It's not easy to earn a grade this harsh. You would need to underachieve dramatically, abruptly fire your recent Coach of the Year (Sam Mitchell), have a showy offseason move (trading for Jermaine O'Neal) blow up in your face, turn your lone superstar into a cranky finger-pointer who might want out, cope badly with a key injury (Jose Calderon), run off a string of losses and drown in trade rumors a month before the NBA deadline. Ladies and gentlemen, your ... Toronto ... Raptors! Grade: F
That was how Sports Illustrated writer Steve Aschburner recently evaluated the Toronto Raptors in his "Mid-Season Grades" piece.
It's not hard to see why many would rank the team in a similar manner however we here at the HQ have usually taken a more player-by-player approach to attempt to get to the heart of the matter.
Our long-time readers know that we have given grades to the then current Toronto Raptors roster on a number of occasions, and over the years how we have given out those grades has evolved. The grades have taken on a variety of formats but we seemed to have settled on a format that albeit is still highly subjective, seems to make sense and allows for some debate.
So like last time we're looking at a mix of both; an A, B, C grading system based on whether or not players met the expectations we had to
start the season. No pluses or minuses, we're going to try and get right to the point. While Howland and Vicious D look at the individuals players who have made up Toronto's roster this year, Franchise takes another path, and concludes this morning's piece by looking at the team's grade as a whole.
Ladies and gentlemen start your engines:
1. Marcus Banks -
Howland: N/A. If you have not played a single minute and have been a member of the team for less than a week you get a free pass.
Vicious D: N/A. I'm tempted to give him an F thanks to the contract alone.
2. Andrea Bargnani -
Howland: A. Andrea might be the biggest bright spot on this team so far this season. Although he continues to be inconsistent at times, his play this season has been at a level that one would expect from a high lottery pick. He is doing a solid job on both ends of the floor and has lost that "deer in headlights" look. I expected to see some improvement after his heavy summer regiment but there have been times when his play has left me in awe and wondering just how good this guy could be. It's night and day from the end of this time last season.
Vicious D: A. The only guy on the team that seems to have displayed a conscious turnaround. On the one hand, fans will point to his inconsistent offense, but the important part has been his turnaround defensively. No player has displayed a more consistent change on one end of the floor than this young man. The way he blocks out, the way he moves his feet, the way he goes for shot blocks, and the way he plays help defense have all improved exponentially. In the end, it's not all about just getting rebounding numbers, but just blocking out your man so others can get the ball.
3. Chris Bosh -
Howland: B. CB4 started out the season on fire and looking like a man possessed. Unfortunately that CB4 seems to have left the building and is now nursing a knee injury. It's been a good, but not great year for CB4 and his poor handling of the 2010 situation has not been a help. Bosh has met my expectations so far this year but has not exceeded them and that's a reflection of the players around him. If this team had more talent on the wing I think Bosh could really break out. Nevertheless he has been a steady contributor and easily remains the best player on this squad.
Vicious D: C. Things looked good at the beginning of the year, but there hasn't been much improvement in Bosh's game for me to warrant anything higher than a C grade. Without any new weapons in his arsenal, Bosh has been seen attempting 3 pointers this year. 3-POINTERS! I love the guy still and believe he's a franchise player, but in my opinion, he has to develop a better handle on the basketball if he wants to make the leap to super star. It's been something I've been begging him to develop for two years now.
4. Jose Calderon -
Howland: C. If there is any player on this team that encapsulates what has gone on with this team thus far this season it is Calderon. Having taken over the starting gig the expectations were really high, and perhaps too high. This season has been a tough one for Jose. After a heavy workload during the summer Calderon came into a situation where he was going to be asked to log heavy starter minutes and lead this team. People expected great things and unfortunately due to a nagging hamstring injury those great things have not panned out. Without a fully healthy Jose Calderon this team is going to struggle and for those that know or have experienced a hamstring injury they don't just go away. Jose, although through little
fault of his own, has been a disappointment given his time spent in a designer suit.
Vicious D: C. How much has the summer injury hurt Calderon? Everyone says that he recovered from it, but Jose has not quite looked all that ready from the get go. Injured players tend to play cautiously which leads to more injuries due to an attention to their injury. My favourite player on the Raptors since his rookie year, Jose Calderon has had a difficult year one of his multi-million dollar contract year. However, his heart cannot be questioned and it does not surprise me all that much that he has become the real emotional leader of the team.
