Can the Raptors overachieve and surprise?

I was watching Raptor TV and they showed the Orlando Magic vs Toronto Raptors in March 2000.  Couple of things I noticed: Doc Rivers looked exactly the same 10 years ago, Dan Schulman is a great announcer, I really missed him calling a Raptor game and the Magic at one point has Chucky Atkins, Ron Mercer, Bo Outlaw, Ben Wallace and John Amachi on the floor, that has to be one of the worst 5 men combo ever.  Yet, that Magic team won 41 games.

Before the 99-00 season, the Magic traded their best player Penny Hardaway.  Hardaway wasn’t happy in Orlando and wanted to move on.  They also moved their second best player Nick Anderson, and they hired Doc Rivers as their head coach replacing hall of famer Chuck Daly.  No one, I repeat no one thought the Magic could finish anywhere close to a .500 record.

That’s what the Magic did.  Here is their main rotation: Darrell Armstrong, Ron Mercer/Tariq Abdul Wahad (they were traded for each other in mid-season), Monty Williams, Bo Outlaw, Ben Wallace, Corey Maggette, Pat Garrity, Michael Doleac, Chucky Atkins and John Amaechi.  At first glance, you would notice Ben Wallace and Corey Maggette, and thought they may not have that horrible of a team after all.  But Corey Maggette was a rookie coming of Duke, and Wallace wasn’t quite the same Ben Wallace that dominated defensively with the Detroit Pistons.  Both averaged less than 25 minutes per game (Wallace 24.2, Maggette 17.8).  They have one good NBA player in Darrell Armstrong, but the rest wasn’t all that impressive.

So how did the Magic do it?  They played hard defensively, if you noticed they have guys like Armtsrong, Wallace, Outlaw, Monty Williams.  All of them would hustle and got to the loose balls.  The Magic ranked 9th on defense that year, while only ranked 22nd on offense.  They double team a lot, but their rotation was really good because they have guys who could recover and they communicated very well.  In short, they played like a team.  They ran a lot, and finished 2nd on pace factor.  Doc isn’t known for his strategies, and in his rookie season, he certainly didn’t do a lot of that, but he motivated the players, and the players listened to him and played hard.

So what does this have to do with the 2010-2011 squad?

The Raptors just lost their best player in Bosh and another starter in Turkoglu, base on most people prediction, they wouldn’t win more than 30 games (I have them at 25 right now).  But crazier things can happen, and the Raptors can be half decent if they fight like the Magic did 10 years ago.  The Raptors have to played scrappy defense, and they do have some athleticism with Sonny Weems, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Ed Davis.  These four might not be the best quartet in terms of creating offense on the half court, but they should be able to go for steals, block shots, rebound and be at least decent defensively.   Forcing turnovers, grabbing defensive rebounds would enable them to run and get fast break points.  This team has to be a lot better defensively.  I am not saying they have to be the 9th best team in the NBA, but they should at least aim to be average.   A lot of defense depends on communication and coaching.  You usually can spot a well coach team; players know where to rotate, no one is falling asleep on rotation.  Far too many times, the Raptors just weren’t interested defensively last season where they were dead last on defense.

Jay Triano didn’t have a good year as a full time rookie head coach.  One must hope that he improved somehow and designed defensive schemes that the players can understand and get behind.  He has to motivate these guys to play hard on defense.  If guys like Jose Calderon (assuming Jose is still around) and Andrea Bargnani get beat constantly on defense, he has to sit them for long periods.  He has to install a mentality that if don’t play defense, you don’t play at all.  If Triano fails to do this, he won’t have a job for long (neither will Colangelo).



6 Responses to “Can the Raptors overachieve and surprise?”

  1. Paul Anderson Says:

    Very good article. I hope someone in the Raptors organization reads this article. I believ it is a great recipe for a .500 team too. We cannot keep talking about defense we just have to play it.

  2. khandor Says:

    1. re: the Magic’s principal rotation

    Go to
    Go to the Orlando Magic for 1999-2000.
    Go to the Per Game stats.
    Click on MP.

