steph

Those who know me know one thing: I’m all about keepin’ it real. So let’s be realistic. I had hoped to write a column today about how the Raptors had been reborn:

  • Jay Triano had been fired and replaced by Eddie Jordan or Avery Johnson.
  • O’Neal and Moon had been transformed in Shawn Marion.
  • Roko Ukic had demanded more playing time (and was listened to).
  • Delfino had come back from Europe.
  • Joe Smith had been cut by OKC and ignored the Celtics by signing with the Raps.
  • Calderon was healthy.
  • Bosh had decided to play like a max-money player.

But after returning from my vacation with the kids at Disneyworld, reality set in. Perhaps I was sniffing a little too much of the pixie dust, no? As it stands this morning, the Raptors are 14th in the Eastern Conference, 5 ½ games out of the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Since there are still 24 games to play, the boys still have a shot at the final seed, right? Actually, no they don’t. According to John Hollinger at espn.com, the Raptors only have a 5.5% chance of making the playoffs.

What makes this even more difficult for the Raptors is that they would have to climb over 5 teams to earn the 8th spot. Adding to their problems is the fact that the 6th and 7th seeded teams are playing .500 ball, and even the 8th seeded team is playing close to .500 ball this season, having won 47.5% of their games. In comparison, the Raptors are playing a horrible .379 ball (only Washington and the bottom feeders of the Western Conference have played worse).

Even if the Raptors were to play .600 ball from here until the end of the season (which no one would suggest they are capable of seeing that this would require them to go 15-9 over their final 24 games) their record at the end of the season would stand at 37-45. Unlike last season when it only took Atlanta 36 wins to make the playoffs in the 8th spot of the Eastern Conference, Milwaukee (who currently sits 8th) already has 28 wins with 25 games to play. In 2009, 8 games under .500 will not get you into the playoffs, no matter what conference you play in.

So let’s be realistic. The season is over.

What is much more realistic is that the Raptors play out the final 24 games somewhere in the .400-.475 range and win approximately 11 of their final 24 games. Expect players like Marion, Bosh, Bargnani, and Jose to compete and attempt to make a run at the 8th spot but to ultimately fall short and end up in the 11 or 12 seed in the East. And with a final record of 33-49, the Raptors can expect to find themselves drafting in the 8-11 spots after teams like:

LAC, OKC, MEM, SAC, GS, WAS, CHAR, INDY, and NJ.

The good news for the Raptors is that drafting in the 8-10 spot this year will be a very nice space for them. While most teams rebuilding would like to hit the real lottery and pick in the top 5, the truth is that in the 8-11 spots, historically, lots of excellent players have emerged. In fact, the argument could be made that outside of the 1st 3 picks, the last decade has witnessed the 8-11 picks producing better NBA players (not necessarily super-duper stars, but solid NBA starters) than the 4-7 spots.

And for every year like 2003, where guys like Bosh, Wade, Kaman and Hinrich go 4-7, there are years like 2002 that saw both Amare and Caron Butler, or 1999 that saw A. Miller, Marion, and Terry get drafted in the 8-11 spots.

Check it out:

2008

  • 4-7: R. Westbrook, K. Love, D. Gallinari, and E. Gordon
  • 8-11: J. Alexander, D.J. Augustin, B. Loez, J. Bayless

2007

  • 4-7: M. Conley,J. Green, Y. Jianlian, C. Brewer
  • 8-11: B. Wright, J. Noah, S. Hawes, A. Law

2006

  • 4-7: T. Thomas, S. Williams,B. Roy, R. Foye
  • 8-11: R. Gay, P. O’Bryant, S. Sene, J.J. Redick

2005

  • 4-7: C. Paul, R. Felton, M. Webster, C. Villenueva
  • 8-11: C. Frye, I. Diogu, A. Bynum, F. Vasquez

2004

  • 4-7: S. Livingston, D. Harris,J. Childress, L.Deng
  • 8-11: R. Aruajo, A. Iguodala, L. Jackson, A. Beidrins

2003

  • 4-7: C. Bosh, D. Wade, C. Kaman, K. Hinrich
  • 8-11:TJ Ford, M. Sweetney, J. Hayes, M. Pietrus

2002

  • 4-7: D. Gooden. N. Tskitishvili,D. Wagner, N. Hilario
  • 8-11: C. Wilcox, A. Stoudamire, C. Butler, J. Jeffries

2001

  • 4-7: E. Curry, J. Richardson, S. Battier, E. Griffin
  • 8-11: D. Diop, R. White, J. Johnson, K. Brown

2000

  • 4-7: M. Fizer, M. Miller, D. Johnson, C. Mihm
  • 8-11: J. Crawford, J. Pryzbilla, K. Dooling, J. Moiso

1999

  • 4-7: L. Odom, J. Bender, W. Szerbiak, R. Hamilton
  • 8-11: A. Miller, S. Marion. J. Terry, T. Langdon

The point is simply that the Raps shouldn’t worry about tanking the season from this point out, since the odds of them getting into the bottom 5 and having a real shot at the top three are not very good. Instead, they should focus on building a system with a real style of play and simply spend the last 24 games as a tune up for next season.

Realistically, in the 8-11 spots in the 2009 draft, the Raptors will not be in the Blake Griffin sweepstakes, but can expect to find good quality players at all positions available.

I’ve listed below a couple of guys at each position that should be available come the 8th pick. I’ve also listed their current school in case you wanted to gear up for March Madness by getting out your scouting reports and getting ready to watch some of these guys in action. While this draft does have two or three PFs or Cs that should go in the top 5, after that there is a significant drop off in talent in terms of big men. On the flip side, with most of the top 5 going to “bigs”, that leaves a plethora of PGs and SGs to round out the top 15, many of whom are legit NBA prospects. While this is not the deepest draft in the last 5 years (with several superstars in the making), it certainly appears to be very deep at the guard spots and offers the teams drafting between 7-15 many choices for future starting SGs and PGs.

Note * denotes a Senior

C

  1. Cole Aldrich, Kansas
  2. Jerome Jordan, Tulsa

PF

  1. Jordan Hill, Arizona
  2. *Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina (this would be considered too high to draft a player like Hansborough, but with is IQ, motor, and success at the collegiate level, he might be the perfect complement to a front court that already houses Bosh and Bargnani).

SF

  1. Earl Clark, Louisville
  2. DaJuan Summers, Georgetown

SG

  1. Demar DeRozan, USC
  2. Gerald Henderson, Duke
  3. *Terrence Williams, Louisville

Tweener Guards:

  1. Willie Warren, Oklahoma
  2. Stephen Curry, Davidson
  3. Jrue Holiday, UCLA

PG

  1. Brandon Jennings, Italy (possible- but don’t get your hopes up about him being available this late)
  2. Ty Lawson, North Carolina
  3. *Darren Collison, UCLA

As always, standing in the key, I’m the Dr. I’ve got my feet planted and I’m planning on taking a charge!

phdsteve