It’s about 36 hours to tipoff, and as I’m writing things, there’s a strange feeling coming from the press. The Toronto Sun’s Steve Buffery has predicted the Raptors to finish first in the Atlantic… As has Doug Smith (it’s buried in a mailbag somewhere)…. As has Michael Grange… And yet, just about every writer in the States has the Raptors being on the outside, looking in, or in the lower half of the conference. You’ve gotta wonder, as a fan, if we live in a “Raptors bubble” and whether it’s actually healthy? Well, after last year, the predictions on the outside of the “bubble” have gotten no less disrespectful for our Dinos.
There’s talk though, that a large part of the concern about our team is that other teams will no longer be “surprised” by us. It’s strange, but I feel a sense of calm if that’s their biggest argument. I mean, the Raptors didn’t play slouches in the final 1/3 of the season, still managed to keep a winning record, and extend their lead in the Atlantic division. Let’s also not forget that in January, when the Raptors made their run, they got all three awards of the month. If winning those awards didn’t clue other coaches in, I’m not sure what would. Of course, the average fan or broadcaster isn’t going to notice that the Raptors were on the up and up last year, but do you think opposing coaching staffs weren’t aware?
Another big argument that’s been making the rounds down south is how many of our players overachieved by posting career numbers. It might have been surprising to a lot of stats guys, as they all had pegged the Raptors to have fairly average PER stats for the year. When the Raptors completely blew those predictions out of the water, a lot of those stats guys were made to look foolish. So, as far as predictions go, a lot of them are predicting lowered stats for the squad in general. However, our squad was made up of a lot of players from overseas, who actually underperformed according to their EuroLeague stats. In addition, I don’t think the Raptors need career years from anyone but their youth core, whom are still expanding their game yearly.
Now I have no problem with the arguments that the East has gotten stronger. Boston’s going to get it going good, the Knicks have possibilities and Orlando looks about three steps ahead of where they were last year. But the way I see things shaking out, the so-called top tiered teams of last year (with the exception of the Raptors) have all taken a step back. The Wizards look to be exposed on the inside and Gilbert looks like he may be battling an injury all year, the Cavs have no rebounding to go with their lack of a point guard, Detroit has gotten another year older, and Miami is counting on Ricky Davis to win some games for them.
So let the prognosticators make their comments about the Raptors. It’ll be a nice surprise for everyone come April.