5. Joey Graham -
Howland: A. You can put any argument you want on the table about how Joey Graham's improvement is nothing to get excited about and that he is still a marginal NBA talent, but I think those people are wrong. This is a player who has never really gotten the opportunity to perform. Sam Mitchell was easily the worst thing that ever happened to Joey Graham. The best? A summer of development and now a coach that is willing to show some confidence in this guy. Graham is still inconsistent but he, like Andrea,is playing with confidence. He is rising to challenges and is an asset on both the offensive and defensive end. He has been a great surprise this season. He is becoming a much better and tougher defender, has a solid mid-range game, and can now put the ball on the floor without everyone cringing.
Vicious D: A. I thought Joey could manage these minutes last year, but "someone" in the organization just didn't think the same thing. If we're just doing year-to-year comparissions, Joey definitely deserves an "A". If we look back a couple years, Joey's improvement has been in the little details. By not drawing as many charges when he has the ball in his hands, Joey Graham has been able to find the basket consistently and without hesitation thanks to more consistent minutes. Foul trouble continues to be a slight problem that creeps back every few games, and it'll be interesting to see his minutes and how he handles the change now that Marion is on the team. But for now, I have to give our little spark an A.
6. Kris Humphries -
Howland: C. Now with the leg injury it looks like another wasted season for the Minnesota kid. Even prior to the broken leg Kris did little to show me that he was taking the next step as a player. He still has this burning despite to jack up ill-advised shots even though he could easily carve out a solid niche on this team by simply banging in the post, grabbing rebounds and being the hustle guy. Humphries could easily help this team more than Jake Voshkuhl if he would play within the system.
Vicious D: N/A. I can't give a guy my opinion when he's played so little this year. It'd be interesting to see if the Raptors can find a way to utilize him more, but from what I've seen, Hump is still too enamoured with his offense. People talk about Bargnani being a black hole, but the fact is, Hump sucks in the ball like he's a diabetic and the ball is insulin.
7. Nathan Jawai -
Howland: D. Frankly if you are going to pass on three second round picks for this guy you have to expect more than what has gone on. It's fantastic that Jawai's heart issue will not prevent him from trying to make a living in the NBA and more importantly that it is not more serious than it is, but at the same time it's been a lost season for this project big. Now
that Jawai is able to practice with the team he has a lot to learn. If his garbage time minutes tell us anything he has everything to learn. Given how high the franchise seemed to be on this guy draft day I expected more, even from a fundamentals standpoint. It's perhaps a little unfair to judge him based on the turbulent season he has had, but based on expectations
this is a fair grade.
Vicious D: N/A. Fewer minutes than Hump. If the Raptors didn't just need a spare big body, this guy would be in the D League. And boy, does he need development.
8. Jason Kapono -
Howland: D. Another player who I probably had unrealistic expectations for. After last year's playoffs and the acquisition of JO I couldn't help but dream about Kapono nailing open 3's all season long. Boy was I wrong. Kapono's season has been much like season's past. He has his moments but they are few and far between and even when he is shining on the offensive end, his defensive liabilities are just too severe to overcome without some serious help from the other players on the floor. Based on financials if the Raps really want to clear the deck for this summer they need to find a taker for JK and his salary. Unfortunately his performance at the 3-point shooting contest didn't help Colangelo's case.
Vicious D: D. Why can't the Raptors squeeze offense out of J Killa'? Part of the blame has to go to Kapono for taking too many pump fakes and runners in the lane. Yes, the Raptors need a slashing wing, but Jason Kapono should not be that person. If Kapono needs time and shots to get back into a groove, so be it. But what I want to see is standing jumpers. STANDING JUMPERS from beyond the arc. When you're a one dimensional player who can't excel in the one dimension that you're being paid for, you have a huge problem.
9. Shawn Marion -
Howland: N/A. I sure hope by season's end I can give this guy an A grade.
Vicious D: N/A. Anything will be better than Moon, but if Marion continues to shoot 3 pointers like he did in Miami, it'll be a long end of the season.
10. Anthony Parker -
Howland: B. Parker has once again been his steady but not spectacular so far this season. Perhaps his biggest contribution to the team this season has been his willingness and performance when acting as the back-up PG. Hehas met my expectations, like he usually does.
