Toronto starts the pre-season with its most experienced roster since 2002-03.
The current group has 77 combined years of NBA experience (32 from Magloire, Carter and Butler alone, Oakley, Willis and Brown combined for 34 in 1998-99) and this is the first time in team history that a rookie is not on the roster. Of the 12 regulars back in 1999, seven had two years of NBA experience or less. Five members of the current group have two years of experience or less, Bayless has three.
Sophomore Gary Forbes says the veterans are team lynchpins.
“They’ve been there before, they’ve won a bunch of games and been in situations we haven’t,” Forbes said.
“They are there to help us along the way.”
The established pros have talked throughout training camp about being impressed by the work ethic of the youngsters. Of course, committing to not being committed helped prevent Carter and McGrady from reaching their vast ceilings.
That doesn’t seem like it will be a problem for this group.
“I love the effort, I cannot question the effort, the guys have been diving on the floor,” Casey said.
The coach added he has yet to decide on how everybody will be deployed.
“This year I think you can throw traditional roles and rotations to the wind,” he said.
“There’s going to be a lot of games in a lot of nights … we’re going to be flexible. We are deep. We have two or three guys at each position.”
Solomon Alabi has taken some strides since last year, but remains very much a work in progress.
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey likes the 7-foot-1 centre’s work ethic and some of the things he brings to the table, but recognizes that what Alabi needs most of all, probably can’t be provided by the club this season.
“Really, Solo needs to play more than anything else to learn the NBA game and adjust to the speed,” Casey said after practice on Friday.
“A summer league would have been great for him. All the workout drills don’t really help him (as much as game situations).”
Casey admitted that the NBA Development League could be an option for Alabi this season, though such a move likely wouldn’t come anytime soon since: “right now, we need all the healthy bodies.”
Alabi got into only 12 games as a rookie last season, scoring six points and hauling down 14 rebounds in 59 total minutes. Alabi played 22 games for Erie of the NBDL, averaging 7.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 18.5 minutes per game.
“He has a nose for the ball rebounding-wise, excellent athlete and is an excellent stand-still shooter,” Casey said when asked to appraise Alabi’s strengths.
Alabi has an influential backer in his former coach at Florida State, ex-NBA head coach Leonard Hamilton, who recruited Casey to Kentucky.
“(Hamilton) raves about him. He’s been calling me all summer promoting him and talking about him,” Casey said.
Casey also said it is becoming increasingly hard to get his players to focus on the little things with a game so near. The Raptors play the Celtics at home on Sunday, and a lot of these players have not played a meaningful game since April. The players are looking forward to the action, certainly. “It will be good to play against some different guys because everyone knows what we’re doing right now,” swingman Rasual Butler said. “We can kind of cheat the plays [in practice] a little bit. To get out there and defend some offensive sets you don’t know, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Ed Davis, PF, Toronto - Davis has a few things working for him as we head into the new season. First, he has lots of raw ability and works hard to get better. Next, he acquitted himself well as a rookie in ’10-11, averaging 7.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in less than 25 minutes per game and he is committed to continuing his improvement. Finally, his competition for minutes in the frontcourt will come from Amir Johnson, a decent sleeper in his own right, but one who is coming off of ankle surgery, and Andrea Bargnani, who gives the Raptors little in terms of rebounding and interior defense. Davis, who has added some bulk in the offseason, should emerge as a key for this team. I can see him averaging better than 30 minutes a night and posting double-doubles like it’s nobody’s business. I’m buying in the middle rounds.
The easiest part of this prediction process for this division is who will be the worst team. If you are able to name five guys on the Raptors off the top of your head I’ll give you twenty bucks. They are a really young team without any star players since Vince Carter and Chris Bosh have left to bigger market teams. Andrea Bargnani is their best player averaging over 20.0 points per game last year and DeMar DeRozan averaged over 17.0 points per game at the shooting guard position. There is just not enough to get the Raptors out of the basement in the division, though. The other four teams have experience and star players that will have their way with the Raptors.