Mid-Season Grades for the Toronto Raptors
Toronto Raptors Mid-Season Grades
The Toronto Raptors have hit the midway point of their season posting a 15-26 record, meaning it’s time to grade the team on their first half performance.
Every Raptor will receive his first half grade based on their individual performance and season expectations. If the player is living up to or exceeding his preseason expectations, he’ll receive a good grade. However, if the player hasn’t performed up to the level expected from him, then he’ll be awarded a poor rating.
It’s been difficult to judge Coach Dwane Casey’s club given the injuries that have plagued Toronto through the first half of the year. Four of the team’s starters on opening night have all missed double-digit games, while several key bench players have suffered the same fate. In fact only three players, DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis and Jose Calderon, have managed to play in every game. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that those three have arguably been the team’s three best players at this point of the season.
The biggest blow to the team in the injury department has been Andrea Bargnani seeing himself limited to only 21 games. Plagued by injuries that cost him most of last year’s shorten season, Bargnani hasn’t had any better luck this year as he remains out with an elbow injury. Depending on which Raptors fan you ask, the seven-footer being out of the line-up isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Although this season has seen its challenges, one bright spot for Toronto remains the talented youth core the team has formed. Two rookies, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, have arrived on the scene getting the fan base excited about their potential. Unfortunately, neither has been able to avoid the injury bug, with Ross being bothered by his ankle and Valanciunas remaining out of action since early December.
Despite the hurdles, the Raptors still battled this season when a lesser team would curl up and allow the injury excuses to take over.
For that reason, it’s time to grade the young Toronto players on their first half performances.Michael covers ACC and Big East basketball along with the Toronto Raptors for Rant Sports, you can follow him on Twitter @MichaelxRoberts
Last June’s second round pick has only played in 15 games and the majority of them have come in January. Still, he earns a B- for coming in off the bench for an injury riddled roster and giving his team effective minutes. Acy sat on the bench for almost three months but when his name has been called he’s delivered four points, 2.6 rebounds, and shot 54.2% playing 10.6 minutes in January.
Like most rookie big men, he’s quick to get into foul trouble and Acy has made his mistakes on the court. However, considering not much was expected from the second round pick this season, he’s proven the selection was well worth it.
Gray has only played 20 games this season after somewhat regressing in his second year with the Raptors. In last’s year shorten season he averaged 3.9 points and 5.7 rebounds whereas this season he’s averaging 2.2 points and 2.2 rebounds. For a team that’s desperate for a rebounding big man, the seven-foot, 270lbs center should be able to contribute more and consistently crack the rotation.
Toronto’s third string point-guard is another player that should crack the rotation more but is a victim of not enough minutes to go around. Lucas has played great when Lowry has gone down with injury but has struggled to see minutes otherwise. He’s not shy to enter a game and start jacking up three-pointers, but he’s proven if the team trades one of Lowry or Calderon, they have a quality back-up waiting.
Signed due to all the injuries early in the season, Pietrus quickly found himself in the starting line-up and now can’t even find a spot in the rotation. Knee issues appear to be bothering the veteran as he hasn’t seen action in the previous six games. He scored 21 points in his third game as a Raptor and it’s been all downhill since, after looking a step slow defensively and offering little on the offensive end.
Kleiza has been limited to only 20 games as the 6-foot-8 small forward can’t seem to stay healthy. The Raptors are a better team with him in the line-up with him providing a scoring spark off the bench. However, he’s been far too inconsistent, likely due to the injuries. One game he can score 20 points, the next he’ll finish with two. Another game he’ll have 17 points off the bench, then he'll finish 1 for 8 from the field in the following contest.
After looking lost on the court early in the year, Fields appears to be finally feeling comfortable in Toronto playing his Playstation Vita. He missed 24 games, needing surgery to repair nerve damage in his arm and required time to get back into game shape. Upon his return he’s found his way back into the starting line-up and in four of his previous seven games has recorded double-digit rebounds, including two double-double performances. His best performance of the season came in his last outing delivering 18 points, 10 rebounds, and four steals while shooting 8 for 11 from the field in a win against the Los Angeles Lakers. If Fields continues to show the form he’s displayed recently, his end of season grade will be a lot higher than his mid-season one.
