Midseason Grades


Even while sitting at 37-15 in second place in the East, it feels like the Toronto Raptors haven’t shown yet who they truly are this season. They were so hot early in the season that playing Toronto felt like a scheduled loss for opponents. Then scheduled rest and injury decimated the Raptors’ depth charts, and they’ve been slightly less impressive, even though they’ve still played like a contender. Despite returning to near-perfect health recently, the Raptors still have more to show. With the entire scope of the half season (or so) that’s already passed us by, let’s dole out some grades.

Like the quick reaction grades, these are based on expected performance. A star who struggles will receive a worse grade than an over-performing role player, even if the star technically has played better in a vacuum.

Danny Green: +/- 8.3, 10.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.8 blocks, 42.3% from 3, 44.6% from the field – A+

No Raptor has had a more impressive half season based on expectations coming into the campaign. The man was a throw-in from the San Antonio trade before the season. In many ways, among players in the trade, Green has had the largest boost to his stock as a result of the swap. He has loved the freedom in Nick Nurse’s improvisational system, and his game has expanded dramatically. Green has taken to Toronto as quickly as Toronto has taken to him.

We knew Green was a shooter, but his 42.3 percent from deep is a god-send to a team that otherwise struggles from range. We knew Green was a defender, but his ability to hound opposing teams’ first options has saved Kawhi Leonard for his Herculean duties on the offensive end. What we didn’t know was Green’s ability to handle, pass, and even post up; his versatility has meant that Green is far more than a 3-and-D wing. He has been one of the brightest stars for the Raptors, and almost every winning lineup has included Green on the court.

Pascal Siakam: +/- 6.7, 15.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.7 blocks, 32.4% from 3, 55.9% from the field – A+

Siakam is the spiciest, spinning-est, most supercharged player to wear a Raptors’ jersey. Maybe ever. We knew coming into the season that he would pop, but no one could have expected his all-star level play. (Maybe, just maybe, he will actually be an all-star. We’ll find out on Thursday.) His finishing has skyrocketed, and he is now a passable shooter from deep. He’s elite in isolation and the post, and he is probably the second most disruptive defender on the team, behind Leonard. Siakam has blossomed, and he is close to being a legitimate second option on a title contending team.

Siakam is so good because he can do so many things. On offence, he can score in a variety of different ways, but he’s an excellent passer, as well. He already hit a game-winner! He can still play too quickly for his brain to catch up, but those moments are increasingly more rare. He may not be ready for the pressure of playoff defences that hone in on every detail of his game, but we weren’t expecting him to be ready for that! On defence, he can guard 1-5, and his play at center was integral in the Raptors stealing one from the Indiana Pacers. Siakam forever.

Serge Ibaka: +/- 5.3, 16.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.3 blocks, 27.0% from 3, 52.9% from the field – A+

Ibaka joins the ranks of players who have differed dramatically from our preseason expectations. The fan base wrote off Ibaka during the playoffs, but he has returned a seemingly younger, more consistent player. Ibaka may have lost his three-point shot, but does it really matter so much? He has been deadly from the inside, and his scoring from the 5-10 foot range has frequently been the most consistent offence the Raptors can muster. Ibaka’s defence has been occasionally spectacular, but always solid. His paint protection has fallen off recently, but that’s probably because he’s been forced to play so many minutes. He is the best rim protector on the team. Ibaka is probably the best-looking player in the NBA, and that would be worth an A+ on its own. But his play has been one of the most structurally important parts of the Raptors’ season, and who expected that? The converted center is thriving, and no praise is too much for Ibaka. He deserves some all-star consideration of his own.

Kyle Lowry:+/- 8.6, 14.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 9.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.5 blocks, 32.2% from 3, 41.0% from the field – A

If you zoom out until you’re looking at the Raptors’ season like you’re looking at the Earth from space, Kyle Lowry has changed. It’s deeper than just his slump from deep. For an eternity, in terms of how long franchises usually employ the same players, Lowry has been the Raptors’ second option. He complemented DeMar DeRozan perfectly. That’s just not true anymore. Did you know Lowry is averaging fewer points than Ibaka and Siakam? The last time he wasn’t the second-leading scorer on the Raptors was 2013-14, when a half-year Rudy Gay scored 1.5 points more than Lowry. Lowry’s 14.2 points per game is the lowest of his career since 2012-13, when Andrea Bargnani’s broken corpse still roamed the Air Canada Center. Lowry just isn’t the Raptors’ second option anymore.

If you zoom in and look at the details, Lowry is exactly what he has always been. He still drives the team’s success. He still thrives by dominating the smallest possible details. He is the best in the league at taking charges, one of the best rim protectors and post defenders for his size, and he is one of the best distributors as well. Lowry wins, full stop, and he still leads the team in plus-minus. Lowry remains above everything.

Kawhi Leonard: +/- 5.0, 27.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.5 blocks, 37.2% from 3, 50.3% from the field – A

Leonard is a legitimate MVP candidate. He’s one of the most efficient high-volume scorers in the league. He remains one of the best and most fearsome defenders in the league. For a player who sat out all but nine games last season with injury, his spectacular and consistent play has been inspiring.

Yet the Raptors have had a better winning percentage with him not playing (76.9 percent) than they do as a team (71.1 percent). The 13 games without Leonard isn’t the smallest sample size, either. His rest days and the fact that no one knows if he’s going to re-sign in Toronto can be irksome, as well. None of that should obscure how impressive his performance has been. He has the chance to be the best player on the court in every game the Raptors play. If the Raptors go anywhere in the playoffs, Leonard will be more responsible than anyone.

