The Raptors currently sit with a franchise-best record of 27-14, a pace that's good for 50 wins (or more). While the team has been struggling as of late, the story of the season has generally been positive. In that light, it's time to hand out some Raptors Mid-Season Grades.
Kyle Lowry - A
Much of Toronto's success this year has come primarily from the relentless play of Lowry. Yes, the Raptors have a deeper than average team with talent at other positions, but Lowry - the soon-to-be-All-Star - is the one who tends to dictate how, when and where that talent will be applied. These last couple of weeks have seen Lowry's scoring and shooting percentages drop, and at times his solo do-too-much efforts are disquieting (when they don't work), but he's still Kyle Lowry. He's the key to the engine, the motor and, really, the whole damn car.
DeMar DeRozan - INC
It's been a tough season for DeRozan: his numbers are down across the board and he suffered the first considerable injury of his entire six year career. Since he's played in only 20 games, we're giving him the INC for now. Will he finish the season with a good grade? DeRozan is still averaging 7.1 free throw attempts a game and (minus Monday's game vs. the Bucks) has been playing well since his return. I'm betting he'll finish the season strong.
Terrence Ross - C-
Where do we go with Terrence Ross? Point to almost any game this year and there's a good chance you'll remember one of two things about Ross: something great (a sweet shooting stroke, a tremendous finishing ability at the rim, athleticism for days) or something terrible (bouts of spacey play, questionable shot selection, invisible defensive impact). Raptors fans aren't ready to trust him just yet. At the midpoint of year three, the question remains: where do we go with Terrence Ross?
Amir Johnson - B+
The only knock on Johnson these days is that there are games when he is clearly labouring to stay mobile and productive. On the season, he's shooting 59 percent (3rd in the league), 42 percent from three (who knew?), with per game numbers just a slight tick down from last year. He's still providing all the intangibles (smart help defence, great pick setting, good humour). And while Johnson has played in 38 of 41 games so far, it's fair to wonder how much more mileage he can put on his body as the Raptors prepare for their second straight post-season.
Jonas Valanciunas - B
Valanciunas is somehow simultaneously really close to a C-grade and an A-grade. On defence, Jonas is firmly in the C (or worse) category. He can't be counted on yet to anchor the Raptors' interior defence (cut to every crafty big man in the league licking his chops). But on offence, well, that's where Jonas - despite periods of light use on this perimeter-oriented team - shines. These 41 games have shown more than a glimmer of Jonas' monster post skill potential.
Greivis Vasquez - C+
Vasquez comes in as the second most frustrating Raptor this year (after Ross). And really, this doesn't have to be the case. In a pick-and-roll league, a player with Vasquez's dimensions and skill set should be very useful. Instead, the Raptors have been getting mostly inconsistent play from him this year, and the strengths of his passing game have not quite been put to best use. I gave him the + because of this photo and this photo alone:
Lou Williams - B
One of the reasons for Vasquez's up-and-down season has to be the introduction of Sweet Lou to the rotation. While Vasquez's skills remain only half-used, Williams knows he does one thing really, really well: score. While I'm sure there are many fans down right now on Williams late quarter "heroics," he's still a guy that can win the Raptors games all by himself. I say "can", but I mean "will." It's how he won Player of the Week back in November; Williams is still an X-factor, writ large, and there is value to that.
Patrick Patterson - B-
Patterson falls in between Vasquez and Williams because while he's been a more reliable (and stable) presence than GV, he's been invisible more often than Williams. The salient point is this: Patterson shoots 42 percent on threes with 3.4 attempts per game. On defence he's shown an ability to ably rush the perimeter, and while he's undersized, he does what he can to help the Raptors rebound and defend down low. Patterson is not a potential team crusher like Williams, but when he's on the Raptors look unstoppable.
James Johnson - A-
Johnson is destined for folk hero status in Toronto however the rest of his tenure here plays out. He's already been the key to a bunch of surging Toronto wins. He's compared himself to Wolverine after bouncing back quickly from an ankle sprain. He's guarded Lebron. He's cocked that joint back and banged it on him. He always seems to make a difference even when he doesn't play. (Just see all the "why was Vasquez in?" second guessing after the recent Pelicans loss.) Johnson is not the perfect player, but his imperfection is what makes him so loved in TO.
Tyler Hansbrough - C+
I can't rag too hard on Hansbrough, to be honest. He's a plugger. He gets after it. It's not his fault he runs the pick-and-roll with relentless precision but lacks any sort of touch to finish at the rim. He's just there to play hard and give the Raptors an edge. For that he gets a C+, a pat on the back, and one more year for 3.3 million. As former teammate Roy Hibbert once said: no disrespect to Tyler.
Chuck Hayes - A-
Meanwhile Hayes, who is basically a stouter version of Hansbrough but much more chill, is a team pillar. The Chuckwagon does everything asked of him, doesn't complain, doesn't try to do anything he can't do. And he remains immovable. Oh yeah, and if you mess with his teammates, he will come after you.
Greg Stiemsma - C
Stiemsma played in eight games, none of any real importance. He's a quiet presence in the locker room. He gets a C because he just is.
Landry Fields - B
If we're being honest, Landry Fields will be out of the NBA by this time next year. There are not a lot of spots for a 27 year old swing man who can't shoot. Fields hasn't played much more than Stiemsma except for that one glorious stretch where he started nine games. In that time he hit his first 3-pointer in over a year and got one last hurrah in before a return to the end of the bench. He remains, as always, a good guy and consummate pro.
Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Noguiera - A++
The feel-good story of the Raptors' season, regardless of where the team finishes in the standings, has to be the delightful partnership of Bruno and Bebe. While nothing in particular is expected of either of them as of yet (we're still in Year 1 of Bruno's "two years away from being two years away" project), they inject a lot of fun into the team's culture. (My personal highlight was getting to watch this happen.)
Play us off, guys.
Bonus Marks: Dwane Casey - B
Casey remains a polarizing figure for the Raptors. At the beginning of the season, we couldn't praise him fast enough. The Raps were playing well and having fun. Any problems with the team's on-court execution could be blamed solely on the players. But now, through December and January (and DeRozan's injury), popular opinion has shifted. Casey is now being dinged for tactical mistakes, and questionable rotation decisions. His "defence-first" persona is being challenged as the Raptors continue to slide into the bottom third of the league in terms of defensive rating. Now many wonder (and wonder loudly) if Casey is the right coach.
After 41 games, which assessment is correct? I'll stick with my B grade - Casey is a good, likeable coach, but not quite a great one. Let's just wait and see how the next 41 games (and beyond) play out.
So, how would you grade each Raptor?