It’s difficult to judge Lowry accurately given the way he’s been in and out of the line-up for stretches after missing 13 games in the first half. He’s clearly been bothered by the injuries as its effected his game rhythm and ability to get truly comfortable in the first year with a new team. He lost his starting job to Calderon after his second injury and has been up and down since. Lowry is still the team’s third leading scorer despite coming off the bench, averaging 14.2 points, 5.9 assists and 4.5 rebounds. He hasn’t played bad by any means with the exception of maybe shooting too much at times, however he has a tendency to leave fans wanting more.
Lowry has shown he can be a game changer with the Raptors, he was looking like an all-star when the team opened the season. Unfortunately the injuries have played a factor in his first season in Toronto and the point guard controversy hasn’t helped either.
One of the toughest pills to swallow in the season’s first half for Raptors fans was losing Valanciunas to injury. As painful as this season has been at times, the one blessing was being able to watch the development of the team’s future. Luckily, other youngsters on the roster have stepped up in Valanciunas’ absence but make no mistake. The team and fan base cannot wait to have the rookie big man back.
He’s missed the past 13 games after starting the first 28 games of his career, averaging 7.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks while shooting 52.4% from the floor. Fairly respectable numbers for a first-year big man as its common knowledge it’s always harder for the bigger guys to adjust to the league than their smaller counterparts. Beyond his numbers, Valanciunas has shown his fearless attitude, hardworking mentality and never quit attitude, three characteristics that have turned him into an instant fan favorite in Canada.
The Raptors future is beginning to look brighter each day with the development of their young core. Once Valanciunas returns from injury, the sun will shine down just a little more on Toronto.
When the 8th overall selection was made last June and Ross’ name was said the entire country of Canada, along with most of the United States, collectively said: “Who?”
Fast forward to the mid-way point of the season and the last time Raptors fans jumped out of the seat for a rookie the same way they have for Ross, he was wearing number 15. No, that wasn’t a Jorge Garbajosa reference. Ross’ leaping ability has resulted in a Canada-wide campaign to get the rookie into this year's dunk contest.
He might not be Vince Carter, however Ross’ future looks very bright and there isn’t a single Raptors fan still questioning the pick. Instead, the debate now revolves around what the first-year guard’s ceiling could be. He’s already a better shooter than DeRozan, and their athletic abilities are comparable. Certainly DeRozan is much more polished but what kind of player will Ross be when he reaches the point DeRozan is currently at? Many are suggesting Ross could turn out to be a better player than DeRozan at the end of both their careers. It’s early but given the upside shown by Ross, it’s a debate that can’t be brushed aside quickly.
The Everywhere Man has become an overnight sensation in Toronto only his game did everything but improve overnight. Few players have taken a journey to the NBA like Anderson has but it’s been that journey that molded him into the player he is today. He’s averaging 12.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.9 assists off the bench this season after showing up to the team on a 10 day contract last spring. He was forced to miss 17 games this season but his return to the line-up helped spark the team’s winning streak in December. He plays with a chip on his shoulder and doesn’t back down from anyone. He’s gotten into verbal confrontations with DeMarcus Cousins and Dwight Howard, proving he’s fearless on the court given his 6-foot-6 frame. That type of toughness is exactly what coach Casey wishes he could throw in a bottle and feed to the rest of his roster.
Toronto could not ask more from Anderson as he’s exceeded everyone’s expectations at this point of the season.
Most Raptors utter the same thought when Bargnani’s name is mentioned these days: “The year we get the first overall pick, of course there isn’t a clear cut number one.”
The Bargnani era will eventually come to an end as the relationship with the former first overall pick and Toronto needs to result in a trade. At this point there is little chance of saving the relationship unless Bargnani returns from injury and magically looks like the Dirk Nowitzki type forward the general manger hoped he’d be. Fact is, Bargnani is an incredible offensive talent but after that only questions surround the seven-footer.
Is he capable of playing defense? Where is his compete level? Why doesn’t he show any emotion and always have that blank stare on his face? Why does he jack up awful off balanced three-pointers when the previous seven attempts didn’t work?
Judging Bargnani prior to the elbow injury that has cost him most of the season, he looked lazy, out of shape and uninterested. Fans finally had enough after a 2 for 19 shooting performance where he refused to attack within the perimeter instead choosing to throw up ugly three-pointer after ugly three-pointer. Now, everybody thought the next shot was going to go in, which is why he kept shooting which does say a lot about his talent. But another reason why everybody thought they were going in is he had enough time to sit down and enjoy his Primo pasta and sauce because he was so wide open. Still, his refusal to attack offensively within the arc was the last straw for a frustrated fan base, as Toronto has grown tired of his uninspired efforts.
