeRozan still has things to prove, then Davis has about 10 times that to prove.
There is a noticeable change in attitude away from the floor for Davis. He has a reconstructed jump shot that he says goes in more. You hope to see some signs he has turned a corner. He is likely in a battle with Amir Johnson for minutes and a spot in the rotation.
Johnson outplayed him badly in the first preseason game, the second game of preseason. Davis had a slight edge, but both were terrible.
Davis seems like the type of player that really needs to be pushed to get something out of him. Can he remain focused and self-motivated to compete and battle for floor time?
Not to make excuses for him, but he missed two training camps and one Las Vegas Summer League, which could be part of why his development has been so slow. Still, being a lottery pick comes with expectations, and Davis has failed to meet them.
What he does or doesn’t do this season should go a long way in establishing if he will be part of the Raptors’ future moving forward.
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Will he be Colangelo’s Garbajosa or his latest mistake?
The circumstances of Landry Fields coming to Toronto were less than ideal. Although, Fields will not complain about the situation given the salary it landed him. Pretty nice when you also consider most would say he didn’t have a great year with the Knicks last season. A lot of those same people might pass the blame for that to the Knicks' addition of Carmelo Anthony.
Fields might be more noted for his lovely girlfriend, having Jeremy Lin crashing on his couch or just the fact that Spike Lee is a big fan and owns his jersey. Bryan Colangelo sees him as a glue piece for his squad similar to the roles of an Anthony Parker or Jorge Garbajosa had for the Raptors.
There is no doubt Fields has done a great job winning over the media and fans with his outgoing and fun personality. He will still have to produce more like the rookie Landry Fields than what we saw last season to keep everyone smiling.
If he does not, the fact he is being paid more than market value based on, in part, a failed attempt to get Steve Nash will be a sticking point for fans and likely the media going forward. Fields doesn’t seem to sweat much of anything, though, as he is fun-loving and doing an excellent job of fitting in with his new team, the fans and media in Toronto.
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Can he return to his form of two years ago?
Last season was a disappointing one for Amir Johnson. He never really seemed to hit his stride, as he was coming off a medical procedure to his injured ankle. He is expected to battle for minutes with Ed Davis and, ultimately, a spot in the rotation.
The season prior to that, I was witness to Johnson battling through a laundry list of injures and still having a productive season. The Raptors had not seen this kind of toughness since Alvin Williams suited up for them. It earned my respect for Johnson as a player and as a man.
Still fairly young, it is hard to remember that, as Johnson is the last of an era. He was the last player to be selected straight out of high school. There are more miles on him than the average player at his age. This is especially true since coming to the Raptors, where his role greatly increased from his time with the Detroit Pistons.
Johnson has been really active with Raptor fans and become a favorite of many for all his many actions off the floor. For the last two seasons, he has done many contests and fan-driven events through his website and Twitter.
The best of those is something he has done the past two seasons called “I Roll with Amir,” in which he pays for 50 fans to go to a game and have a dinner with him after, all on his dime.
That speaks to his love of the fans in Toronto and his true embracing of the city since arriving from Detroit. There is no question that a lot of the fans he has touched will be rooting for him to earn those minutes and a spot in Dwane Casey’s rotation.
He claims to be 100 percent, and he sure looked like it in the first game of the preseason. If we see more games like that from him, he will find himself in that rotation and earning minutes. He also could see some time out of position at center until Jonas Valancuinas is ready to assume the role.
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Can he justify the Raptors selecting him where they did?
The Raptors sure opened a lot of eyes at the past NBA draft when David Stern announced the name Terrence Ross. A lot of people were convinced the Raptors would trade their pick in the draft. If they did not trade it, names tied to them were guys like Austin Rivers, and maybe if they were lucky, a player would drop to them like Harrison Barnes.
Ross was a guy that was a good fit for the Raptors' overall needs at the wing positions. He was, for many, the best rated shooter in the draft and had a good defensive skill set. He just wasn’t supposed to be picked at No. 8 in the lottery, according to most draft experts.
Where you get selected only tends to become an issue if you fail to deliver. Ross will have the advantage of some form of invisibility with the entire buzz about Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors' No. 5 pick from the year prior, finally arriving. He will be looking for the minutes that DeRozan can not earn on his own at the shooting guard position.
Ross may not be able to fully answer this question this season. He will, however, have to at least start to answer it if he does not want to be haunted with the number his name was called on draft night.
Early signs are good that he will do just fine. He had a productive summer league, and in the chances he has had in the preseason so far, he has looked good and not out of place on an NBA floor. His secondary role for the Raptors will be to push DeMar DeRozan to be better and reach his potential as well.
Some of the best things Ross might do for the Raptors could happen on the practice floor in the Air Canada Centre, making life tough for DeMar DeRozan in practice. Those moments are not ones we will get to see. In the moments we do see, Ross must show the skills the Raptors saw in him to everyone to validate his selection.
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Can he be more than just a chaperone to the Raptors rookie, Jonas Valanciunas?
It is hard not to call Linas Kleiza’s time in Toronto anything but a disappointment to this point. He has had a laundry list of injures, the most notable a season-long ACL injury that caused him to miss close to a season.
You will forgive Raptor fans if they were wondering just who that guy was scoring all the points for Lithuania at the Olympics playing with Jonas. They have never seen that kind of production out of Kleiza consistently in his time in Toronto.
Ultimately, he is, in part, here still based on the fact it will be helpful for Jonas Valancuinas to make the transition to life in North America and the NBA. In effect, a very well-paid chaperone.
If Kleiza can prove to be more than that, it would be a welcome surprise for the Raptors. He likely fits in at the small forward position based on the construction of the roster and will try to find minutes there. He may find that a challenging task, as the Raptors have Fields, and likely, DeRozan will shift over and play some at the position as well.
