It's 2016, a new year, and the Raptors are humming right along at 26-15. The one thing that's been missing in all the excitement has been, you guessed it: the Harsh Take. With 41 games now in the books, and our mid-season report card on the record, we at the HQ figured it was a perfect time to bring in Harsh Dave to give his take on the Raptors so far.
Harsh, how would you assess the Raptors at the mid-season?
Things are pretty good in Raptor-land right now. We sit 26-15, 3 games out of first (only 4.5 games out of 8th, but that's not the point), while having missed a good chunk of games from DeMarre Carroll, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross at various points during the season. We all know the problems they continue to have. The offence stagnates and is still too dependent on the individual brilliance of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The defence still blows hot and cold (more hot than cold), and remains a major pain point for Dwane Casey. But despite all of those things, the Raptors are still standing strong and look the most likely team to get the second seed in the East. As a celebration of a successful first half of the season, here are some Harsh things I have to say about each player on this roster.
Kyle Lowry: His microbooty is everything I could've hoped for. He's 6th in the league in RPM and Win Shares. I was holding my breath thinking he'd be walking with a permanent limp 20 games in considering how when he's on the bench, this team turns into the Toon Squad without Michael Jordan. Please never leave, please keep making fun of DeRozan and hang out with us forever.
DeMar DeRozan: So well, this is kinda awkward. [*twiddles thumbs*] After all the trash I talked about DeRozan all season, I feel like Bill Burr's impersonation of his wife at 5:13 of this clip. "I'M JUST PASSIONATE." In honour of DeMar having the best season of his career and being a deserving All Star, I'm retiring the Brick Mason nickname. Just keep driving to the basket and getting to the free throw line at the third best rate in the league. I don't care if he shoots like he's blindfolded, he's ours.
Jonas Valanciunas: So what if he moves like me? So what if he made me anoint him "Baby Ostertag?" From the moment he screamed out "Wictory Baby", we've been attached at the hip to JV. Finally playing in a defensive scheme that hides his weaknesses, the team has been much, much better with him on the court (team-leading 7.7 net rating). It's okay if he has the tunnel vision of the true Sportsperson of the Year, American Pharoah, I am happy with him.
DeMarre Carroll: His legs make me worry, but I liked what I saw of him when he was healthy. Having a capable shooter playing next to DeRozan, who also takes pressure of DeMar defensively, was such a boon to the team. Get fit again, come back firing for the playoffs. No I'm not worried that he has injuries as frequently as my 50 something year old mother.
Luis Scola: Fun activity: try to think of a slower front court combo than JV and Scola. And somehow, despite the madness, it sometimes works. It certainly helps that he's suddenly learned how to shoot the three pointer, which will NOT quiet the "WHY DOESN'T DEMAR LEARN TO SHOOT THREES?" crowd. This is probably the weakest position on the squad but at around $3 million this year, he's done an admirable job filling in. Also, I like his hair and how little he raises his legs when he runs. Life's about the little things, people.
Terrence Ross: I'm willing to cut Terrence Ross some slack. He'll never be the Paul George/Tracy McGrady type that we thought he had a chance to be, but there's still real value in what he's given us for the past month or so. I don't mind his contract. When his shot is on, the team has a completely different dimension to it. He's also the team leader in Champagning and Campaigning, which is pretty chill. I hope he enjoys All Star Weekend.
Patrick Patterson: Patterson went to Croatia over the summer and looks like he's carrying baggage from that trip still. What happened in Zagreb, fam? Talk to us. Did a tall East-European man school you in one on one? Did he realize he's not as good as Dragan Bender? Regardless, I'm happy his shot is coming around, and while I'm not particularly a fan of his floaters, they work sometimes, so that's nice I suppose. He's cheap, he shoots threes and has become a good, mobile defender. No complaints, really.
James Johnson: True story, James Johnson gets his hair cut by one of my high school classmates in Mississauga. Daniel's been keeping tabs on the James Johnson minutes watch all season, so there's nothing new to report here. Look, the fact that a bit-part player like Johnson inspires more controversy among Raptors fans than any player on this roster is a testament to his flashes of brilliance. He's good in limited minutes and has done a fine job of filling in for Carroll. Also, he'll whoop anyone's ass in the NBA, which is actually kind of dope. Bloodsport.
Cory Joseph: I'm so thankful I don't have to see the human pylon Greivis Vasquez on defence anymore. Cory Joseph is Canadian and he's actually good at basketball. He's second on the team in net rating, and has been a saving grace for keeping Lowry fresh with his ball-handling and defensive ability. To top it all off, he's always smiling and happy, and we all love athletes we root for to exude that sort of positive energy.
Bismack Biyombo: He can't catch, shoot, or be depended upon to even just hold the ball without screwing up, but damn he plays his ass off. We wrote about him earlier, but given JV's patchy defensive record, it's good to have Biyombo around to gobble up rebounds and moonlight as a quasi rim-protector. Another guy, who at ~$3 million this year, has been more than worth the gamble.
Let's quickly get into the deep rotation guys:
Delon Wright: His time will come. Lowry's not going to play 82 games at this pace (nor should he).
Anthony Bennett: Honestly, good on him for swallowing his pride and asking to go down to the D-League. I really hope he makes something of his career.
Norman Powell: The only Norm we accept here at RaptorsHQ.
Bebe Nogueira: The first of the young batch to make a meaningful impact at any point this season. Those flashes didn't permeate into anything concrete over a longer sample, but still good signs.
Bruno Caboclo: He's finally getting minutes this year in the D-League, and there have been growing pains. But that's part of the learning curve for him. I'm still optimistic that he'll turn into a rotation piece a year or two down the line.
Bonus Take: Uh, Harsh, you're supposed to be giving us the hot takes. What gives? Why all the optimism?
I know, this is off-brand for the Harsh Take, but I'm bullish about this upcoming calendar year. I'm branding it as #Positive2016. I'm naive and not particularly wise, so I'm not going to dole out any life advice, but it's of a way of thinking I'm trying to apply to the Raptors. We tend to look at the seasons of Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and the like with admiration, as we should. On a macro scale, the accomplishments of a career-season by DeMar DeRozan seem meaningless by comparison. It's hard to celebrate DeMar's shooting splits when Steph Curry's literally threatening to break efficiency records. I understand that. Context can be shitty.
Look at the history of our team. For the first time since 2000, we're looking at a period of sustained success of any kind. While it seems like all of this is for naught, the reality is that only 3-4 teams have a legitimate chance at raising a banner come October. To me, being at or near the top of the other group of 26 is something to be optimistic about. We're still building. The Raptors have draft picks, a dearth of crippling contracts, and a fleet of young players who may or may not become contributors. Things could be and have been so much worse.
I'm not telling anyone not to nitpick, hell that'd be hypocritical of me to do. I was emotionally detached from the team last year because I saw flaws that made me worry about how sustainable their success was. But two years ago, I also remember laying on the floor like I had my soul sucked out of me when Lowry missed that shot in Game 7. I'm ready to jump all the way in again. I believe in this team. I believe in Dwane Casey and I think they can beat anybody on their day. It'll probably end in heartbreak again, but yo, we do this for the memories anyway.
Before I go, the latest episode of my podcast came out last week. Be sure to check it out and provide feedback if possible!