-Rookies Andrea Bargnani and Jorge Garbajosa being selected to the NBA All-Rookie team.
-A Coach of the Year award for Sam Mitchell
-And for the first time in what seemed like centuries, a playoff experience for players and fans alike.
Yes, you could say that the Raptors had a good second half to their season.
However as usual, our grades don't look at the team’s overall play but look at the individuals who made up the club. The grades also don’t reflect a player's worth to the team or NBA-wide value. This is simply how we feel a player has performed based on the expectations we had prior to the start of the season.
In this edition, (and in part II to follow on Wednesday) we’ve included the post-season in the second half marks and we’re also showing the mid-term grades as a point of reference which are then used to give the player a final season grade. Just like in school, the second semester is given more weight (as it includes the playoffs) so if a player receives two marks that won’t average out (say a B+ in the first term and an A- in the second) he receives the second term grade (hence an A- in this example.) We’ll kick things off with the Big Rook and as usual you’ll find that Howland and I can’t seem to agree on much of anything.
Howland: (B+) + (Mid-Term: B+ ) = B+
Ah what could have been. Bargnani was really starting to come into his own right before his appendectomy and unfortunately the injury, to quote the Tragically Hip, "Couldn’t have come at a worse time." With no time to really get his feet under him prior to the playoffs, Bargs didn’t get comfortable until late in the series and by then it was too late. When Il Mago did play in the second half of the season he continued to show more and more offensively and next year it could really get tough for opponents trying to guard the 7-footer. Perhaps the thing that impressed me most was that he was starting to improve defensively, something I was very concerned about at the beginning of the year. This bodes well for his future at perhaps the 5 and with his excellent basketball IQ, he should continue to improve quite quickly. On the whole it was a really solid rookie season and with an off-season of work ahead this kid is going to be scary good.
Franchise: (B+) + (Mid-Term: A-) = A-
Totally agree with my compatriot to start things off. If Andrea had been healthy for an entire season perhaps we’d be watching a Raptors vs. Cavs series now as Bargnani’s impact probably would have come a lot sooner then garbage time in game four vs. the Nets. However it’s obvious that an off-season of post work and strength training could see Toronto sporting two of the league’s most dangerous young players. Like Howland, I too was pleasantly surprised with the way his defence started to come along, especially in terms of lateral quickness. He still needs to prove he can rebound in order to become a starter for Toronto next season but in terms of my expectations prior to this season, Il Mago surpassed all of mine.
Howland: (A-) + (Mid-Term: A-) = A-
This was really a breakthrough season for the face of the franchise. His numbers were solid across the board again, but it was his leadership, willingness to get in the grill of his team-mates, and the fact that he led this team to the playoffs which was the most impressive part of his season. In the second half Bosh was everything you wanted a leader to be. The biggest knock on CB4 was obviously his play in the playoffs as he was over-hyped (in that he was just too excited) and underwhelming statistically which keeps him in A- territory. That’s where he was at the mid-point as well however so you can’t be too harsh on the emerging star. It’s also great to see him get some accolades this off-season as well!
Franchise: (A) + (Midterm: A) = A
I just can’t give Bosh an A-. Yes, I expected more from CB4 in the playoffs but I can’t help but think that without Bosh’s presence in other areas (such as rebounding) I’m not sure Toronto would have won a single game against New Jersey. Offensively he struggled and he’ll have to take the experience into next season as "one to grow on." But he still provided the club with great leadership as Howland mentioned, and his play outside of the Jersey series was definitely in the A+ range. This was one of the few examples in pro sports of a player saying he wanted to work on certain aspects of his game in the off-season and come game time, you could see the results. Bosh averaged double-digit rebounds for the first time in his career, got to the free throw line even more and started hitting the long-range shot. His percentages did dip slightly with some tweaks to his technique but I expect that to even out next year. All in all, this is a player who set high expectations and playoffs aside, smashed through them. This is what you want and expect from your franchise player and for that he gets an A in my books.
Howland: (A-) + (Mid-Term: B) = B+
For the mid-term grades I wrote, "I think Calderon’s season will be filled with ups and downs" and that proved to be true. Calderon and Ford each had their great nights and their not-so-great nights and although there was a point half-way through the season where Calderon cooled a little, he managed to elevate his play at key times. Of course none was more key than the playoffs when he started to become a household name with his abilities. This was a far cry from just shy of two years ago when people were wondering what Rob Babcock was doing giving this guy a roster spot. Given the way Calderon played in the World Championships last summer I expected a breakout season and he has generally met my expectations. Another off-season of working on that jumper and next year there will be no doubt that this team has two legitimate starting PGs.
Franchise: (A-) + (Mid-Term: A-) = A-
Perhaps I had lower expectations of Jose for this season but really, this was a player who I felt grew by leaps and bounds and in my opinion was Toronto’s post-season MVP. His defence on Jason Kidd, ability to break down the zone and hit open shots, and of course, uncanny knack for rolling to the basket for the left-handed "crash into the camera-man" lay-up were all huge in the post-season. He did have a lull at one point in the second half but I thought this was more due to lack of playing time then terrible play. And therefore he gets the A- as he exceeded my expectations more than anyone on this club. Even after a solid World Championships I wasn’t expecting such an improved outside shot and as he continues to hone this skill, Toronto looks to be in very good shape at the 1.
Howland: (B) + (Mid-Term: Inc) = B
Juan Dixon met my expectations so a B it is. It sure looked like he was going to surpass them when he was first brought aboard but slowly he came back down to earth (his wrist injury likely had something to do with it.) Juan was hot, hot, hot for a few weeks after his arrival but on the flip side he was bad, bad, bad in the playoffs. It will be interesting to see if Colangelo keeps him around for next season as he is decent trade bait.
Franchise: (B+) + (Mid-Term: Inc) = B+
This is yet another player who surpassed my expectations. As a Duke fan I loathed Dixon from his days at Maryland but knew what he was capable of doing for a club, especially in terms of being a pesky hard-worker at both ends of the court. His scoring touch immediately after the trade really surprised me however and at times I found myself wondering if he was the Raptors’ best option in terms of creating off the dribble and getting to the rim. In the playoffs he really struggled with everything from scoring to ball handling but due to an injured wrist, it’s hard to say just how much criticism of his play is warranted. In any event he’s a player who I look forward to seeing coming off the bench for the Raptors next year…provided Bryan Colangelo doesn’t find some creative way of packaging him for a stud SF of course...
Howland: (B+) + (Mid-Term: B+) = B+
When it came to the second half of the season for TJ Ford I wanted to see him start to understand his role in the offence. Ford’s job is to distribute first and score second and I think as the season progressed he did a much better job of this. I am the first to critique his sometimes out of control play, but it is TJ’s quickness that allows him to do what he does. I was also impressed with Ford’s willingness to platoon and split minutes with Calderon as it’s doubtful he expected to have such a solid player behind him pushing for minutes when he was acquired. Obviously Ford was beat-up in the post-season but he still played at a high level and his competitive spirit was more than obvious. Ford gets a B+ from me for carrying the team for stretches and on a whole meeting my expectations. I would like to see some work on that jump-shot but that’s what this off-season is for.
Franchise: (B-) + (Mid-Term: B+) = B
Giving TJ a B as opposed to Howland’s B+ is slightly strange as of the two of us, I was the bigger fan of the Ford/CV Smooth deal last off-season. Admittedly though, I’m left feeling a bit uneasy after all is said and done this season as I guess I just expected more of a pass-first mentality from Ford. I haven’t completely soured on him as he does display flashes of brilliance and as many of our readers have pointed out, he’s only really played in the league for two years, but I can’t help but think he’s gotta work on finding team-mates more, and looking for his own shot less. This might draw the ire of many readers, but at times I just didn’t see a huge difference between him and Mike James…except for the fact that James was a better shooter. Ford did play heroically in the playoffs but he needs to become a better shooter in order to negate size issues. I also think he needs to use his speed more effectively and I will undoubtedly have high expectations of him for next season. The B is a solid grade but I admit that I did expect slightly more from the young Texan.
Howland: (B) + (Mid-Term: A-) = B+
I think the visions of Garbo’s injury are stuck in my head for good. Every time he was displayed on the big-screen over the late second half of the season and the playoffs, all I could think about was Al Jefferson’s reaction and the cries of pain. Pardon the pun, but such a tough break for Garbo and the Raps. For the early parts of the second half of the season Garbo’s game seemed to have reached a plateau and he was struggling to find any consistency. The calf injury from earlier on in the season may still have been lingering but he was definitely having a tough time. Despite his struggles offensively, no-one questioned his competitive spirit and even when his shot was not falling he continued to do the small things. We had coined Garbo as the X-factor for this year’s playoffs but with the injury it was not to be. There is no telling how his tough D would have impacted the series but on a whole, Garbo was still a pleasant surprise and did exceed my expectations.
