The 2009-2010 Raptors were tremendously talented. They were relatively athletic, they could score and they had the assets needed to play some good defense occasionally. They also won just 41 games. You can blame some of those losses on injury, some of them on bad luck and some of them simply on being outplayed by a better team. However, most of their losses were simply caused by a lack of effort and intensity. They would lose large leads, they wouldn't come back from adversity very well and they would be out-hustled and out-fought. At times, it looked like they simply didn't have a passion for the game. With the 2010-2011 team, it doesn't look like this will be a problem.
Last year the Raptors had a rookie head coach and an extremely unorthodox defensive system. The players were supposed to defend an imaginary house-shaped area that surrounds the paint, and the system was complicated and ineffective in the first few games of the season. I think that when players are forced to learn a new defensive system which struggles to provide positive dividends early on, they will become discouraged. This can cause the players to not close out on shooters well enough, to rarely leave their primary defensive assignment to play help defense, and they end up not being where they're supposed to be, when they're supposed to be. If the players don't trust the defensive system, they won't put their hearts and souls into its implementation.
Defensive effort does not look to be a problem this year. The Raptors have hired an experienced and relatively well-regarded assistant coach in P.J. Carlesimo and Jay Triano has an extra year of experience under his belt. They will play a more traditional and simpler defensive system, in which they won't have trouble remembering where they should be and what they should do. The coaches for the Raptors will be asking the players to play a brand of defense that they all should be familiar with. The players will be asked to simply play hard one-on-one defense and to help their fellow players when they blow their assignments or are asked to shade them in a certain direction. This system is simple enough that it becomes hard for the players to put the onus on the coaches when the other team scores. The competitive nature of professional athletes will cause them to always want to be the best they can be and to want to try their hardest never to be shown up by an opposing player. This leads me to believe that The Raptors will play as hard as their bodies will allow them to, in order to be the best that they can be.
The Raptors have a lot of unproven players on their roster who are likely to play hard in order to improve their reputation in the NBA. Demar Derozan, Sonny Weems, Amir Johnson and Ed Davis haven't done enough the league to warrant appreciation, José Calderon and Andrea Bargnani are seen as offensive players that are liabilities on defense, and Reggie Evans, David Andersen and Linas Kleiza are seen as being one-dimensional role players by most of North America's basketball media. The 2009-2010 Raptors on the other hand, were almost all established players in the NBA. Chris Bosh was a proven star, Calderon was coming off of a decent year, Andrea Bargnani had just completed a breakthrough season and most of the other players on the team had accomplished feats on playoff-caliber teams. This year's Toronto Raptors squad is much hungrier to prove themselves then last year's squad was.
The 2009-2010 Raptors were expected to make the playoffs and some basketball pundits even predicted that they would fight for home-court advantage. If this year's team isn't one of the worst team in the league, then they will be exceeding expectations. No team wants to be in this position, but the Raptors must use these predictions as motivation to play at 100% of their ability for the full 48 minutes, for all 82 games of the season. The Raptors want to prove their detractors wrong and become a respectable and hard working team. They are sticking together as a unit on the court and off the court so that they can be the best that they can be. They are building team chemistry and they are trying to become as cohesive a unit as possible in order to win as many games as they can. This year's Raptors team will be fighting for every single win.
The 2010-2011 Raptors will be carrying a fire in their hearts and souls and will fight to the end in every single game. This year's defensive system puts the burden on the players to perform, the team is filled from top to bottom with players that want to prove themselves, and the team wants to prove the world wrong and exceed expectations. All these factors show me that the Raptors will be a hard-working, scrappy team that finally sheds the franchise's reputation as being filled with weak-minded and underachieving athletes. I have no idea how many games the Raptors will win this year, but if they continue to carry the fire, then they will shock the world and gain the respect of the rest of the league.
Do the rest of you feel as I do about this year's Raptors squad?
(Any comments or criticism would be much appreciated. Also, how do I use indents for my paragraphs on this forum?)