We’re a quarter of the way through the 2017-18 season and ready to hand out some report cards for the fall semester. It’s been a remarkable testament to the team’s leadership and coaching abilities — nuance aside — that they’ve been able to transform, in seemingly effortless fashion, from the archaic 90’s style of isolation-driven offense to the new-age hyper-efficient brand we’re watching today.
Despite the positive atmosphere, there are unsurprisingly still some kinks to iron out across the roster. We recently illustrated the problem with the starting unit getting out to slow starts — particularly on the defensive end — and lineup changes could be made at any moment. Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell, two previously ball-dominant scorers, struggled early to find their rhythm in the new pass-happy offense, but seem to have recovered their shots somewhat as of late.
Overall however, the Raptors haven’t faced a problem too great to solve; consistently displaying the grittiness we’ve come to appreciate in this squad.
Here’s how each member of the team grades out, in no particular order:
DeMar DeRozan: A
DeRozan’s 3-point shot we heard so much about over the summer — which has been happening more frequently – is being made at a rate that’s just about on par with his career average. We live with that though, because of the ways DeMar has progressed even further in his ninth season as a Raptor. His increased passing ability and willingness to defer to teammates has been a key component in the success of the new offense.
Kyle Lowry: B+
Let’s face the facts: Lowry has struggled out of the gate; a slump he “jokingly” attributed to the season’s early start. While he’s partially returned to form over the last few weeks, he still looks a bit out of place, oddly enough, on defense. His scoring numbers and percentages are down across the board, but he’s still contributing in ways that go beyond stats.
Serge Ibaka: C+
Ibaka is struggling defensively, has largely been a minus on the boards and as of late has completely lost his shot. Whether Ibaka is nursing an injury or is just in a major funk to start the year is irrelevant — he hasn’t been playing up to his ability so far this season and people are starting to notice.
Jonas Valanciunas: B-
Jonas is still doing what he does best, which is step up for big matchups against big dudes, and disappear at most other times. He’s also fouling at the highest rate of anyone in the rotation, which is astounding considering Jakob Poeltl and Bebe are still on the roster. But he’s been as effective on offense as ever, posting careers highs in true shooting percentage and per-minute scoring. Now if only his efforts on defense could match that level.
C.J. Miles: A-
Consider C.J. Kilometers the poster-boy for Masai’s “culture change” experiment. He was acquired for the sole purpose of volume shooting and has embraced the role as leader of another successful bench unit. Aside from some early miscues which illustrated just how dependent he was on shot-making to be effective, Miles has been as advertised — shooting 41% from deep and making 2.6 per game.
Pascal Siakam: A
Nobody in the Young Gunz has done more this year (with respects to Delon) to entrench their future in the league than Siakam. An evolved version of last year’s self, he’s now in the running to start games based on merit, not as a necessity. Easily the team’s defensive MVP in the first 20 games.
Norman Powell: B
Struggled to score early on in his newly minted role as a starter but excelled defensively despite his shooting woes. Since returning from a four-game absence, Powell has been lighting up the nets. He’ll likely stay on the bench, because [channels inner-Casey] if it’s not broke, you skin the cat anyway.
OG Anunoby: A-
He’s been really good.
Delon Wright: B+
Assuming he comes back from the shoulder injury not having lost a step, Wright will continue to be one of the most important players in the rotation just by virtue of the confidence he’s shown this season. No longer playing the part of a wide-eyed opportunist on the floor, Wright has blossomed into a calculated defender and practitioner of the new offense.
Jakob Poeltl: B+
Poeltl needs playing time immediately. While playing more minutes per night than last season, it still isn’t enough. He’s shown just how committed he is to his craft by further improving on both ends while leading the team with 2.1 offensive rebounds per game in very limited minutes.
Fred VanVleet: C+
VanVleet’s shot and finishing at the rim have gone somewhat awry at times, which has him averaging what are now known as Lonzo Ball shooting splits. That said, FVV was thrust into a much larger role with the untimely injury to Delon, and he’s gone on to show his heart of a lion and zero fear approach while on the court. It’s easy to forget he’s a second-year undrafted free agent.
Lucas Nogueira: A+/F-
O Bebe, where art thou (potential)? Seriously, he can be the dynamite to blow up the arena, or the fog to suffocate fans into oblivion. And we thought Bargnani was an enigma? Sweet, sweet naivete.
Alfonso McKinnie/Lorenzo Brown/Bruno Caboclo: INC
Look forward to them dominating for the 905 as the season wears on.
Dwane Casey: A-
Considering his history of stubbornness and inability to adapt, plus the various injuries to multiple starters in the first 20 games, Dwane Casey clearly has a finger on the pulse of his team this season.
Casey’s making the right substitutions while managing a sometimes eleven-player rotation. He’s found a way to win games while decreasing the workload of his two most important players — something we couldn’t imagine happening last year, even with more accomplished backups on the roster. Twenty games in, Casey deserves a lot of credit from Raptor fans so far.