Winning the lottery would be a far easier task than successfully predicting the Toronto Raptors’ 2012-13 season.
Back in October, analysts from around the league gave their best crack at doing just that. Looking back, some were spot on. Others? Not so much.
Truth be told, the Raptors’ locker room probably couldn’t have offered a better prediction themselves.
After posting a 22-60 record in 2011—the team’s worst mark since 1998—Toronto rebounded last year, going 23-43 during the lockout-shortened season.
Sure, the improvement may not seem too significant. But try telling that to the Raptors faithful who began envisioning the team’s first trip to the playoffs since 2008.
From the promise of a healthy Andrea Bargnani to the long-awaited arrival of Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto certainly had the talent to back up such talks.
Unfortunately, it takes a whole lot more to transform dreams into reality.
Let’s take a look at some of those aforementioned predictions.
Prediction #1: Bargnani Will Earn His Top-Pick Status (via Fox News)
Living up to the billing of being the No. 1 pick is no simple feat.
However, Bargnani—the 2006 first-overall selection—has quietly made a name for himself, averaging 15.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game over his seven-year career. He’s also shot 43.7 percent from the field and 36.1 percent from beyond the arc.
Coming off two seasons where he scored 21.4 and 19.5 points per game respectively, the 2012-13 campaign was supposed to be a defining one for Bargnani.
Instead, a pair of elbow injuries has shortened yet another season for the 27-year-old. He’s now missed 98 games over the last three years, after only missing 27 in his first four.
But the injuries only tell part of the story.
In 35 games, Bargnani averaged 12.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.1 assists over 28.7 minutes per night. He also shot at a career-low, 39.9-percent clip from the floor.
Furthermore, the Raptors have seemed to fare better without him.
In 2,082 minutes with Bargnani on the bench, Toronto posted an offensive rating of 104.2 and a defensive rating of 103.1. The team also held opponents to just 94.7 points per game.
On the other hand, in 1,002 minutes with him on the court, the Raptors posted an offensive rating of 101.6 and a defensive rating of 107.3. They also allowed the opposition to torch them for 102.5 points per game.
Whether the team likes it or not, what you see is what you get with Bargnani.
Right now, he’s looking a lot like an underachiever.
Prediction #2: The Development of Valanciunas Will Determine How Successful the Team Is (via NBA.com)
The best things in life come to those who wait.
It’s a mindset Toronto has adopted in regards to Valanciunas.
After being drafted fifth overall in 2011, the 20-year-old Lithuanian had to wait until this season before he could play in an NBA game. The setback was due to his $2.5 million contract buyout with former club Lietuvos Rytas.
But boy was it a debut worth waiting for.
On Nov. 1 against the Indiana Pacers, Valanciunas showed the rest of the league what all the fuss was about. He poured in 12 points, while grabbing 10 rebounds in 23 minutes of action.
Through 60 games, Valanciunas is averaging 8.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks over 23.7 minutes per night. He’s also shooting 55.3 percent from the field.
Lately though, the rookie center has been on a tear.
Over his last 12 contests, Valanciunas is averaging 15.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks over 32.9 minutes per game. He’s also shot an impressive 61.5 percent from the floor.
The NBA recognized Valanciunas’ recent stretch, naming him the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for March.
But does he really help the team?
Since March 15, in 215 minutes with Valanciunas on the bench, the Raptors have posted an offensive rating of 99.2 and a defensive rating of 104.3. They’ve also limited opponents to just 93.5 points per game.
On the contrary, in 409 minutes with him on the court, Toronto has registered an offensive rating of 100.5 and a defensive rating of 109.6. The team has also allowed the opposition to put up 99.5 points per game.
In Valanciunas defense, it’s only his first year in the league. Not to mention, the kid is only 20.
Give him a season or two under his belt, and Valanciunas will be a player to watch for years to come.
Prediction #3: The Raptors Will Finish Fifth in the Atlantic Division and Ninth in the Eastern Conference (via Hoops Hype)
Even more surprising is the fact that Toronto only trails the Philadelphia 76ers by one game for ninth.
Talk about hitting the nail right on the head.
After getting off to a rough start, the Raptors have put together quite a solid run the rest of the way. In fact, following the 4-19 start, the team has gone 27-29 since.
Winners of four of its last five games, Toronto is putting the finishing touches on a season that will likely have them penned as a team to watch next year.
Amidst all the turmoil and ups and downs, the Raptors have shown the rest of the league that they’re ready to be taken seriously. But whether or not they can keep up a high level of play throughout an entire season still remains to be seen.
Can they do it?
I'll leave that one up to the preview writers to decide.
All stats used in this article are courtesy of NBA.com's Media Central (subscription required)