The shortened season could have a larger effect on the Raptors because of their change at head coach. Their youth and athleticism should come in handy, though, especially when the schedule gets tough and many games are played close together.
What They Have
The Raptors have two good young players in DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani. DeRozan has the makings of a star shooting guard, while Bargnani is one the best offensive big men in the NBA.
The team also has promising young big men in Amir Johnson and Ed Davis—along with small forward James Johnson, who emerged as a solid wing defender last season. All three showed flashes of what they could become later on in their careers.
The return of veteran speedy guard Leandro Barbosa and playmaking point guard Jose Calderon should help with the development of young guard Jerryd Bayless, Bayless will likely be given the starting point guard job this season.
The Raptors also have second-year center Solomon Alabi—someone who did not get much playing time last season, but who could be handed a larger role this season. The team is waiting for first-round draft pick Jonas Valanciunas to come over from Europe next season. Alabi has the build of a traditional center and proved to be a solid defender and rebounder in the limited minutes he had last year.
The team added center Aaron Gray, forward Rasual Butler and guard Gary Forbes via free agency to bolster their depth and fill out their roster.
Gray played well for the Hornets last year in a playoff game against the Lakers. Butler was one of the best three-point shooters for the Clippers in 09-10 and split time with them and the Bulls last season. Forbes is a promising young guard who played well last season in his starting role for the Denver Nuggets. He averaged 9 ppg.
None of these players are significant additions, but all three could make key contributions when called upon this season.
What They Need
A solid defensive center would definitely be helpful, but the Raptors have a talented stock of big men currently on the roster and have Valanciunas coming over next season as their starting center.
Something they could definitely use, however, is another scoring threat from the wing. Rudy Gay and Andre Iguodala have been rumored to be on the Raptors' radar, but neither rumor has really amounted to anything.
Can the Raptors contend for a playoff spot this season?
As of right now, DeRozan is the Raptors' only consistent offensive threat from the wing.
Calderon can shoot the three and drive occasionally, but he is best suited to be setting up other players to score.
Bayless is a talented young guard who has a solid mid-range game and can drive and finish at the hoop. At this point in his career, though, he is inconsistent.
James Johnson proved he can effectively slash to the hoop and finish. He can occasionally beat his defender off the dribble, but like Bayless, he is inconsistent at the offensive end of the floor.
The Raptors would definitely benefit from the addition of another wing capable of creating his own shots and scoring.
The Raptors are a young team with budding potential, but they will have to wait at least one more year for their young players to develop and mature before being able to contend for a solid playoff spot.
However, if these young players use their youth and athleticism to their advantage, and new coach Dwayne Casey can get them to play some defense, they could legitimately challenge for the eighth seed in the weak bottom half of the Eastern Conference.
That's a big "if" though.
2011-12 Record: 26-40