Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Reviewing the Toronto Raptors 2007-08 season

Was the 2007-08 season for the Toronto Raptors a success or a failure ? Well, they made the playoffs, had an all star rep & won regular season games in San Antonio & Boston. But, while they did make they playoffs, they actually won less regular season games(41 this year) than the year before(47 in 2006-07) and were also the first team eliminated from they playoffs, bundled out in 5 games by Orlando. Does this make it a successful-failure ? Is there such a term ?

Toronto had a break out season in 2006-07. After years in the doldrums they had finally returned to the playoffs for the first time in 5 years. The Raptors were no longer the laughing stock of the league or a semi-retirement village for players who, while no longer in their prime, were now happy to move to the other 'country' to pick up their NBA healthy paychecks.

Rookie Andrea Bargnani showed raw promise in 06-07, far from the finished product but his up side certainly outweighed any first year nerves & teething problems. Chris Bosh became a starter for the Eastern Conference All-Stars, Sam Mitchell proved that he could coach at this level and Toronto's chemistry was at an all-time high. On top of it all, the Raptors equalled a team best 47 wins. Not only was Toronto out of the doldrums, the 2007-08 Raptors were about to become a serious challenger for the Eastern conference crown. Things were looking up and it could only get better, right ?

It all started off ok. Two wins in the first two games of the season, including a 37-point blow out on the road of last season's playoff eliminators, the New Jersey Nets. But, shortly after, the Raptors would display the wild inconsistencies which would plague their season. A close home loss to the Boston Celtics followed by a 27-point hammering in Milwaukee, was shortly followed by another 30-point road win in Chicago. In the end, the wins in New Jersey & Chicago were probably mirages and probably said more about their opponents than them, as they both endured tumultuous seasons of their own. One had a coach sacked, the other had it's star player demanding to be traded & neither team would figure in post season play.

The Raptors suffered a big blow early on when they lost one of their key figures from the previous season, Jorge Garbajosa. Garbajosa suffered a nasty ankle injury during the 2006-7 season. During the off-season, he represented his country, Spain, at the European Championships to qualify for the Beijing 2008 Olympic games. His ankle had never really healed completely though and further surgery was required and his 2007-08 campaign was over.

More nasty injuries followed Garbajosa's and in early December, late in a game in Atlanta whilst on a breakaway, TJ Ford was dumped by Hawks rookie Al Horford. Horford's clumsy attempt at trying to prevent Ford from an easy layup went horribly wrong as he struck Ford with a flayling arm and sent him to the floor. TJ lay on the ground for several minutes. Having previously suffered spinal and neck injuries, doctors took no chances and Ford wouldn't return to the team until early February. To further complicate matters, reserve point guard Jose Calderon's play in Ford's absence was garnering All-Star consideration. When TJ did return, the role as backup point guard didn't sit well with him and his frustration was obvious.

Not long after TJ returned to the Raptors lineup, Chris Bosh's wonky knees took their annual two to three-week hiatus. Toronto struggled in his absence and won only two of the ten games Bosh missed which, when added to the other five games he had missed (of which Toronto only won two) earlier in the year conspired to slowly derail Toronto's playoff plans.

Toronto had ended the calender year of 2007 with an impressive road win in New Orleans. Their record then was 17 wins & 15 losses, good for fifth in the Eastern Conference. But the feeling was that Toronto hadn't been playing their best basketball and the achievable goal of finishing with home court advantage in the playoffs was still very much within reach.

After an impressive rookie campaign, Toronto was looking for Andrea Bargnani to continue his development and become a consistent offensive threat, while also improving his defensive game and his rebounding. But Bargnani struggled this season, badly. His long range shot was still smooth, but there was little to no improvement in the other aspects of his game. Defensively he was soft, very soft & he actually became worse at rebounding, averaging an Eddy Curry-like 3.7 per game, down from 3.9 the year before.
On offense, he looked confused, unsure it seemed as if the Raptors brainstrust and coach's wanted him to work on his post game, drive to the hoop or simply continue to do the one thing he did do well, shoot 3's.
Furthermore frustratingly, Bargnani did show flashes of why GM Bryan Colangelo selected him with the first overall pick in 2006. A 20-point, 7-rebound, 7-assist night in a win in Boston, a 25-point, 7-rebound, 5-assist night in another victory, this time against the New York Knicks. Ten times he had 20-points or more in a game, but on another 13 occassions, he scored only 2 points or less.
Jason Kapono came to the Raptors in the offseason from the Miami Heat. In 2006-07, he led the league in 3-pt fg% and Bryan Colangelo handed him a healthy 4-year $24m contract to entice him north of the border. Colangelo figured the leagues most accurate 3-point shooter would be a perfect compliment for Toronto's varied offense. Kapono did repeat two of his 06-07 acomplishments. He won the 3-point shootout at the All-Star game and he again led the league in 3-pt fg%. However, the latter of the awards is grotesquely misleading as Kapono took only 118 3-pointers, making 57 of them. For comparitive purposes, Phoenix's Steve Nash finished 2nd in 3-pt accuracy to Kapono but made 179 of the 381 3-pointers he tried.
Kapono did have an excellent playoff series against Orlando, but everyone must be wondering where that guy was during the regular season.
Toronto's once promising season kept getting worse the closer the playoffs got and with five losses in their final eight games, the Raptors finished sixth in the Eastern Conference and faced the Orlando Magic in the first round. The Raptors would win only 1 playoff game, despite being close in another 3.
So Toronto now head to an offseason with alot of questions. Only Bryan Colangelo has the answers. Whatever does happen, it would appear that the 2008-09 outfit will be drastically different from the 2007-08 one. TJ Ford is probably the only player who definately won't be back, because it's hard to see Colangelo paying Jose Calderon $10m a year for the next 4 years to come off the bench. The Raptors are going to be stuck with Bargnani for atleast another season, because even if they wanted to trade him, his value is so low that the Raptors wouldn't get anything significant in return. This is a critical year for Andrea, he could still become the next Dirk, but at the moment, he's heading dangerously close to becoming the next Kwame.

Final Grade: C

No comments: