Toronto Raptors Hope to Steal Atlantic Division in 2008-2009

TJ ZwarychSenior Writer IOctober 21, 2008

If the Toronto Raptors were to win the Atlantic divison this coming season, it is fair to say that it would be a “steal”.

Boston is the clear favorite to win the division this year, and ultimately the Eastern Conference. Of course, this will probably happen with the big three still intact.

The Celtics will be again a championship contender; however, they aren’t the only team in the Atlantic division looking good this year.

With the aquisition of Jermaine O'Neal, the Raptors have added a player who when healthy is one of the best forwards in the game. They now have a very confident Jose Calderon who should do beautifully, as he is finally the definite starter on this team.

Chris Bosh is one year stronger and more experienced, and Andrea Bargnani looks to have a bounce back year. I predict he will not only have a better performance than 2007-2008, but better than his rookie season as well. You add Anthony Parker who is a very solid player, and high flying Jamario Moon to the equation, that is a very solid main six.

I would say right now that the biggest question for the Raptors is their bench, which I still think will be strong. You look at the downside and you see a lot of unknown young players who you aren’t sure will produce. However, they are young, which usually means they will improve. If all these young players produce, they should have no problems.

I am expecting Kris Humphries and Joey Graham to have increased roles on the team this year. Without Rasho Nesterovic, if Jermaine O’Neal goes down (knock on wood), they will really look to Humphries for some desperately needed rebounding.

If he stays healthy, Jermaine O’Neal will be huge for the Raptors as he will bring a big rebounding presence in the middle who can also score.

This will help primarily by relieving Chris Bosh of double teams, which will allow him to score a lot more and be banged around a lot less inside. This will hopefully allow him to stay healthy for a full season. If Bosh continues to get double teamed a lot, Jermaine O’Neal is a fantastic second option!

For all the fantasy fanatics out there, I would really watch Jason Kapono. I think he will be a great pickup this season as teams will give all of their defensive attention trying to stop Bosh and O’Neal inside. This will leave Kapono open for a lot of open outside shots and when open, we all know he won’t miss very many.

All of these components could lead the Raptors to steal the division title from the Celtics and hopefully right to the NBA Finals for the first time in their history.