It’s interesting; this team is interesting. We have gone through a few pre-season games, 1 of which was an 8-point loss to a Timberwolves team sans Jefferson and Love; and this team doesn’t look like the finished product that would win 50 games and a make it to the second round of the playoffs. The Raptors are reasonably deep, but nothing of real note after the starters (lots of interchangeable pieces where one doesn’t shine brighter then the other). The 2 spot was always the question mark in the starting lineup, but you know what? Frank Zicarelli got it wrong, again – DeRozan’s role on the Raptors, is to start at the 2.

The roster has been set for the opener, with no surprises. There was no one fighting for a roster spot at training camp. Only those fighting for minutes. There is a a distinction. For what it’s worth, the starting lineup is not bad. Calderon is a solid point guard. He conducts the offense; hits jumpers; makes the safe right plays; protects the ball; and he’s butter from the charity stripe. Hedo is a match-up nightmare at the 3. Dude is tall, creative off the hop, gets to the rack, isn’t afraid to take clutch shots; and hits them once in a while. Bosh is elite. Bargnani spreads the floor. has a solid jumper; gets a couple blocks a game; and can take his man off the dribble.

The starters have scoring down. Between the four, you can expect about 65pts a night from them (based on what they did last season). You figure the bench will chip in 20-25 a night, which leaves the starting SG only really needing to come up with about 10pts a night to get us to free pizza.

Defensively, shooting guard is a tough position. You have chase the likes of Ray Allen, Joe Johnson, Monta Ellis, Ben Gordon, Richard Hamilton, etc, around the court on offense – and make them work defensively. No one has really stepped up to earn that spot: DeRozan has been raw; Wright has been hurt; Weems was playing great but he’s not really a starter; Belinelli is way to inconsistent. So the question then becomes, what is the starting lineup missing?

Defense

It is safe to say that Wright is the best defender of this lot. He came with that pedigree, and he struts around with some attitude (I like the trash talking), but he is not much of a threat to light it up on offense. We saw DeRozan chase folks around screens, block the lane and crash the boards. He may not be as good as Wright, but he has shown a willingness to get dirty in this department, which suits me just fine for a rook.

Slashing

DeRozan, Weems and Belinelli are pretty good at getting to the rim. All three have shown that they are fearless in this department. Weems has been a pleasant surprise this summer, but his contribution is marginally better (if at all) then DeRozan’s. Both DeRozan and Weems got to the rim, been knocked down numerous times, and keep at it. I’d say it is a toss up here.

Athleticism

This is the two man race between DeRozan and Weems. They are both are freakish in this regard: jump the hell out of the gym and are quick up-n-down the court. DeRozan is taller younger, bigger and taller then Weems, with a longer wing span.

I gotta like DeRozan here. He takes it to the rim, he has been working hard, wants to play defense, and Hopla will improve his shot over the course of the season. So what’s the problem? Ahh, you want to ‘hide rookies’. I see. Bury them on the bench and let them shine in due time. I hate this strategy. When you have promise in a young gun, you need to nurture it. I’m not suggestion you play him 30+ minutes a night, but he does a lot of good things to be an after thought on this team.

Sure, starting Wright here is the safe way to go. He doesn’t need the ball on offense, and plays good D (gave Carmelo hell in the playoffs last year). But as much as the Raptors need that sort of production, they need athleticism more. Getting out on the break, filling those lanes, attacking off the bounce, alley-oops…all these things, I haven’t seen Wright do. DeRozan fits this bill.

“What about scoring? Wont DeRozan feel pressure to score as a starter?” Ye he will, but what you aren’t considering is that the offensive load for the SG is MUCH less as a starter then a reserve, on this particular team. As part of the the starting unit, DeRozan’s only needs to give Jose/Hedo another passing option. He just needs to catch the ball on the go and put it down. He doesn’t have to worry about creating his own shot, because the defense will be far too tuned in on the rest of the lot, and take advantage of the holes left by Bargnani and Bosh pulling the bigs further away from the basket as they should be.

As a reserve, DeRozan will not be surrounded with as gifted offensive players as the starters, increasing his burden to do more. He now has to create his own scoring opportunities on top of doing everything else. To me, that isn’t hiding the kid. He now has to worry about carrying the 2nd unit. Talk about throwing him to the wolves.

So let him start. Wright can come off the bench IF Kid Dynamite can’t hold his own offensively. Weems can come in when the Raptors need a spark, and Belinelli can come in when all else fails. It might just take the whole year or more for DeRozan to get it right, but hiding him on the bench and sparing him the trial by fire at the hands of Wade and Kobe only keeps that pacifier in his mouth longer. To me, it’s a disservice. The kid can play, let him at it.

One more day!!!

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