    What you see is that the Magic’s core group of players looked like this that season, as afar as MPPG is concerned:

    1 Darrell Armstrong 31.6
    2 Ron Mercer 31.3
    3 Bo Outlaw 28.4
    5 Ben Wallace 24.2
    6 Chris Gatling 23.1
    7 John Amaechi 21.1
    8 Monty Williams 20.0
    9 Chucky Atkins 19.8
    10 Pat Garrity 18.0
    11 Corey Maggette 17.8
    12 Michael Doleac 16.5
    13 Matt Harpring 15.8
    14 Anthony Johnson 11.9
    15 Anthony Parker 11.6

    2. re: individual players strengths and weaknesses

    If you do some further research elsewhere on-line, what you will eventually find out, as well, is that each of these Magic players was generally thought to be able to defend and rebound their own position, in an adequate-to-above average way … with the exception of Pat Garrity, who was more-or-less, exclusively, a spot-up shooter.

    The player roster for the 2010-2011 Toronto Raptors does not resemble the 199-2000 Orlando Magic at all.

    3. re: coaching

    There is a huge qualitative difference between Doc Rivers and Jay Triano.

    4. re: what the Magic did to win 41 games

    “Playing hard defensively” just doesn’t happen on its own, but most frequently when a team has a plethora of individual players, and a coach, who excel at this specific aspect of the game.


    • pchu1234 Says:

      1) I did check the basketball reference website, and my rotation is about right. Gatling only played 45 games and Parker played 16 games, Hapring played 4 games.

      2) I am not comparing the two roster. I am just saying the talent on the Magic Roster is not really all that good. Definitely should not have been a .500 team. What I am trying to say is that for the Raptors to succeed at that level, they have to play much better defense, causing turnovers and run. Not saying that’s going to happen, but that’s what they have to do. Anyway, Doleac, Atkins, Mercer, Amaechi are not known for their defense.

      3) Doc Rivers as a rookie coach is all that much better than Triano in terms of strategy. But he is a good player’s coach, and able to get the best out of the players, which is something Triano hasn’t been able to do.

      4) The Raptors didn’t play hard defensively last season. They weren’t a good defensive unit to begin with, but they weren’t even interested in stopping anyone at times. I am not asking them to be the 9th best team on defense, they don’t have that kind of roster, but they could aim for 15th or 16th and probably finish around 20th, which would be a huge improvement over last season’s.

  3. khandor Says:


    I am comparing the two rosters, however; and, IMO, the talent level on the Magic’s roster that season might have been slightly better than you realize.

    Here’s the Box Score from the Orlando [L] at Toronto game for Mar 17 2000.

    Here’s the Box Score> from the Orlando [W] vs Boston game for Mar 28 2000.

    From these 2 games, you should be able to see that:

    i. Armstrong/PG, Mercer/OG, Outlaw/SF, Wallace/PF and Amaechi/C were listed as their starters.

    ii. Atkins was their back-up PG.
    iii. Williams was their back-up OG.
    iv. Garrity was their main back-up SF/PF.
    v. Doleac was their back-up C.

    vi. Johnson was their utility Guard.
    vii. Maggette was their utility SF/PF
    viii. Strong was their utility Big.

    Then, if you match-up the individual pieces, based on defense and rebounding, it looks something like this:

    #1 Jack/Calderon vs Armstrong [Orl]
    #2 DeRozan vs Mercer [Tor]
    #3 Kleiza vs Outlaw [Orl]
    #4 Johnson vs Wallace [Orl]
    #5 Bargnani vs Amaechi [Orl]
    #6 Calderon/Jack vs Atkins [Even]
    #7 Barbosa vs Williams [Orl]
    #8 Weems vs Maggette [Orl]
    #9 Davis vs Strong [Orl]
    #10 Anderson vs Doleac [Orl]
    #11 Belinelli vs Johnson [Orl]
    #12 Alabi vs Garrity [Tor]
    #13 Banks vs ?
    #14 Evans vs ?
    #15 Dorsey vs ?
    #16 Triano vs Rivers [Orl]

    When you do this, the defense, rebounding, and coaching advantages which Orlando has becomes quite pronounced.

    • pchu1234 Says:

      Granted, that Magic roster have better defenders (though I would argue Amaechi vs Bargnan and Weems vs Maggettei, as terrible as Bargnani is, Amaechi was pretty worthless), they also have a lot of black holes on offense. The Raptors, as I stated earlier won’t be the 9th best team on defense like the Magic was, but they are better offensively, which should offset that difference.

  4. JT Grossmith Says:

    There is no question that the Raptors future is tied to how DD, Weems, Davis, and Johnson perform. They all need playing time — Davis not as much at the start but more as the season progresses. Also, Soloman Alabi will need some playing time over the course of the season. It likely suggests a losing season but by year’s end if these players progress and gel, it could be fairly interesting.

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