As I write this article, the Toronto Raptors are a .500 team with expectations all over the map concerning how well this team can fare in the 2009/2010 season. Wholesale changes have been made and there are 9 new members of this team currently on the roster. Significant changes in the starting lineup include the insertion of rookie Demar Derozen out of USC and Hedo Turkoglu who signed in a sign and trade transaction with the Orlando Magic.
The Raptors are coming off a very disappointing season in 2008/2009 where they missed the playoffs for the first time in the Bryan Colangelo regime, and to Colangelo's credit, he recognized some of the mnistakes he had made in assembling a team with Jermaine O'Neil in the middle when his shill set, diminished as it was, did not work in Toronto.
This current team can score. Chris Bosh has started off very fast, once again averaging a double/double and being one of the top scorers in the league. He leads the NBA in free throw attempted, testimony to the fact that his inside game has improved. Andrea Bargnani is averaging in the range of 20 points a game and it is clear that he is an integral part of the offensive scheme that the Raptors hope to execute. Turkoglu can score and pass, and as he becomes familiar with his teammates, he will be very effective in maintaining this team's offensive prowess. Down the strech of most games, the ball will be in his hands and he will score or pass as the situation dictates. He appears to be in an enviable position here, with the offensive tools that the Raptors have. Jose Calderon will man the point and his numbers, while off a bit over last year should solidify as the season progresses and he becomes more comfortable with his new teammates. Derozen is a role player, for the moment, an athletic wing who can rebound and defend, although he has been lit up by some veterans early on in the year. he seems to understand his role and since he should only be a sophomore in college, once can expect him to be a very important part of future Raptor teams. The bench is solid with Antione Wright and Amir Johnson, and will be stronger when Reggis Evans is cleared to play. His defense and rebounding are sorely missed. Jarrett Jack has been a very good backup at the guard position.
The problems that this team faces, and it has been well documented, occurs on the defensive side of the ball. None of the players (save and except for Evans and, perhaps Derozen and Wright) are good on the ball defenders and Calderon, in my opinion is one of the poorest perimeter defenders in the league, a guy who has allowed players like George Hill and Mike Conley to look like superstars. His inability to stop any penetration forces the other defenders to step out of their assignments, with the result that Bargnani, Bosh and Turkoglu will run into foul trouble trying to stop any guard that Jose is defending. Frankly, I think the Raptors have been more effective, as a team, when Jack is manning the point, because he is a far better defender than Calderon and can stop more of the penetration of opposing guards that Calderon just waves at as they pass him by.
Some people point to the fact that Steve Nash is a weak defender, but I rarely see Nash getting run by as much as Calderon and Nash's offensive game, and passing, is so much superior to Calderon's game that comparisons in that regard do not hold any water.
The fact remains that all championship teams have a guard who can defend the position very well, and I can't think of any team over the past 25 years who have won a championship, or even competed for one, when the lead guard was anywhere as weak, defensively, as Jose Calderon. I hate to put the onus on him because he has been a loyal and reliable player for the Raptors, but until the Raps address the point guard position, they will continue to be a .500 team, and while that may get them into the playoffs, expect an early exit, when defenses take over in the post season.
BC's next move is to find a guard capable of leading a championship team.