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Toronto Raptors on Track for a 47-Win Season

Stephen Brotherston@@ProBballNBAAnalyst IDecember 29, 2009

ATLANTA - DECEMBER 02:  Hedo Turkoglu #26 of the Toronto Raptors against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on December 2, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

If you believe that Bryan Colangelo has been trying to recreate the 2006-07 version of the Toronto Raptors, then you will have noticed just how closely the 2009-10 Raptors have resembled that earlier version.

Check out Raptors will Bounce Back in the 2009-10 Season for a complete description of all the similarities.

In 2006, Bryan Colangelo started the season with only six returning players and in 2009, he did it again.  And with only four returning players destined to see much time in their team’s rotation, both of these reconstructed Raptors teams went through a very rough learning curve.

Players who didn’t know how to play together and coaches who didn’t know who to put on the floor conspired to produced a less than encouraging seven win, 13 loss start to the season each time.

But in 2006, the Raptors went 40-22 to finish out the season tying the Raptors record for wins in a season.  Those 2006 Raptors “gelled” as a team and closed out the season winning 2/3rds of their games.

In reality, “gelling” in 2006 really meant Sam Mitchell figured out that playing Garbajosa at small forward turned a collection of players into a team.  Sure there were other factors, but to “gel” requires coaches to figure things out at least as much as players “getting to know one another.”

This season the new small forward that the Raptors have tied their fortunes to is Hedo Turkoglu.  And like Jorge Garbajosa, Turkoglu does not rely on his superior athleticism at either end of the floor but rather on sound positional play and basketball IQ.

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Where Garbajosa is considered to be the more effective defender (although it was almost impossible to figure out how he managed to do it), Turkoglu is a vastly superior offensive player.  And most people would consider Hedo a significant upgrade talent-wise from Garbajosa.

And anyone who has watched Turkoglu over the past few seasons or can even just remember how he played against LeBron, Pierce, and Bryant in last year’s playoffs, will realize Turkoglu can be as good as anybody against the elite wings in the NBA (and no, he isn’t winning any defensive awards).

Just check out the Orlando Magic’s top 10 plays from last season on  NBA video (2008-09, Magic videos).

Of course the measure of how well Turkoglu is “gelling” with his Raptors teammates may be counted in his assist totals more than anything on the defensive end.  And in the last five games, Turkoglu has been averaging 7 assists per game.

This season the Raptors have relied on rookie Head Coach Jay Triano whereas in 2006, the Raptors had the more experienced Sam Mitchell.

And Triano has shown his inexperience.  Sticking with lineups that weren’t working and having to be “saved” by his GM and a players meeting after a five-game losing slide and the embarrassment in Atlanta.

This year’s Raptors should be considered as more talented than the 2006 version and may have actually won games despite some questionable coaching moves earlier this season (reverse also likely to be true).

But Jay Triano has the respect of some of the NBA’s top executives and Bryan Colangelo’s patience with his coach is likely to be rewarded (it would be nice if Triano could figure things out a little faster though).

However, finishing any season winning 65 percent of your games over even a modest stretch is no easy task and likely to be greeted with a measure of disbelief. And some people will look at the Raptors 15-17 record and not be convinced this team can do it.

But this season, the Raptors have gone 8-4 since that 7-13 start and are precisely on track to repeat that remarkable performance.

And with 10 teams in the East at under .500,  the non-elite teams in the East are weak this year.  The  Raptors are currently in sixth place in the East with that 15-17 record.

Plus the 16-12 fiveth place Miami Heat have faced a soft opening schedule with 18 home games and just 10 road dates.  Maybe the Raptors season split with the Magic is reflective of just how close these two teams really are?

There should be little doubt that Raptors opportunity for a strong finish to the 2009-10 season is there for the taking.  And another 47 win season is still within grasp.

Like in 2006-07, Bryan Colangelo is likely to be looking at trades, different players will step up or not, and injury risk is out there!

It will not be a boring 2010 in Raptorland.

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