Last season's record easily could have been worse: In six of Toronto's 33 victories, the Raptors had to overcome deficits of 16 or more points.
Record: 33-49 (T11 in East) Points scored: 99.7 (7th in NBA) Points allowed: 101.4 (25th) Coach: Sam Mitchell (second season with the Raptors)
The top pick could be a pleasant surprise. The season will not be
The day after June's draft, Charlie Villanueva was on a plane to Toronto, scanning a newspaper. He wished he'd watched the in-flight movie instead. "It was like every article said the same thing," Villanueva recalls. "Why did the Raptors draft this guy?"
The 6'11", 240-pound power forward from UConn should have seen it coming. His surprise selection at No. 7 had been panned by numerous broadcast experts, who said that Villanueva was soft, moody and not a hard worker. He also played the same position as Raptors star Chris Bosh.
But Villanueva had heard worse. As a 13-year-old in Queens, N.Y., doctors diagnosed that he had alopecia areata, a skin disease that left him with no hair on his body. "Kids made fun of me," Villanueva recalls. "Fortunately I had basketball to help me forget about it and motivate me."
Toronto coach Sam Mitchell also shrugs off the criticism of his new big man. The second-year coach is impressed with Villanueva's skill and versatility. After watching Villanueva average 17.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists in three games in the L.A. Summer League, a beaming Mitchell said, "This kid can play."
Villanueva still must prove he can play NBA defense. He could also have trouble getting minutes if Bosh, who'll see some time at center, returns to power forward full time. But Villanueva is intent on making the naysayers eat crow. "I definitely feel I have something to prove," he says.
And if he needs a reminder, he won't have to look far. His agent saved the paper from that flight to Toronto. It's now hanging in Villanueva's apartment. -- Marty Burns