It certainly didn’t help his case in Toronto after Davis was inserted into the starting line-up the team flourished. It’s hard to find any Raptor supporter who argues that is simply coincidence.
Many weren’t crazy about Johnson’s contract entering the season but now that he’s having one of the best years of his career, the contract doesn’t seem so bad. The last high school player ever drafted is in his 8th season yet is only 25 years old averaging nine points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.1 steals and one block while shooting 55% from the field. The 6-foot-9 forward is doing it all in only 25.1 minutes off the bench for the Raptors.
Johnson’s age shows he still has plenty of time to grow as a player. The defense he’s shown this season as an under sized center is nothing short of remarkable. Night after night Johnson gives up a size advantage but never complains, battling to the final buzzer with every bit of energy he has in left in his body. Too often he’s forced to leave games as he’s relentless hustle on the boards sees him roll an ankle or hit the floor hard on a nightly basis. It never keeps Johnson out for long as he tapes up the ankle and jumps back onto the court, proving there’s little doubt who the team’s toughest player is.
Johnson is the definition of a warrior and every team with championship aspirations needs a player like him to do all the little things in order to win.
The third year power forward is having a breakout season averaging 9.4 points and 6.6 rebounds. He’s stepped up for the injured Bargnani starting 20 games, appearing to gain confidence with each passing contest. In January he’s averaging 14.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists while shooting 55.2% from the floor. Nobody doubted Davis’ athletic ability as it’s been his offense that has been most impressive. His improved jump shot and emergence as a quality offensive threat has only helped most fans in their argument for the team to trade Bargnani. After all, it's been with Davis in the starting line-up Toronto's looked its strongest this season.
A big overlooked part of DeRozan’s summer before the season was his addition to the Team USA Olympics Practice Squad. He spent parts of the summer training with the most talented players in the world, getting a feel for what they do to make themselves better.
DeRozan clearly picked up a few tricks during the training camp, going on to average career numbers in the first half of the season for the Raptors. The fourth-year guard is delivering 17.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.1 steals per game for Toronto.
DeRozan has improved leaps and bounds this season while being the number one option on offense, something he struggled with last season when Bargnani was injured. This season when Bargnani went down, DeRozan was better prepared and proved it as he helped the Raptors season avoid catastrophe.
DeRozan isn’t going to be a team’s number one option on a championship squad but he is talented enough to be its third or even second offensive threat. Western Conference powers have shut down DeRozan, partly due to his inability to truly beat teams with his jump shot and partly due to Toronto’s lack of a second consistent scoring option. The Raptors have plenty of players that can step up on a nightly basis but finding players to do it consistently has been Toronto’s biggest struggle. It begs the question how good could this team be if Bargnani was able to be the player he showed flashes of last season. An inside-out combination could be effective with Bargnani hanging out on the perimeter pulling his big away from the rim, leaving the lane wide open for DeRozan to drive to the basket. Basically the opposite of how every other team builds their roster but you need to work with what you have and right now the Raptors don’t even have that option.
DeRozan isn’t “the guy” but he’s been put in that role this season and hasn’t looked out of place most nights. He’s been asked to carry the scoring load and met the challenge with success. In the long term, DeRozan is a good enough to be a piece of the puzzle, however he isn’t talented enough to the team’s center piece. If the Raptors could ever acquire a legitimate number one scoring threat than its likely DeRozan will be even better given the pressure that would come off his shoulders to produce. However, there’s no denying this is the best Raptors fans have seen him in his short professional career and it’s left Toronto wondering how much he has left to grow.
It’s scary to think where the Raptors would be if it wasn’t for Calderon. The team’s franchise leader in assists continues to be the heart and soul of the team averaging 11 points, 7.6 assists and 2.4 rebounds. He has a triple-double along with eight other double-double performances under his belt and several where he just missed out on even more double-doubles. Most fans wanted him traded after the addition of Lowry but given his play in a contract year, many are hoping he sticks around past this season.
His future in Toronto is uncertain but there is little doubt Calderon’s trade value has gone through the roof. The Raptors might be able to move him for a quality addition to their young core, however given the veteran’s love for the city of Toronto, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Calderon re-sign in the off-season. The price would have to work for both sides and given Calderon’s play in a contract year, that could turn out to be an issue. Regardless, at this point the value the Raptors could receive in a trade compared to the known value Calderon provides the team, might be worth hanging onto the talented playmaker. After all, Toronto fans know all-to-well how difficult it is to find unselfish point guards given their history with the likes of Mike James and T.J. Ford.