I'm not used to following a top five team. The Raptors are legitimately one of the best teams in the league, and are better than they've ever been in their twenty-year history, including that halcyon 2000-01 season. This is heady stuff. They're not championship contenders, and may never be, but at this point anything less than getting through to the conference finals would be a devastating disappointment.
Comments below to a post I made in the sports thread back in October that really belongs here:
Raptors preseason thoughts:
1. Kyle Lowry is in awesome shape, but I don't think his poor man's imitation of Allen Iverson will work. He proved last year that he can't dominate opposing teams night in night out for a whole season, as it wears him down physically and mentally. I wish he'd focus more on passing.
2. DeMar DeRozan is now a seasoned veteran who has reached the limit of his development. His game is now carved in stone, but unfortunately it consists of not much more than killing ball movement while trying to create a jump shot in predictable ways. When he isn't half-heartedly dribbling toward the hoop in predictable ways. I don't like his game.
3. Jonas Valanciunas is a solid presence. It's great that he's worked on his low post jumper to make the pump fake an actual threat. Nobody went for it last year because they knew he couldn't shoot.
4. Terrence Ross will bounce around the league for a while, and eventually end up in Europe or China.
5. DeMarre Carroll is an awesome addition. Really like everything that he's shown so far.
6. Cory Joseph. Love, love, love his game. What an outstanding addition to the team. That he's a hometown boy is the icing on the cake.
7. Patrick Patterson? Meh.
8. I want Anthony Bennett to make an impact and turn his career around purely for nativist reasons. It would be really sweet to have two TO boys playing significant roles on a winning Raptors squad, so I feel really protective and sentimental about him, but I fear that he's going to flame out. You can tell he's willing to do the "stretch four" thing by shooting three-pointers, and he's not all that bad at it, but he's phreakin' lazy and uninvolved on defence. He should be banging those boards and terrorizing the paint like a proverbial bull in a china shop, but he's too soft. He also looks totally gassed after running up and down the floor a couple of times. I get the feeling that he won't last long, but I'd like to be proven wrong.
9. Bruno Caboclo has one year on an NBA roster under his belt, and he still doesn't understand the game. However, he's only 20 years old, and he has actually improved to the point where he can score a bucket or two when he's on the floor. He's got the body for the game, but you can tell he didn't grow up in a basketball culture. He's either going to spend the next three years turning into a near superstar, or he's never going to get the hang of it, and will end up back home in Brazil in some pro league or other.
10. Bismack Biyombo is a pouncing lion who gives the defence a much-needed shot of adrenaline.
11. I wish that James Johnson was a better player, because he's built in the Lebron James mould, and is really reminiscent of James when he's on his game. But he's not good enough to force himself into the Raptors system. His style doesn't really fit with the team, so once again it will be a struggle to find minutes for him.
12. Luis Scola is a dependable veteran who is an asset to any team.
13. They'll probably keep one of the rookies and send the rest to the D-League. I don't really know who's who yet.
I'm wrong about a few things. After a disappointing season last year due to injury DeMar DeRozan has turned into a fully fledged elite all-star player who can create and make shots consistently. I think he must have the best midrange game in the league, and his jumper is silky smooth and unstoppable.
I still worry about Kyle Lowry. He started hot, but he's cooled off now, and I still have my doubts about his ability to sustain the effort the whole way. When he and DeRozan are in the domination zone this team can compete with anyone, but the Raptors are vulnerable to better teams when Lowry isn't in take-charge mode.
Terrence Ross has become confident in his sorely-needed three-point shooting. It looks like he's actually a valuable contributor.
Luis Scola is a revelation. "He out-slows you," as Jack Armstrong like to joke. He's been a joy to watch, and is taking and hitting more three-pointers this season than in all of the previous years of his career combined.