Franchise: (B) + (Mid-term: B) = B
Yep, I’m still seeing that leg injury as well and I probably will be into next season. I’m not sure Jorge would have been the solution to beating the Nets after seeing how Toronto struggled in terms of shot creation, but he would have been another big who could have helped spread the floor and maybe allowed CB4 some more room to operate. Did Garbo meet my expectations when all was said and done? I guess so. After seeing his play with the Spanish National team I did expect better shooting but as my partner Howland pointed out early in the season, he’s going to need to adjust to the longer NBA 3-point line. What Jorge did do was give the Raptors a healthy dose of toughness and while he was no Charles Oakley, he did a bit of everything and added an impressive basketball IQ to a squad that sorely lacked this in years past. For that reason he gets a B mark for the second half as this was pretty much what I expected from the porn player when he was brought into camp.
Howland: (B) + (Mid-Term: B-) = B-
Joey was a different player after the Garbo injury. He showed much more consistency, an ability to get to the glass and a whole lot more on the defensive end. For a while people were looking at Joey Graham in a different light...well at least it looked like the light had gone on. Graham started to look like the player everyone wants him to be and it started right around the time I expected it to. I actually believed Joey was on schedule. Of course then came the playoffs and Graham...well frankly he sucked. I don’t however think he deserves the role of sacrificial lamb although I expect him to play that this off-season. Graham didn’t disappear anymore than Bosh on a relative scale and I think we did see in the playoffs that Graham is still looking to find his niche and in the new small-ball. I think he could have a role as a big 3, but more importantly an undersized 4. Nevertheless he was much better in the second half. Enough to keep him around next season? Not sure.
Franchise: (C-) + (Mid-term: C+) = C
B- final mark, are you crazy? At the half I had mentioned that until we saw a regular 12 to 15 points and three or four rebounds a game from Joey, I wasn’t sure we could really talk about life after Mo Pete. Well after Garbo’s injury we did indeed see some life from Joey but frankly, it hasn’t done enough to change my opinion. This was his perfect opportunity to step up and really, he scored over 10 points in only seven of the final 12 games and in four of those he didn’t grab more than three boards. Nope, I’m not ready for him to set-up shop in the starting SF spot next season. He was also almost a complete no-show in the playoffs when he was the player who Toronto really could have used the most based on his skill set. Will this off-season mark the end of the KiloGraham experiment? I wouldn’t be surprised if he was dealt in a package deal but if he sticks around, all the off-season training in the world isn’t going to matter if he doesn’t start getting some degree of consistency in order to stick in this league.
Howland: (B+) + (Mid-term: C+) = B
Humphries was really solid in the second half and started really playing up to my expectations and in some ways even exceeding them. Still very much a young player with upside, Humph started to bring some grit and a lunch box mentality into games. His rebounding during the second half of the season was a breath of fresh air and some of his blocks were just jaw-dropping. The kid is tough and next season I will have even higher expectations. His offence needs to improve but he did what he was asked which was to use his big body to help the team on the glass and therefore gets a B+ in the second half giving him a final mark of B for the season.
Franchise: (B) + (Mid-term: C) = B-
I loved what Hump brought to this club in the second half and he was one of the key players who stepped up in light of Toronto’s injuries. Unfortunately in the playoffs we didn’t see enough of his aggressive board-work but this is a project worth holding onto. If he can develop some semblance of a back-to-the basket game, there’s no reason he can’t have a long and successful career in the league due to his tenacity and toughness and hopefully the Raptors can continue to develop him. Humphries didn’t blow away my expectations as he was one of the top players coming out of college when he was drafted, but considering his play in Utah only a season earlier, this was a big step and he gets a final mark of B- in my books.
Howland: (B+) + (Mid-term: N/A) = B+
Not around at the mid-way point Luke played well enough to earn him a roster spot next season and really could be the poster boy for the D-League. He surpassed my expectations when they locked him up for next year’s campaign and he is actually better off the bounce than expected. As is as advertised, he’s a solid shooter and although I’m not sure the word defence is even in his vocabulary (it sure isn’t in his game) he was a nice addition. His addition made the PJ Tucker pick look like a waste but sometimes you just cut your losses and move on.
Franchise: (B-) + (Mid-term: N/A) = B-
As Jackson only was on the Raptors’ roster for the last 13 games of the season, I was tempted to give him and Incomplete. However he did get some serious minutes at times and based on that I feel that an evaluation can be made. For a former first-round pick I did expect more of Jackson originally but his 30 point explosion in Toronto’s final game against Philly showed just how good of a scorer this kid can be. As Howland mentioned, his athletic ability and willingness to get to the rim did surprise and it’s clear that locking him up for another look next season is a great idea by B.C. I expected more on the defensive end as Jackson was a rugged two-way player at Oregon but that will come. Players like Matt Carroll and Jason Kapono have made careers for themselves in the league regardless of the defensive shortcomings and Jackson looks to be a better all-around player than either. Who knows, maybe BC has found another diamond in the rough…
(Part II of the grades will be posted on Wednesday.)