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The Grades: The Mid-Term Report

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It was but one short year ago that Toronto was coming out of a spiral that had them start the 2005-06 NBA Season at one and 16. Although they did string together a few wins after that horrific start, the team had only won 14 of the 41 games comprising the first half of their season. There was no denying it…the Raptors were one of the league's worst teams.

There were however some subtle signs of improvement, and some nice surprises. Mike James was somehow Toronto's second-leading scorer and having a career year. Rookies Joey Graham, Jose Calderon and Charlie Villanueva were showing glimpses of promise taking some of the sting out of the Vince Carter deal for GM Rob Babcock. Oh yeah and some guy named Chris Bosh was playing himself onto his first NBA All-Star team.

This year? After a superb pre-season, the Raptors didn’t exactly go gangbusters early on. The run-and-gun, shoot the ball 100 times a game, 8 second shot clock style that was promised just wasn't going to be successful given the players GM Bryan Colangelo (who had replaced Babcock) had assembled. Many, including us here at the HQ questioned whether the team was even as talented as the last incarnation of the Raptors. Who was the second best player? Was this international invasion going to work? Was Bargnani going to make an impact right away or was this another Darko situation? Now not all of questions have been answered to date but Toronto is already on pace to win 11 more games this season and lately is starting to show signs of "figuring it out."

Therefore with half of the games of the 2006-07 Season done, the HQ gives out its annual mid-term report card. Of course it would be a pretty quick read if we simply doled out one grade for the entire team so we’ve given our respective thoughts on each player’s performance up to now. Now be forewarned! The grades don't reflect a player's worth to the team, or value on an NBA-wide scale. It's simply how we FEEL a player has performed based on the expectations we had prior to the start of the season.

Aiiight….let’s get her done.

ANDREA BARGNANI:

Franchise: A-
Bargnani hasn't taken the league by storm yet, but I really didn't expect anything from him this year. I thought he'd get minutes but would look completely lost until about February when we'd start to see some of his potential. Instead, he's been the reason Toronto's won in about three of their games and we're already seeing just why Bryan Colangelo chose him first overall. Therefore I'm giving him an A- as he's almost completely surpassed my expectations except on the glass where I expected him to rebound a bit better.

Howland: B+
Call me a tougher grader but rooks have to earn A’s in these books. Bargnani has not exactly been a pupil of the school of hard knocks in his rookie year thus far and that can be attributed to his great basketball IQ and his even keel attitude. This kid has not only showed flashes, but flashes of brilliance. I’ve said it before and I will say it again…three years from now this team may have the newest version of KG and Dirk in the front-court. Every game this guy gets better. He moves his feet WAY better than I thought he would. Actually the only major concern I have is that as usual, fans will expect too much too soon. Of course you could say my expectations are already sky high. I gave-up on my fantasy season to get this kid on my keeper squad.

CHRIS BOSH:

Franchise: A
Bosh would get the one A+ on here if it wasn't for his injury. But if he had remained healthy, how could you not give him the max grade? His rebounding this season has absolutely blown me away and his extended range is another example of surpassing expectations. Yes, his free-throw percentage has dipped a bit but I think by season's end he'll be back on track.

Howland: A-
Not really sure about this grade. I guess I don’t want to give a firm A because Franchise is challenging me not to. When healthy this year he is for sure an A and not only because of what he is doing with the ball, but the leadership he is demonstrating. Fact is he has been beat-up and missing 12 games in the first half of the season is enough to keep his ceiling at an A-. I fully expect an A, or even an A+ grade by seasons end…but for now…an A…minus.

JOSE CALDERON:

Franchise: A-
Here's another player who's surpassed my expectations. He doesn’t always get consistent minutes but unlike some of his other bench-mates, he always gives consistent effort. He's been huge for the team in many games and you just feel a sense of calm and comfort when he comes in for TJ Ford. The Raptors are quite lucky to have this one-two punch at point and Calderon gets an A- in my book as my expectations, especially of his shooting, were quite a bit lower prior to the start of the season. I’d actually argue that the development of Calderon’s game from last season to this one might be second to none on this club!

Howland: B
Apparently Franchise is my grade 8 English teacher who gave out A’s to anyone who could print their own name. Calderon was excellent at the beginning, started to slow and has now started picking it up once again. I think Calderon’s season will be filled with ups and downs as there will be point where some of the wear and tear from playing all summer will catch up to him. He would totally get my "warrior of the week" award for coming back after what looked to be a devastating back injury. I, unlike my counterpart expected him to be a great deal better than last year. He has been. So based on that...B.

TJ FORD:

Franchise: B+
Funny how a few games can change a grade. If we had done our usual trimester grading scheme, the first one would have brought mixed results for the former Texas standout. Ford simply wasn't doing what I expected of him in terms of running the team. But with Bosh out, Ford really took the team on his back and played at almost an All-Star level, something I expected when we obtained him from the Bucks. I still wish he’d take a few less jumpers at times but overall, his play is completely silencing those who were critical of his acquisition.

Howland: B+
In some ways Ford infuriates me like Mike James, sometimes too much shoot, not enough pass. I agree with Franchise though that he has been exponentially better as of late. Early on I would have said C, max. Why? I expected more than was probably fair right from the beginning. This likely stems from the fact that the cost of acquiring him was high in my books (despite Villaneuva’s injury woes.) Early on Ford was not nearly meeting my expectations, but now he is climbing the curve. A shade short of an A- but I expect this grade to climb provided he can stay healthy. PS - Is there a more reckless PG duo in the NBA?

JORGE GARBAJOSA:

Franchise: B
Nothing fancy. This is Jorge Garbajosa. Leo Rautins gave him the nickname "Men's League" and I think this is a perfect description of the 29 year old rook. After watching him play with the Spanish team this past summer, Garbajosa is giving Toronto exactly what I expected - defense, grit, rebounding, and just an overall element to the team that's been missing for quite some time. We’re seeing less of an impact from him lately due to the development of Andrea Bargnani but I still feel that he’ll play some key minutes for Toronto before this season is done.

Howland: A-
Out of all of the off-season moves this is the one I questioned the most. Like my decision to wait until now to get HD TV…I was WRONG. Of course it took about 10 games for Porno to change my mind. Early on he was trying to hit from outside the arc and based of what I had researched I expected him to fail and struggle from the longer NBA 3 point line and failing he was. Jorge then decided to take one step forward, literally, to make a giant leap. Garbo can shoot the European three…and he needs to stay in that range. He realized that and since then he has been much improved. I expected the hustle and the D. I didn’t expect him to make the jump to the NBA and learn his role so quickly. Prior to the calf injury the team played much better while he was on the floor. Unfortunately the injury looks to be lingering and this seems to be slowing him down.

JOEY GRAHAM:

Franchise: C+
Oh Joey. I'm not going to revert to my Joey bashing ways, but the consistency is still not there. He's been good in spurts, but he's still not where I expected at this point, especially considering some of the flashes he teases fans with. And until Graham gives Toronto a regular 12 to 15 points and three or four rebounds a game, I'm not sure we can really talk about trading Mo Pete.

Howland: B-
Small steps young Franchise. I don’t expect the light to suddenly go on here. I expect a curve. It will come and Joey has shown it. When it comes right down to it I don’t think Mitchell is the right coach for him but that is for another article. He has definitely been better than last year, his defence is much improved and he has shown more. He is improving…and in many ways more than the SG/SF’s that were drafted before him including Martell Webster, Yaroslav Korolev, Rashad McCants and Antoine Wright. I really think Joey’s development is a key to this team’s success over the next 18 months. I expect slow and steady improvement and he generally has met my expectation.

KRIS HUMPHRIES:

Franchise: C
Here's another player I expected more from. Not a ton more, but I just still have a tough time wrapping my head around the fact that Humphries averaged over 20 points in college because at times he takes shots that my little sister wouldn't try! For the next semester I want to see a better mid-range game and touch around the rim. And I wish he wouldn’t force his game when he does get court-time. But otherwise, I think Humpty Hump is right on track.

