Friday, April 19, 2013

Raps Wrap: 2012-13 Season

Another season from Raptorland is in the books and it feels just like all the others in recent memory - no playoffs, continued belief in management that the team is 'getting there,' cries for a major trade, but an overall outlook that isn't entirely negative.

The team carried promise heading into the season, so much so that I had them making the playoffs in my October predictions. After a 4-19 start, we all knew the season was lost, but the ride the rest of the way was at least interesting as the team went 30-29 after tripping over the first few hurdles and finished 34-48.

Perhaps the most notable event for the Toronto club was the swap GM Bryan Colangelo made to send long-time PG Jose Calderon to Detroit and blooming young big Ed Davis to Memphis in exchange for Rudy Gay. The 6-9 small forward is an elite scorer who came in and made an immediate impact, hitting two game-winners over the Pacers and the Nuggets within his first week in a Raptor uniform. He can score, that much we know, but he had little time to integrate himself with new teammates and coaches, and advanced stats nerds are quick to point out his low win shares and poor true shooting percentage that likely led to his ouster from Memphis where player efficiency rating is everything. Despite an all-star level salary, Gay has yet to play in an ASG, but next year should be different.

With Rudy on the other wing, it has taken some of the scoring pressure off of DeMar DeRozan who continues to improve and is now locked into a four-year $38-million contract extension, inked mid-season on top of a garbage can. DeMar improved across the board averaging more points, rebounds, and assists while also stepping it up on the defensive end. He still has the tools to become an elite defender, and will work diligently on his three-point shooting in the offseason after averaging 28% this year. DeMar is set to become one of the leaders of this team in his fifth season and he can still fly with the best of them.

Andrea Bargnani was on about his eighth chance with the club and underperformed yet again this season. It's tough to blame Bargs for his numerous injuries, but every little tweak and strain seems to derail the big Italian for long periods of time while he rediscovered his game and place on the team. He has never really been comfortable as the face of the franchise and that time mercifully seems to be over as even Primo has pulled their go-to ad featuring the jump-shooting seven-footer. He only played in 35 games and off the bench in many of those as the team desperately tried to showcase him for trade suitors. He'll be gone next year and be traded for less than he's worth, which is unfortunate but necessary for both parties at this point.

With longest-tenured Raptor Jose Calderon departed, Kyle Lowry took over full-time point guard duties and was hit-or-miss. Lowry is a blend of styles and often looks to be aggressive and doesn't get as many calls as he thinks he deserves, or he'll put on the blinders and shoot to his heart's content. Sometimes Lowry tries to play more like Calderon and it's clear he learned a thing or two from the wily Spaniard, but then confuses himself and loses the aggressiveness that make him unique. If you think he's confused or frustrated, imagine how his coach must feel. Lowry and Dwane Casey must work together better and figure out how best to use the assets both he and the team has. They'd also benefit from a veteran backup PG to mentor Lowry.

The most pleasant surprise of the year was Jonas Valanciunas' ability to play against NBA opponents as a rookie with minimal transition from the international game. Sure he struggled sometimes with the defensive strategies and was hung out to dry by Bargnani's missed rotations, but he's long and very active, engaging, humble and focused. He's going to turn out to be a great pick, though most were already soured on the Raptors Euro-trend by the time Big V was selected. The Lithuanian big averaged 8.9 points and 6 rebounds, and started 57 of the 62 games he played. Not bad at all for a rookie centre who is only going to get bigger and more skilled as he matures.

The rest of the team? Alan Anderson was a solid defender and sometimes spectacular scorer off the bench and has earned himself a decent raise either in Toronto or elsewhere. The mess of Kleiza/Pietrus/Fields at small forward has luckily been dealt with as Rudy stepped into that slot, but can you imagine Pietrus starting 15 games this year? Well, it happened. Yikes. On the other hand Amir Johnson was OUTSTANDING. The dude was an absolute warrior all year and was the team's MVP with his steady play, defensive ability, and surprisingly dependable jumper. Terrence Ross won the dunk contest and his physical tools are evident. Ross should mold into a quality player but he remains a promising project. Quincy Acy filled in well late in the year, spent lots of time in the D-League, is active and athletic and a quality depth guy with good attitude. John Lucas was good in spot minutes, but he's not the type to run a team and Sebastian Telfair was brought in as insurance but likely won't be back, meaning the Raps will be seeing point guard depth in the summer. AND Aaron Gray is my favourite.

- Watch the Raptors top 10 plays of the 2012-13 season -

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