Norman Powell: +/- 0.3, 7.9 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks, 38.5% from 3, 49.2% from the field – A-

Powell has evolved from, statistically, one of the least effective players in the NBA last season, to a solid and trust-worthy role player off the bench. Before the season, Toronto wouldn’t have been able to give him away (probably even with a pick attached), and now he’s once again a valuable asset. His shot is dropping, his drives are effective, and his defence is tenacious. Powell will almost definitely have two or three moments during the playoffs that make me hide under my couch, but he will also definitely have the same number of plays that make opponents burst into tears and pull out their hair. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Fred Van Vleet: +/- 2.7, 10.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks, 36.5% from 3, 40.1% from the field – B+

The Raptors have asked more this season from Van Vleet, and he has not always lived up to the bargain. His game on the ball, playing as a proper point guard who is asked to create for others, is still rudimentary. He is especially poor at hitting the roller in an advantageous position, which held back Jonas Valanciunas to a great extent earlier in the season. Still, Van Vleet plays terrific defence and moves so well without the ball that he boosts any lineup that includes him. His ability to create, handle, and shoot is a skill of dire need for the team. His jumper is coming around, as is his finishing around the rim. His commitment to fresh haircuts is inspiring.

Jonas Valanciunas: +/- 2.3, 12.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.8 blocks, 30.0% from 3, 57.5% from the field – B+

Valanciunas has been injured for quite some time, but his performance this season has been less than I expected. He didn’t keep the starting role that he’s held for his entire career, which is more due to Ibaka’s incredible rise, but is still not a great thing for Valanciunas. He is playing the fewest minutes of his career, as well. When he was playing, the Raptors gave him the lion’s share of his minutes on bench lineups that didn’t give him the ball on offence. It was not the ideal usage of the big man, and you can’t blame Valanciunas for that.

Still, Valanciunas is one of the most efficient scorers in the league, and his defence is actually a positive at this point. No one else on the team can replicate his skills, and the Raptors sorely miss him. His non-‘A’ grade is mostly due to missing so many games; he remains a consistent and integral component of the Raptors’ success.

Delon Wright: +/- negative 1.1, 6.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.3 blocks, 34.9% from 3, 44.1% from the field – C+

Wright has had the ball taken out of his hands a fair amount, and he has not responded well. He’s still not a deadly threat from outside, and he doesn’t make up for it with whirring cuts and screens. His passing has plateaued. Still, his defence is valuable, and he occasionally provides huge bursts of energy and transition scoring.

OG Anunoby: +/- negative 1.2, 7.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, 33.6% from 3, 44.3% from the field – C-

Before the season, Anunoby was viewed as a blue-chip prospect on par with Siakam. His tumultuous play has reduced his value as an asset. His skills plateaued across the board, including shooting from deep, handling, and passing. His defence is far less consistent than it was in his rookie year. Still, he’s so long, athletic, and young, that Anunoby could develop into a high-level player. The season hasn’t gone as desired for Anunoby, but his future remains bright.

Greg Monroe: +/- negative 2.1, 4.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.2 blocks, 45.5% from the field – D

Monroe was viewed coming into the season as a high-value third-string center, but he hasn’t been playable in practically any situation. He tries hard, and he’s a loveable guy, but his inability to play defence or score from underneath the rim are killers. His passing has not been as advertised.

CJ Miles: +/- negative 2.9, 5.3 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.2 blocks, 30.3% from 3, 33.0% from the field – F

If Miles can’t shoot, then Miles can’t play. He doesn’t offer any other skill of value on the court. Miles is one of the nicest guys in the NBA, and he offers veteran leadership and solid intangibles off the court. Still, his jumper has been broken, so his season has been lost.

Malachi Richardson, Lorenzo Brown, Patrick McCaw, Jordan Loyd, Chris Boucher – Incomplete

Richardson is billed as a gunslinger, but he hasn’t been able to seize any minutes. He is shooting 32.0 percent from deep. Brown is no longer with the team. McCaw is a promising defender, but too raw on the other end to contribute yet.

Now, Jordan Loyd and Chris Boucher are promising. If they had played more minutes, I would have been tempted to give them scores in the ‘A’ range. Both are among the best G-League players in history, and both are developing prospects with real futures as NBA contributors. It’s worth mentioning that Boucher averages the second-most blocks on the team, despite only averaging 5.5 minutes per game. His 1.1 blocks per game are laughable for his low minute average. (And he’s shooting 40.9 percent from deep.)

Nick Nurse – B+

Nurse hasn’t been as experimental as advertised, though his usage of Ibaka as center has been revelatory. His zone defence has strangled opponents. Still, the offence has been choked and congested at times, relying on isolations and post-ups far more than many other teams. In many games, it’s seemed like the Raptors have been carried by the individual brilliance of players like Siakam or Leonard instead of by solid gameplanning from their coach. When it’s come time for a game-winning attempt, Nurse has almost exclusively run the same play that his predecessor, Dwane Casey, used: an isolation for his star player. Of course, almost every coach in the league does the same thing in that situation, but Toronto’s poor execution in those situations has stood out. Leonard has shot 1-for-5 in situations when Toronto is ahead or behind by 3 or fewer points, with 24 seconds or less remaining in the fourth quarter or overtime.

Still, Toronto leads the league in wins despite having played a difficult, compressed schedule, and suffering a variety of injuries and absences. Nurse is a first-year coach, and he admits that he’s still learning on the job. Any criticisms are nit-picking thus far. The big picture has been excellent.

70 thoughts on “Midseason Grades”

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