The flashes of brilliance seen by many of the Raptors players has fans feeling ecstatic despite the team losing 60 games. The Toronto team is oozing with potential but they're still very raw and premature.
There isn't a player in the league who doesn't have room to improve: Lebron needs to find his killer instinct, Kobe and Tim Duncan need to get younger, but the young legs of Blake Griffin and Kevin Love need more time to grow.
Each of the young stars on the Raptors Roster should work hard to improve and take advantage of this lockout. While some players might get out-of-shape with the possibility of an extended vacation this year and without a real training camp, Raptors players could do themselves a big favor and find their poise for next season.
Here I will suggest areas which I feel Raptors players should try to improve on, and I warn you my ideas are not the conventional impulse thinking we're used to hearing. Sometimes certain players are very good in one area but not great, but people want them to be something they cannot be instead of motivating them to excel doing what they do best. One over-magnified flaw in their game could turn a player away from doing what got them into the league, and usually critics are not pleased even if they show some improvement.
Note: this only contains players who are under contract with the Raptors for next season*
Jose is a very good point guard. In recent years some legitimate 10-assist point guards have sprouted, but if you look at the past decade, you'll see there has been only a handful of players capable of delivering over 10 assists on a nightly basis.
Jose Calderon is one of those guys. He finished fifth overall in the assists category last season, and his numbers have been hurt as injuries and playing time issues stopped Jose from building a reputation as one of the more talented Point Guards in the NBA.
Jose Calderon is a bad defender. Everybody knows about it, and only a few know anything aside from the fact. Jose isn't fast or strong enough to defend against Deron Williams/Derrick Rose tier point guards, but he's a hard worker and Dwane Casey should help Jose get some return for his hard work.
Primary improvement goal: Defense - learn to read offenses, invest in the 'little things' on defense, and aim to contain average guards in the NBA.
Secondary improvement goal: Staying Healthy - Jose has played in 68 games each one of the last three seasons, and since he's getting closer to the 30 year old mark, conditioning will be important for Jose to stay on top of his underrated game.
Leandro Barbosa is one of the best players on the Raptors and few acknowledge it. The Brazilian Blur totally lives up to his nick name, and uses speed and quickness to get to the basket at will.
Leandro averaged 19 PPG per 36 minutes last season, and that's despite having a nagging wrist injury which totally disrupted his once lethal three point shot. Did I mention he shared playing time with Bayless, DeRozan and Calderon?
Leandro fits the bill as an ideal Sixth Man in the NBA, and the Raptors just need him to suit up at 100% health. He isn't perfect, but doesn't have any glaring flaws in his game aside from consistency which is a direct result of that wrist.
Another thing about Leandro is, he's a heck of a shooter -- averaged a career 40% from deep before the injury bug threw him off the past two seasons. Despite this, Barbosa should look to further improve his shooting touch because being a shooting threat has an acute effect on his production (i.e his best statistical years are paralleled to amount of three pointers attempted).
Primary improvement goal: Consistency - He should rest and rehab his wrist and shoulder and anywhere else which could be hurting.
Secondary improvement goal: Three Point Shooting - He's good from out there; the skies the limit if he gets even better.
Ed Davis has a lot in front of him. He's 6'10", 220 pounds, and has a 7' arm span; but most importantly he has the energy and IQ that everyone would want in a young big man. A proto-type Power Forward who finished last season as one of the top rookies despite struggling for minutes in a crowded Raptors front court.
Davis was clearly a steal at #13 in the 2010 draft, but like all rookies needs to continue to put in effort and develop off the court before we see a huge difference on the court.
Davis needs to grow physically before he can dominate in the post, and though he's a skilled post player, Davis needs to be more provocative on offense and would benefit from a owning consistent mid range jumper (like Zach Randolph, Tim Duncan have). Ed led all rookies shooting 57% from the field, and has been very selective offensively which explains why he didn't score in double digits even with his small role last season.
Overall Davis will become a great double-double glue guy within the next two years, but it's up to him to decide how good he's going to be. Coming into the league he was expected to be a P.J Brown, and some even compared him to Shawn Kemp, and rightfully so.
Primary improvement goal: Offense - must develop a more well rounded offensive game, and work on free throws (55%). Ed Davis should try to be more assertive on offense to stay on the court for extensive periods of time.