Howland: C+
Just to be different…C+. My expectations between the date he was acquired and after pre-season were different. I still feel that Colangelo stole this guy but after his pre-season play I was hoping for more and as of late he’s been a little disappointing I have to admit. Of course all I ever really wanted was for him to be better than Hoffa (who for those keeping track has played in less than 10 games) and he is. I still think he could be a solid player but he is going to have a tough time getting any true PT considering the investments the club has made in the front-court already.

FRED JONES:

Franchise: F
No Hoffa or Loren Woods this year so someone's gotta be the goat. I say Fred Jones. Maybe my expectations were simply too high and Jones will never be anything more than a streaky, under-sized 3, good for a seventh or eigth man off the bench. But I really thought that after Salmons-gate, Toronto had a player who might be an even better fit for the up-tempo offence that it sounded it wanted to run with. Jones is an incredible athlete who should be able to get to the rim virtually at will but instead, I've seen a player who's settled for more jump shots than Vince Carter and I'm left wondering what the difference really is between him and Joey Graham… except that I had higher expectations for Freddie and Graham has actually been outplaying him! Sorry Freddie, but you fail this semester!

Howland: D
HARSH! It is tough to hand out this grade because I probably had higher expectations of this guy than anyone. I had visions of our own Ben Gordon…but as the offence has slowed so has Jones’ effectiveness. No doubt this guy can still play a key role for this squad and he will improve during the life of his contract but he has not exactly been Conan the Barbarian looking for contact. It has been disappointing and if he could regain some of the confidence he had in the pre-season it would be a great addition to what is already an above average offence.

DARRICK MARTIN:

Franchise: B+
Last year Martin scored an INC on a few of our report cards and even on others it was tough to evaluate him as he simply didn't play very much. This season, due to injuries, it's been a lot different. Martin's been quite valuable to the club and has actually gone above and beyond the call of duty of what I'd expect from a third-stringer.

Howland: B+
Martin has been surprisingly good considering I am pretty sure there is no other team in the L that would have signed this guy. He has shot the rock well and done some good things on the floor. He tries to do a little too much at times and can get a wee bit trigger happy but all in all, based on expectations, he has been very good.

RASHO NESTEROVIC:

Franchise: B+
Rasho, like TJ Ford, would have received a much different grade had we done a trimester report instead of one for each semester. He simply didn't fit with Toronto's original offensive scheme but lately, he's been rock-solid at both ends of the court in the Raptors more half-court style. Hell, I even picked him up in one of my fantasy pools!

Howland: B+
I was considering a low A here simply because he was key in the Raptors being able to hold it together during the Bosh injury. This guy has been great and considering my expectations, better than great. He is completely unselfish and a really good centre for this team. There were a few games where it looked like he had no role, but since they have slowed it down a little you can’t say enough about his play. As the season progresses he will continue to make it easier on CB4. As one of our readers pointed out - how is it Colangelo fleeced Buford? Has Buford ever been fleeced?

ANTHONY PARKER:

Franchise: A-
I originally put Parker in the same category as Rasho and Garbajosa. He's done exactly what I expected for Toronto but lately he seems to be much more comfortable in the offence and taking on an increased scoring role, something I definitely didn’t expect when he was signed. His greatest attribute of course is his defence where he’s relegated Mo Pete to bench detail. After the last few games you gotta ask yourself something. Is there much difference at all between Parker and Shane Battier beside the size of their contracts? What a great acquisition by Colangelo.

Howland: B+
Parker has met my expectations and looks like he could even exceed them. As I wrote recently, this guy gets no pub considering how steady he has been for this team. He is the definition of a Colangelo guy. He’s a total team player and you can tell is all class. Quite the basketball gene pool as well….his sister is tearing it up for the Lady Vols lately. Parker is a consistent contributor and becoming an HQ favourite, in particular on my fantasy sqaud.

MORRIS PETERSON:

Franchise: C
This was a tough one for me as most know that Peterson is my favourite Raptor. Mo's been disappointing for sure, but I also think he's a bit of a victim of circumstance. Between injuries and sporadic playing time, I'm not sure we really know yet just where Mo stands in terms of being able to help this team. I still feel he's the club's best long-distance threat and if he can stay healthy, and stay away from the rampant trade rumours, should have a much better second half and be a key contributor for Sam Mitchell.

