Raptors Might Need to Hit Rock Bottom Before Seeing Marked Improvements
Chris Granicolo, Howl Staff
Prior to the beginning of the shortened 2011/2012 NBA season, Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo humbly dubbed the season a year of “growth and development.” With their top draft selection from 2011 Jonas Valanciunas staying in Lithuania for another season and the lack of any big-name free agent signings or acquisitions, expectations were low throughout the basketball world for the only team north of the border.
With a dismal 22-43 record to close out the season, the Raptors find themselves in an unenviable draft position that not only breeds frustration for a starving fan base, but surrounds the club in an aura of uncertainty moving forward. As determined by a coin flip, the Raptors – who tied the Golden State Warriors for the 7th worst record in the NBA – are slotted as the 6th worst team ahead of the draft lottery. This leaves the Raptors with only a 10% chance of moving into the top three but a 72.4% chance of picking eighth, a 16.8% chance of picking ninth, and even a slim chance they can tumble all the way to 10th or even 11th.
As the prospects for picking an impact player that can jump into your roster and make a difference right away deteriorate after each selection, Colangelo must be prudent with his selection if it happens to fall outside the top 5. With fans expecting this season to be one of “growth and development,” being 6th worst may not be bad enough for the long-term health of this franchise, as odd as that sounds.
Colangelo went slightly off the board last season with his selection of Valanciunas at 5th overall, leaving desirable point guards Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight in their seats as the 7-foot Lithuanian hulked towards the podium. Claiming Valanciunas as a “long-term project,” Colangelo is confident the centre will turn into a dominant shot-blocker that can dominate in the paint.
Colangelo admits that when Valanciunas does step into the roster next season, he anticipates positive developments, although realistically Valanciunas will “struggle at times,” as every rookie does. With Valanciunas 2-3 seasons from being the dominant centre Colangelo predicts along with this elusive 2012 draft selection (the lottery is on May 30th), the Raptors have an uncertain future.
Ed Davis and DeMar DeRozan are slotted to be key cornerstone pieces for the franchise moving forward, but did not exceed expectations this season. Andrea Bargnani seemed to adapt well to coach Dwane Casey’s new defensive first mindset, but was riddled by injuries throughout the campaign.
Perhaps the franchise’s saving grace was the hiring of Dwane Casey. Deservedly inked to a two year contract extension, Casey improved the Raptors’ defense considerably. Prior to Casey the Raptors were perennial pushovers; after his arrival the squad morphed in just one season. They went from 26th to 10th in points per game allowed, from 30th in points per possession to 14th, from 30th in points conceded in the paint to fourth, and went from 29th to 7th in defensive field goal percentage. Although not perfect end results, there is without question tangible improvements on defense, as the Raptors have finally become a team to make their opponents earn their points.
Colangelo has his work cut out for him this off-season to turn the Raptors into a contender. Praying to the basketball gods to be favourable to him on the May 30th draft lottery may not be good enough for Colangelo’s long term job security, with only one year left on his contract, his position as Raptors General Manager may be in question without sizable results next season.