Secondary improvement goal: Strength - Davis like many rookies needs to bulk up, and working on this grey area will directly help him improve on offense and defense.
Jerryd Bayless is one of the most loved players on the Raptors. Bayless has shown flashes of super stardom but has widely struggled to maintain a starting role in the NBA. Bayless has been dubbed a 'shoot first' point guard, but Bayless is a very misunderstood player.
Per 36 minutes, Jerryd Bayless averaged 12.5 PPG in his sophomore season, 17.4 PPG in his third season, and 16.1 PPG with Toronto last season.
Bayless hasn't gotten the opportunity to make an impact in the NBA if he continues to improve as a player he will give teams no choice but to start him.
Bayless has an outstanding driving ability, and gets to the line where he sinks most of his free-throws. Bayless can shoot from deep and is a good defender. He's also an average distributor, but he hasn't had many people to pass the ball to coming off the bench most of his career.
Finishing the season strong posting averages of 22.5 points and 5.6 assists in April, Bayless embraced the starting role and thrived in it. Jerryd Bayless needs to improve on decision making and should work on consistency from the field. Coming off the bench lead to Jerryd Bayless rushing shots instead of finding a rhythm, and it also gave him a bad rep of being an undersized shooting guard and not a PG.
Primary improvement goal: IQ - Taking the right shots, and making the right passes will leave the coach without a reason to bench Bayless as his defense and offense is already good.
Secondary improvement goal: Three Point Shooting - 33% from deep isn't the worst, but there's no reason why Bayless can't be a 40% outside shooter with a summer of practice.
Demar DeRozan has developed as the season progressed last year, and is already viewed as an all-star caliber player around the league.
Demar DeRozan has great athleticism and could score 20 PPG off that alone. DeRozan has many holes in his game that he should work hard to improve. He's still very raw in some key aspects of the game, and trying to imagining what he could bring after improving in these areas is an exiting thought.
DeRozan only shot 10% from deep and his shooting ability is his biggest glaring need. If Demar could shoot at around 35% from deep there's no reason why he could not score 23 PPG or so.
DeRozan needs to get bigger and stronger and should improve on defense with Dwane Casey at the helm.
This franchise is up for grabs Demar, how bad do you want it?
Primary improvement goal: Shooting - Develop an outside shot and work on mid range jumper
Secondary improvement goal: Defense - Has all the physical tools to be a good defender, and should improve in the area with the new system.
Andrea Bargnani lead the team in scoring and despite the headaches throughout the years, it seems nobody values IL Mago without overreacting about his defense.
The whole world is convinced Bargnani has the defensive tenacity of a teenage girl, and that he isn't even capable of rebounding for somebody in shoot-around.
The truth is that Bargnani is a decent post defender, and will have an easier time against lighter and smaller Power Forwards. Andrea Bargnani was the victim of a terrible system where opposing guards would blow by Jose Calderon and Demar Derozen magnifying Bargnani's weak help defense.
Andrea needs to improve in crashing the boards and grabbing more than 5-6 rebounds on a nightly basis. It's clear that he was unmotivated last year and was even quoted saying he doesn't play "rebound-ball".
Casey's defensive schemes will help cover up some of Andrea's blemishes, but he must put in more effort on both ends of the floor to be productive.
Aside from that, Bargnani should continue to get stronger, and continue to work on his post game. Playing Power Forward will mean 6'8"-6'9" players will occasionally stick to Bargnani, and while shooting over them could work, attacking the basket will be necessary in order to remain efficient on offense when the shots aren't falling.
Primary improvement goal: Rebounding - He was capable of at least 6.5 nightly last year, and spending some time with a rebounding coach this summer could make Bargnani an all-star next season.
Secondary improvement goal: Post Offense - Backing down lighter PF's will be important because Power Forwards will have an easier time chasing Bargnani around the perimeter, and he will need a secondary weapon.
Amir Johnson is a very solid player. Not many people are talking about that "terrible" contract of his anymore. It's clear another member of Toronto's crowded Front Court has a lot positives.
Amir is a good rebounder and is very good at scoring. He would have started on most NBA teams if he was 6'10", but he's still a good player.
