Last year, one of the Toronto Raptors' main strengths that helped carry them throughout the year was their overall depth. Can the same thing be said for this year's bench? How will the tweaks affect this year's dynamic? Will Bargnani show improvement based solely on experience?
Let's take a look at these questions and figure out where this year's bench will help and/or hinder the Raptors' 2008-09 season.
Last year this was by far the Raptors' deepest position and a major source of strength for the club. When healthy, they were by far the deepest team in the league at PG. Not only did they have a top 10 PG starting, but they were running out a top 10 PG as a backup. This year is a completely different story.
Sure, you have to deal from an area of strength to improve other areas of your team, but by dealing T.J. Ford to acquire Jermaine O'Neal, they basically decimated their PG depth. Calderon is, arguably, a top five PG in the league. His backups, however, are nothing but question marks.
Even though I think the Raps start the season with Solomon as the first guy off the bench, I think Ukic will grab that role by midseason (maybe slightly after). There is only one word to describe this guy: raw—and that's after three or so years of seasoning in Europe.
From the preseason action I caught, he seemed to be able to drive off the dribble with some efficiency, but he didn't take care of the ball all that well and really seems to be struggling to adapt to the overall speed of the NBA game. He needs to develop a high game IQ to be successful.
The good news on that front is, from everything I have read anyways, he asks a lot of questions and is by no means disillusioned about his current ability.
This guy has a lot of question marks surrounding him as well, but for different reasons than Ukic. Being six years older than Ukic and possessing some brief NBA experience you would expect him to adapt more quickly.
However, Solomon was a featured player for most of his European stops and seems to be having some difficulty accepting a much more reserved role for the Raptors. Again, from the brief action I have seen, he definitely is more T.J. than Jose.
He definitely likes to assert himself within the offense and, in my opinion, tries to do too much himself rather than be a facilitator for the established scoring threats with whom he shares the court.
He could prove me wrong, but I really haven't seen anything (even flashes), that indicate he will be anything more than a one and done type and be back in Europe after failing to resuscitate his NBA career.
This is probably the second greatest area of concern for the Raptors. Losing Delfino and his versatility is without a doubt the second biggest hit to our bench depth. The second main component here is whether or not you consider Kapono as an SG backup as well.
Technically he is an SF and always has been, but with Hassan Adams as basically our only "true" SG backup, I can't help but suspect that we will see some looks where Kapono is playing the SG position on the floor with Joey at SF.
Adams is sort of an intriguing player. Not only because he is still just 24, but because he also came out of a strong program in Arizona—with a coach that has a history of producing good NBA wing players in Lute Olsen.
If he could improve his conditioning I could see him developing into a poor man's Jason Terry to provide some solid minutes off the bench. Having said that, he has already bounced around quite a bit for a player his age, and obviously there are some things to dislike if he's on his third NBA team in three years.
The other possibility is that he is just a "system" type player and may not have fit well into the Nets' and Cavs' systems. It will be interesting to see how he adapts to Mitchell's style and integrates with our bench.
Overall though, even if Kapono gives the Raps some SG minutes, I foresee the SG reserves becoming an area of weakness.
This should be a source of relative depth on an otherwise shallow bench, even with the loss of Delfino (even though Delfino was more of a guard for the Raps last year). Kapono and Graham should be a nice one-two punch coming off the bench.
They both have their own distinct looks and should provide Mitchell with some flexibility. Kapono will likely be first off the bench in most cases, with Graham filling more of a situation role.
What can you really say about the guy that hasn't already been said. He is a sharp shooter from long range and should benefit from more consistent playing time stemming from the loss of Delfino.
The key for him, as always, will be his ability and the ability of the second unit to get him some open looks. I also suspect he will see some minutes with the starting unit when the matchups dictate. He will probably see the second most minutes of any reserve, behind only Bargnani.
Again, here is a player whose analysis from over the past two years could probably be cut and paste and it would still be accurate. He is something of an enigma. Flashes of brilliance mixed with flashes of Stephen (his twin bro who bounces from team to team).
Like always, if he could ever find some consistency, he could actually turn into a decent starting SF.
Will this be the year? Or will it be the same Joey from the past two years who is destined to play out 2008-09 and be non-tendered next summer? Only time will tell, but judging by his limited preseason action, not much has changed.
I will group these two positions as there is probably no true C backup outside of Nathan Jawai—who has hardly seen the inside of a gym so far, let alone game action. If you considered Rasho the true starter last year, then personnel wise there is little to no change up front with both Bargnani and Humphries back.
Baston is gone, but was he ever really here?
I don't want to get overly excited as it is just the preseason, but he looks like a completely different player from last year. He is bigger, he exudes confidence, and he seems to have accepted the fact that, due to his sheer size, he has to grab some rebounds for him to have a consistent role on any team, not just the Raptors.
I really like him going into this year and I believe he has the potential, not only for a breakout year, but for possible "sixth man of the year" consideration.
The pressure's off this year. He will be consistently facing backups and he might even get some looks with Bosh, O'Neal, and he on the floor at the same time—which means there will be no one left on the court with enough size to guard him.
Really, watch out for him. I think he is a HUGE sleeper, and easily our first guy off the bench.
What can you really say about Hump? The guy has almost single-handedly salvaged the Araujo pick by turning that piece of garbage into something—anything—of value.
Not to say that Hump would have been the better pick at six than Araujo, but considering the Araujo mistake was made, it was a relative miracle that the Raps were able to turn him into anything remotely useful.
We all know what you get out of Hump. He is a bundle of energy who tries really hard. He might not have the most talent in the world, but he makes the most of what he's got. The only thing he might be guilty of is trying to do too much at times.
He absolutely can turn into a human vacuum down low, and I've heard the only way to get him to pass you the ball is to hold your arms in the shape of the rim and trick him into "shooting" at you. But seriously, the guy just needs to pass a little more often.
He's got some good low post moves, but he needs to get better at recognizing double teams and/or cases where he is simply over-matched and not try to force things.
I think with Bosh and O'Neal primed for big minutes up front, Bargnani and Hump can provide more than enough depth off the bench. Where the Raps were lacking depth up front last year, I would consider it a rare source of strength this year.
Overall, the Raptors had better pray that they have got the right starting five in place. Outside of Bargnani (and even he is no guarantee), Kapono is about the only other legitimate difference maker.
I honestly don't think you can count on anyone else on that bench for meaningful minutes in meaningful games. You might get flashes or fluke performances once and a while out of some of them, but I think bench consistency will be the biggest ongoing theme this entire season.