Final Grade: A+ | Midseason Grade: A-
48-33, No. 3 in the East | Midseason record: 21-20, No. 4 in the East
I canít understand why the Raptorsí success hasnít produced more buzz. Just 12 months ago, NBA writers were brainstorming new and creative ways to mock the decisions of president Bryan Colangelo, as Toronto finished 34-48 and missed the playoffs for the fifth year in a row. And now? Toronto has claimed the Atlantic Division title, secured home-court advantage in the first round, placed swingman DeMar DeRozan (22.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, four assists) on the All-Star team and in the Most Improved Player discussion, and enjoyed an All-Star-caliber season from point guard Kyle Lowry (17.9 points, 7.4 assists, 4.7 rebounds). These accomplishments come with a mandatory ďThey occurred in the EastĒ caveat, but nobody saw this coming.
Dwane Casey opened the season on the hot seat; heís my pick for Coach of the Year. Rudy Gay and DeRozan looked like a match made in hell; new GM Masai Ujiri wisely addressed that issue quickly, trading Gay in December and setting the table for Torontoís move up the standings. The Raptors will improve by at least 14 wins this season despite trading their two highest-paid players from last year, Gay and Andrea Bargnani. Credit Casey for overseeing a smooth transition to a blue-collar identity that plays to the strengths of the Lowry/DeRozan pairing and has led to a No. 10 ranking in defense, up from 22nd last season.
Because of their youth and fairly anonymous roster, the Raptors figure to be a popular upset pick in the first round. Even a brief playoff appearance, though, wouldnít take the luster off their remarkable regular-season achievements. If Iím Ujiri, Iím lining up Game 1 courtside seats for Rob Ford, Drake, Justin Bieber and former Raptor Tracy McGrady, all in hopes of provoking some well-earned buzz around the Raptors.