Amir's height lead to multiple problems for him last season. Having to constantly lean forward and fully extend while jumping to block shots, Amir's play took a toll on his back. Throughout the season he's been aching with different injuries and struggled to stay on the court when he was OK. He couldn't stay out of foul trouble, and maybe that had a little to do with his size, but he needs to stay on the court to help this team.
Amir was solid from the line and could average a double-double if he plays 30+ minutes.
Primary improvement goal: Durability - Amir needs to condition himself and will benefit greatly if a starting Center is obtained in Free Agency; he doesn't have the size to play like a Center.
Secondary improvement goal: Mid Range shooting - Amir is athletic and is a versatile player, if he develops a mid-range game, it's possible they will slide him into the 3 slot against certain match ups.
Kleiza is a good player but was hit with the injury bug.
Linas Kleiza was a beast in the FIBA tournament last summer, and lead the Lithuanian national team to a Bronze Medal. The arrival of Kleiza was one of the main reasons why Toronto passed on Micheal Beasley last summer, and while that was a terrible move, it says a lot about the level Kleiza was playing at.
This year Kleiza is an after thought, and many fans wouldn't mind trading the Forward. If we look deeper into what Kleiza did with his limited minutes and nagging injuries, one will realize that he's done much more than people give him credit for.
Kleiza scored 11.2 PPG and grabbed 4.5 RPG in just 26.5 minutes. Those numbers adjusted to 36 minutes become 15.2ppg and 6rpg. Kleiza, at age 26, has a lot to offer and could break out next season as the starting SF he was supposed to be this year.
Kleiza needs to work on his three point shooting and defense. He's already a good three-point shooter but it seemed he had a hard time finding other shots outside of catch-and-shoot scenario's. Kleiza is a 6'8" Forward who is physical and could bully smaller Forwards more than what we've seen.
Primary improvement goal: Three Point shooting - taking his already good outside game to the next level would maximize Kleiza's contributions to the team.
Secondary improvement goal: Defense - Kleiza has also been tabbed a 'bad defender', but he's a physical and fearless specimen who could be a good defender when he's playing healthy and under Dwane Casey.
Soloman Alabi has only played in 12 games for the Raptors and averaged a measly 0.5 PPG with 5 minutes of game time.
Alabi is 7'1" and is 23 years of age and could see an increase in playing time in his second season in the league. Alabi has a mid range shot and isn't stiff, he's athletic and long.
The Alabi project will be a successful one if the big man manages to log around 20 minutes nightly, and he's got the tools to be a good player, but just needs to work on the little things to keep out of foul trouble and become a defensive presence off the bench.
Alabi has gained close to 15 pounds over the past year and though he doesn't really have to worry about having an offensive game, if he improves on making basic shots around the rim it will also benefit him.
Primary improvement goal: Everything - polishing his all around game and adjusting the NBA level might take another year or two, but the shortage of true Centers in the league today will give Alabi more than enough time to become serviceable to someone.
Secondary improvement goal: Basic Offense - having no input on offense could prevent Alabi from seeing playing time in the future.
James Johnson was acquired in a mid season trade by the Raptors and started in all of his 25 games for Toronto. Johnson was a bench warmer in Chicago, and Colangelo saw a potential defensive stopper in Johnson and traded for him.
James Johnson has great tools on defense and good size, but his offense is far from polished. If Johnson could develop a reliable three point shot and mid-range jumper, he will do well starting for Toronto next season.
Johnson has good athleticism and size, but was also out of shape this season. In an interview with Raptors.com, Raptors G.M Brian Colangelo mentioned "Now he has lost another 15 pounds. He is in fighting shape, if you will. He looks like he is more eager than ever and he is very committed to the process."
It appears the grateful Johnson is priming himself for a breakout year, and cutting down on some weight while being in better physical shape will make him more useful as a high energy option on defense.
The Raptors want to get better defensively at the center position, but they will also need a player like Johnson in the lineup if Bargnani and Calderon are expecting to play heavy minutes. Johnson will be another beneficiary of coach Casey's system.
Primary improvement goal: Shooting - a long range and mid range game will force defenses to expend energy sticking on James Johnson, and clears the lanes for Demar.
Secondary improvement goal: Conditioning - James Johnson should work towards stepping into training camp leaner and as a result quicker. At 6'9" there's no need to be 240 pounds playing the small forward position.