If he can be anything more than the buddy of Jonas for this season, that would be considered a big win for him and the Raptors. If not, his days in Toronto are likely numbered after this season.
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Can he be the fan favorite that many people project him to be?
It has been a long time since anyone has been this excited about a Toronto Raptors second-round draft pick. The Reggie Evans lookalike was a big hit on draft night for a lot of Raptor fans. Toronto has always loved guys that work hard and play a role.
It is unlikely we see much of Acy this season, given the Raptors' depth in the front court. Fans have already bought in, chanting "We want Acy" at the end of the Raptors' first preseason game at the ACC this season.
What the question will be is if he can add his name to a list of guys like Matt Bonner, Jerome Williams and Reggie Evans as a player that Raptor fans will love and a spark of energy off their bench for years to come.
The chances to do that this season will be likely very limited. A trip or two to the NBDL is almost a certainty, you would figure. The key is that he can show promise and not end up becoming some kind of unofficial team mascot the likes of Solomon Alabi.
The fact is, he is far more talented and advanced for that to happen. It will be just a case of if he can remain motivated and ready when his number is eventually called. Anyone that is familiar with this young man would likely not see this as an issue or problem.
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Will Charles Barkley remember this year he plays on the Raptors?
It has been a running joke on TNT to have Charles Barkley attempt to name where some of the under-the-radar type players are playing every season. Aaron Gray has been on the list two years running. Will Charles Barkley remember that he re-signed in Toronto? The world waits with anticipation.
Maybe we should ask this instead: Will Raptor fans chant "MVP" for Aaron Gray again this year?
If we are going to keep this serious, though, the question for Gray will be something like this: Can he be the stopgap to fill minutes until Jonas Valancuinas is ready to take his role as starter?
Gray’s ultimate role will be to be a solid backup center to Jonas Valancuinas. The general consensus is that will not be the case right away. So, that may leave Gray as the center by default, sharing that role with an undersized Amir Johnson at times, as well as Jonas. .
Gray does nothing spectacular most nights, but he sets solid picks and can defend his position decently. There will be times, even when Jonas takes over as the starter, in which Jonas could find himself in foul trouble.
So the challenge for Gray will be to be ready to play a varying amount of minutes and still keep in shape and ready to go. He, unlike Jamaal Magloire, has a guaranteed contract and will make the Raptors roster; there is little question of that. Magloire likely will not crack the Raptors roster. So, it will be up to Gray to help Valancuinas both on and off the floor.
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Can he convince the Raptors management he is good enough to be the backup point guard?
John Lucas, or John Lucas III, whichever you prefer, will start third on the Raptors depth chart at point guard. What the question will become is, if the Raptors are confident enough, could he assume the role as the backup to Kyle Lowry?
If and when they do, that is when things get very interesting for the Toronto Raptors. This would make the moving of Jose Calderon a lot simpler to do with that confidence. The Raptors would not be limited in their trade options in needing a point guard in return.
This was a sticking point in the past for trading Calderon and it may no longer be one. If John Lucas continues to show he is capable. He has looked good, taking advantage of more floor time with Kyle Lowry on the sidelines.
It would give the Raptors some options, to look to improve even more, to compete in a very tough Atlantic Division.
Lucas, you can argue, is a better fit with Dwane Casey's system and approach. He is not as talented as Calderon, but is a better defender and more suited to the up-tempo style offense the Raptors plan to run this season.
In talking with him, he sees Casey as very similar to his coach in Chicago last season Tom Thibodeau. This may explain why he has fit in so well with the Raptors right away.
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Can he do enough to answer to all the hype that surrounds him?
Last but not least, we have Jonas Valancuinas, who has been mentioned a number of times already.
It is almost unfair how much some people expect from Valancuinas in his first season in the NBA. That is the price you pay when you are selected in the top five of the NBA Draft and then to not arrive in the NBA until a year and a half later.
The definition of what is realistic to expect varies from who you might ask. Some fans see him as almost a savoir for this Raptors franchise. On the other end of the spectrum, you have some that fear he might be someone like Andrea Bargnani that never fully achieves what people expect.
As in all cases in life, the answer to that falls somewhere in the middle. In terms of what the Raptors expect, it would seem they expect a lot, but are mindful of the fact that this will be a process. It would be shocking to see Jonas start on opening night, matched up against NBA All-Star and technically former Raptors draft pick Roy Hibbert.
He may not answer this question to the satisfaction of all. He, on the other hand, doesn’t really have to do that.
What he needs to do is learn and grow and eventually earn the starting job as the Raptors man in the middle. He will not be expected to provide a ton on offense at first. Hence, the two points in 13 minutes should not have people going crazy.
What the Raptors will expect, and hope for right out of the gate, is a defensive presence and a shot blocker that will help improve their defense. He did alright in that regard, blocking two shots from Detroit Pistons center Greg Monroe in his debut.
The one thing that may have caused Raptor fans to lose it, if they just glanced at the box score from Wednesday, was the zero rebounds. Andrea Bargnani he is not, and you would expect and hope that he is able to battle on the boards and get his fair share of rebounds.
In terms of offense, the Raptors will use him in pick-and-rolls and in the post to help others score more than him at first. There was an example of that in the Pistons game, where he cleared out some space and DeMar DeRozan threw down a nice dunk contest-worthy jam.
So you might have to look deeper than just a simple box score to truly get if Jonas is doing the things he needs to do at first.
Eventually, he will have a greater roll in the offense, but for now, much like Dwane Casey’s mindset, it will be the things he does on defense that will define him early on.
There is a chance he fails to answer this question, but still is well on the path to being exactly what the Raptors hope for him to be.