Vicious D: B. Getting killed earlier in the year, Parker seemed to get exposed as an old, unspectacular SG. However, I've never given up on him. He's a glue guy that we'll always need on this team. We'll need him even more now that he's established himself as a legitimate backup point guard. He's still our best defensive option on the wing. We've just asked him to do too much by asking him to cover for Moon and Kapono for most of the beginning of the year. Hopefully, he'll forgive us for our skepticism and re-sign for a value price in the summer.
11. Will Solomon -
Howland: B. The thing about Will is that I really didn't have any expectations for him. Now that he is on the bench keeping it warm forothers he is actually meeting my expectations. If fact any time he saw the floor it was really a reflection of the team not meeting my collective expectations. Will has been nothing but a professional since he has been here and has done his best when called upon. He will inevitably end up the answer to a trivia question about the Raps 10 years from now.
Vicious D: F. Sit next to me anytime Solomon comes on the court and I might just blow out your ear drum because I hate this guy's game more than Jamario Moon's. My hope whenever I see Solomon on the court is that the Raptors can just get through his minutes without a major implosion. If he's supposed to be our shooting guard, then fine, he can be that shot happy. But he isn't. If he's a star player in this league, then he can complain about every call that doesn't go his way. But he isn't. If he's shown any kind of ability to make a straight forward pass, then he can be a point guard on this team. But he hasn't.
12. Roko Ukic -
Howland: B. Obviously if this were a grade based on his last game it would be an A, but so far this season Roko has met my expectations. I assumed he would have a season much like Jose Calderon's rookie year and it has indeed been similar. Despite having played professional basketball for a number of years Roko is still a young PG trying to learn the NBA game.
Consequently the results have been spotty but promising. Despite his size he is extremely quick and has a knack for getting to the hoop. It's been a good, not great, season thus far.
Vicious D: B. Inconsistent as rookies are allowed to be, Ukic is the kind of player that I hope will become a fan favourite. He has the same work ethic as Chris Bosh and the same fearlessness in taking a big shot as T.J. Ford. Rob Babcock has to be complimented for acquiring two point guards that just so perfectly compliment each other. Everyone will be talking about his need to improve his shot, but what I'm most impressed with is his improvement on the defensive end on the court. He's using his quickness to stay with his man and be the kind of pest we need from a fast point guard.
13. Jake Voskuhl -
Howland: B. What can you say about this guy. Obviously not being on the team from the get go it was hard to have expectations from the openinggame, but since his signing he has been ok. Overused, but ok. Now that JO is in Miami there will be even more PT for this UCONN product which is a scary thought. Jake has been a solid cheerleader, and has been the rough and tumble guy for the Raps. In fact he may be the toughest guy on this team now. Yikes.
Vicious D: C. We at the HQ joked about it the other night, but Jake Voskuhl may very well be Milt Pilacio re-incarnate. I've never seen anyone miss so many layups since our dear Milt left these lands. Even so, Voskuhl is going to get minutes with one less big man in the lineup, but the onus has to be on Triano to get the most out of the big man. We saw bone-crunching hard screens when he first joined the Raptors, but since then, they've been largely absent. I'd honestly prefer Hump on the court, but that's not even an option at this point.
Toronto Raptors - D. After my compatriots break-down of the various players above, it's hard to say this team deserves an outright F this year. That's not saying it's not close but there are two and a half bright spots that I think keep the Dinos from repeating the first two semesters; Andrea Bargnani's meteoric rise in play, Joey Grahma's development, and the half points go to Roko Ukic, who at least looks to have some significant upside (which is more than we can say about the majority of this roster.)
But that's all that keeps this team from a failing grade. The coaching has improved in some capacities but has stalled in others, the JO experiment failed, Jamario Moon and Jason Kapono regressed in play, at present the Nathan Jawai draft pick looks like a complete waste, and frankly, Bryan Colangelo has done precious little since Toronto's loss to New Jersey in the playoffs to help improve the club. Instead, things have steadily gone in the other direction.
If healthy, many expected this to be a 50 win club this season however I think it's safe to say now that even with exceptional health, this team would have been hard-pressed to match last season's win total.
Therefore a D grade it is, a mark that could indeed improve based on the Raps' performance over its final trimester, but that barring a run to the playoffs is probably hard to improve on by much. In addition, we're at the point now in the season where one has to question if such a run is in the best interest for a team that obviously needs that a large upgrade in talent for next year.