I'm bringing up the rear on this one after some great breakdowns by my compatriots Braedon and Zach in parts one here, and part two here, of our "Toronto Raptors End-Of-Season Grades."
As a reminder, we're grading on the entire season including playoffs, and looking at the player/front office member's performance versus expectations. So on a league-wide level, Kyle Lowry may not be an A, that would be reserved for the LeBron's of the league, but based on what we expected from him coming into the season and his relative importance to the Raptors, he warrants that grade in our eyes.
Ok, on we go, starting with the recent recipient of a Lego birthday cake.
Amir Johnson: B-
Amir Johnson had a bit of a strange season. He went from being his usual "stealth-MVP self" early in the season, to a bit of a disappointment frankly by the time playoffs approached. He still posted some of the league's best advanced metrics (23rd in the league in wins above replacement (WAR), 14th in ESPN's "Real Plus Minus" metric (RPM), and second to only Kyle Lowry in terms of Wins Produced (7.4) on the season), but his per minute stats were down slightly almost across the board over last year, despite playing an identical number of minutes.
Some of this certainly can be chalked up to injuries however as on top of playing four less games, there was no question that Johnson was playing on one good ankle for the bulk of his campaign, and seemed to be constantly dealing with a plethora of other bumps and bruises. To his credit, Johnson played through them all, something that's been his Modus Operandi since Day 1 of his NBA career.
But even with the injury caveat, this just wasn't the usual Amir season. There were times when he tried to do a bit too much, especially on offense, and he shot only 30 per cent on his dubiously titled "Summer 3." And during the playoffs, he was hit and miss, the "hit" games being matches Toronto either won, or came inches away from winning (Game 7), the "miss" being ones Brooklyn secured en route to their eventual series victory.
My B- grade therefore truly reflects his performance based on my expectations this season. He's such an important part of the team's success that when he's not playing at an A level, the team takes a step back. Here's hoping that the inconsistencies this year were indeed primarily due to nagging injuries, and an offseason of rest gets him back to being one of the league's unsung heroes.
Landry Fields: D-
"Soooooo close to an F. Inches. Mere inches and some Joe Johnson Game 2 defense away from that dreaded mark in fact!"
An all seriousness, this past season was probably rock bottom for the former Stanford stud. Fields appeared in only 30 games, averaged under 11 minutes of playing time, and sported a PER of 8.6, about half the league's average mark. My favourite stat though? The one-time 39 per cent three-point shooter took only five long-range shots last season, and missed each and every one of them.
I didn't expect Fields to suddenly become Andre Iguodala, or even return to his rookie form, but I did think he'd offer a positive boost off the bench after a rough initial season with the Dinos in 2012-13. Instead, as Zach noted in his Grades piece yesterday, it took John Salmons' horrid play to give Fields any sort of value, especially painful considering the pretty nice-sized pay cheque he's collecting. (When people extol the virtues of Bryan Colangelo's collection of assets like Lowry, Valanciunas and Ross, I always chuckle a bit as his collection of anvils like Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Kapono and yes, Mr. Fields, is typically forgotten.)
Whether that's enough to get him included in some sort of off-season trade remains to be seen but the bottom line is that this season was pretty close to a disaster for Fields, and who knows if he's got much run left in the NBA, let alone with the Raptors.
Tyler Hansbrough: B-
Prior to the playoffs I probably would have even given Hansbrough a B+, especially considering the fact that we found out this season Hansbrough gave himself his own nickname, "Chops." Hansbrough did just what I expected he would do when Masai Ujiri inked him to a deal last off-season. He worked hard, fouled and drew fouls like crazy, grabbed some key rebounds, and generally irritated the hell out of opponents.
The problem with Hansbrough though is that he's extremely limited as an NBA player, a fact that was made ever-more-obvious post-Rudy Gay as other options like Patrick Patterson and even Chuck Hayes, usurped him in the rotation. Hansbrough is a great 10th or 11th guy, valuable in certain situations, but giving him 20 to 25 minutes a game against most other power forwards is asking for trouble. It's still mind-boggling to think that the slow-footed triple-pump-faker is the ACC's all-time leading scorer, but again, we're measuring against expectations here and Hansbrough did just about what was expected of him this season.
And unlike Fields, he's not taking up much cap room in the process.
Nando De Colo: B+
On a similar note as Hansbrough, De Colo did just about what was expected of him after being acquired at the NBA's trade deadline for um...who was that again? Oh right, Austin Daye. But I'd argue De Colo actually provided a little more than any of us thought and he quickly took over the third-string point guard duties from others like Dwight Buycks.
De Colo only averaged about 3 points and 2 assists during his time with the Raps but his per 36 minute averages of 12 points and 6 assists suggest a player who's capable of playing more than the nine minutes of game-time he found himself occupying with the Dinos, and indeed, towards the end of the season head coach Dwane Casey increasingly looked to him for a spark off the pine.
At 6-5 he's got good size for the position, and he shot a respectable 36 per cent from long-range. He also did a nice job running the show when given the opportunity and I'd be more than happy to see him return next season to complete a three-headed Lowry-Vasquez-De Colo monster.
Masai Ujiri: A
Masai didn't draft the core of the team. He didn't trade for them, or sign them via free agency. But he did do something that tends to define the best GM's in the league: he knew what dead weight to remove from the team's roster, and when to leave the rest, well enough alone.
To that end Ujiri got rid of not one, but two of the team's biggest headaches, and two players in fact that seemed virtually untradeable, Rudy Gay and Andrea Bargnani. For that reason alone he gets an A. It was addition by subtraction but on top of that, Ujiri also ended up with some very useful pieces in return, both current (Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez, Steve Novak etc) and future (the Knicks' beloved draft picks.)
Whether Ujiri made the moves expecting to send his club to the lottery, or if he secretly knew things would turn around is up for debate. But after the reported Kyle Lowry deal with the Knicks fell through and the team began to take off, Masai put down the phone, not forcing through a move that could have not only ruined the club's present, but also its near future.
Add in his small tweaks like Nando De Colo and his offseason bargain-basement signings like Tyler Hansbrough and it's hard to find much to pick at in Masai Ujiri's first season. His fifth-place finish in this season's NBA Executive of the Year race was probably too low in fact.
Ujiri smashed through even the fairly high expectations that were set for him last summer, and while he certainly had a bit of luck on his side, the Masai era in Toronto is off to a good start, with an "F Brooklyn" to boot.
The Raptor: INC
The poor Raptor. A consistent MVP candidate season in and out, the Raptor unfortunately tore his Achilles tendon in preseason performing a stunt and was out for pretty much the whole season.
The Raptor roared back late in the campaign in time for the playoffs and helped take an already ridiculously frenzied ACC faithful to another level.
Well done Raptor. We look forward to a full season's worth of antics during the 2014-2015 campaign.