Howland: B-
Mr. Raptor has been mentioned in various trade rumours lately and although he has not been the player he was last year, he has still contributed to this team’s success. Unfortunately, he’s back to his old inconsistent ways and you never know what you are going to get. He is part of that group of three (Parker, Graham and Peterson) and any given night two of these guys will get the majority of the minutes. One thing is for sure…he is being professional about the PT and the lack of role to the point that he won’t even acknowledge rumours of being dealt back to his home town.

UROS SLOKAR:

Franchise: INC
Slokar played only 10 minutes to date and therefore we ruled him out of contention for this semester. Hopefully he gets some D League time to sharpen his skills as in pre-season he looked to be a potential contributor down the road. I'd actually like to see Mitchell use him a bit more in certain situations to determine if he could at least be a factor on the glass for Toronto.

Howland: INC
Well if we were grading smiles and exhibiting an appreciation for just being in the L he gets an A. Hell Crest Whitestrips should be his sponsor. Unfortunately a smile doesn’t get you any burn. I don’t think the Raps should send him to the D-League, I just think he needs to learn in practice and get more comfortable with the surroundings. Considering where he was drafted if we get ANYTHING out of this guy it was a smart investment.

PAPE SOW:

Franchise: INC
This one goes without saying. Pape has been cleared to play again however and it will be interesting to see how he fits into Mitchell’s rotation.

Howland: INC.

Another HQ favourite. Pape adds some depth and you can never question the hustle!

PJ TUCKER:

Franchise: B-
Another tough call. Tucker didn't play that much, but when he did, gave the team almost exactly what I expected of him when he was drafted out of Texas. He's a bit more turnover prone than I would have imagined, but his rebounding and toughness inside has been a welcome addition at times so far this season for the Raptors. Here’s to hoping his time in the D-League helps round out his game in the long run.

Howland: B
He gets a B on nickname alone. Baby Mule? How did Mitchell even come up with this? He has actually made a pretty solid transition to the NBA game considering his size. He is a "will" player and a guy fans will grow to love. Toronto fans have always appreciated the "hustle and tough" guys…maybe it is the hockey mentality, but Tucker is both. This stint in the D-League is not a bad idea in my opinion provided he can work on some moves outside of 12 feet.

SAM MITCHELL:

Franchise: B+
And now we come to the coaching staff. We only have Mitchell's name on the report card as he's the figure-head, however, this grade is for his assistants as well. I was expecting to see improved defence and rotations this year and I've seen both. No, Mitchell's not yet Larry Brown, but playing Rasho on KG (which even though they were former teammates, athletically doesn't seem like a smart move) and other such decisions have increased my level of respect for Toronto's coach who I hope will continue to improve. Defensively, his use of the zone defense and various other schemes has been much welcome in Raptorland and here's to seeing more of this in combination with a healthy team in the second half of the season.

Howland: B+
Considering the situation Mitchell is in he has done a great job. He is a sitting duck and knows that the axe could fall at anytime. Nevertheless he has been much better than last year. In fact as time passes I can’t help but feel that much of last year was not a result of poor coaching but poor players. Mitchell was been willing to change the game plan as the season has moved along and as he has gotten to know his players better, he has also shown much more from a defensive standpoint. He has not been perfect but he is growing with the team. If this team finishes around the .500 mark I think he gets locked-up.

BRYAN COLANGELO:

Franchise: A
TJ Ford's recent play gives him the A in my books. With the exception of Fred Jones, and maybe Kris Humphries to a much lesser degree, the players Bryan has brought in have done exactly what I expected and have fit as I had foreseen. In fact some of them have played beyond expectations and really you have to hand it to Bryan for remaking this team with what was considered such a weak free-agent class. Now if we could just have a healthy club, look out Atlantic Division!

Howland: B+
Colangelo has done exactly what he said he was going to do. The atmosphere and culture of this team has changed. Just check the attendance and the complete lack of negative press this team has gotten lately. His off-season moves have paid off in spades and everytime a player is available it seems like he tries to get the Raps involved. This team is in good hands.

The HQ