We know with certainty that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are the two best and most important players on the Raptors. Their respective games are not perfect, but it’s fair to say the gains Toronto has made over the years have been made in parallel with the rise of that duo. The question hanging over the Raptors continues to be: who is this team’s third best player?
The answer to this question for most of the season has been Patrick Patterson, he of 7.3 points, 5.6 rebounds in 28 minutes per game. Even while shooting 41 percent from the floor on the year, Patterson has long been acknowledged as the “glue” guy for the Raptors, the high IQ player who has anchored starting and bench and closing lineups alike.
But Patterson spent a chunk of January on the bench, and is still on a minutes restriction (to a certain extent; he went 10 minutes over that limit in last night’s OT win over the Pelicans).
What this question presupposes is: considering all of the events of January — the wins, losses and injuries — who was the Raptors’ third best player for the month?
The Numbers: 27.9 min, 11.7 pts, 11.1 rebs, 0.8 asts, 0.9 blks, 0.5 stls, 52/0/90%, +2.5
JV has been steady again on the offensive end and on the glass. He continues to work hard, even when he looks a step slow. This month also saw him help on some signature wins — against the Celtics (with a career-high 23 rebounds), versus the Jazz (where he got the better of whatever big came against him) and last night versus the Pelicans (in which he helped stop Anthony Davis). As mentioned, Valanciunas still does look like a man out of time, and yet when the ball goes into him in the post, he can make something happen. And hey, JV is now catching, moving and passing out of the pick and roll. How about that?
The Numbers: 19.1 min, 7.9 pts, 2.1 rebs, 1.1 asts, 0.2 blks, 0.6 stls, 40/27/84%, 0.0
Owing to his status as tenth man, Powell’s role in January has fluctuated. In games where he has played over 20 minutes (above his average for the month), he has generally produced. There was that clunker in Charlotte, but the whole team was bad that night. He’s helped guard everyone from James Harden to Isaiah Thomas to Jrue Holiday and has been bounced in and out of the lineup, minutes-wise, for most of the season. In short minutes Powell’s had a lot of 0-for games, which suggests either a sophomore’s typical inconsistency, or a need for a more consistent role.
The Numbers: 25.7 min, 10.0 pts, 2.9 rebs, 0.9 asts, 0.4 blks, 0.9 stls, 39/32/73%, -2.1
Ross is the ultimate living/dying player on the Raptors. When he’s hitting shots, holy shit, look out. Ross can fill up a score sheet fast and January saw him drop a few double-digit games in minimal minutes. But when the shot is not dropping, you’d be forgiven for forgetting Ross is even in the game. He’ll make a defensive play here and there, but then lose his man or turn the ball over on the other. The Raptors continue to need the threat of his offense though — come and go as it may be.
The Numbers: 27.6 min, 9.8 pts, 4.1 rebs, 0.8 asts, 0.3 blks, 1.3 stls, 38/31/88%, +2.7
Carroll’s shooting numbers have absolutely cratered in the latter half of January, but his role in the Raptors defense continues to be important. Like Ross, when Carroll is hitting his shots he becomes extremely valuable. Unlike Ross, however, most would prefer if he never put the ball on the floor in an ill-fated drive to the hoop. After last night’s win over the Pelicans, Lowry was quick to mention how significant Carroll had been in providing energy and intensity for the team’s comeback. Feels like that is worth mentioning.
The Numbers: 26.0 min, 7.1 pts, 5.7 rebs, 1.3 asts, 0.6 blks, 0.3 stls, 49/40/40%, +4.4
In any other month, Patterson probably takes the crown — but he only played in seven games in January, and is still clearly working his way back from injury. By this point, it is clearly established what Patterson brings to the Raptors: smart play, good defense in the post and on the perimeter, some three-point shooting, and passing that keeps that offense moving. When he tries to do too much, Patterson usually ends up out of sorts, but when he is in a groove (and healthy), the “glue guy” label really does stick.
The Numbers: 24.8 min, 8.9 pts, 2.3 rebs, 3.0 asts, 0.1 blks, 0.8 stls, 47/40/83%, -2.5
Joseph’s season is moving into the realm of the Twilight Zone. He has the tools to be a great defender, but this year there’s been tons of slippage. The Raptors need him to relieve some of the ball-handling and playmaking duties of Lowry (a role he held last year to decent effect), except this year he’s dribbling the air out of the ball. Joseph remains a sneaky finisher around the net, with a bevy of spins, floaters and off-balance moves. His jumper has generally improved, and he can be counted on to hit the occasional corner three. I’m trying to be as even handed as I can be here, but this is not the Joseph we know he can be.
The Numbers: 24.0 min, 6.1 pts, 5.3 rebs, 0.8 asts, 1.9 blks, 1.0 stls, 65/40/48%, +1.9
Like Patterson, Nogueira is — rather astoundingly — establishing his glue guy status for the Raptors this season. In January, as the stats show, he shot an astounding percentage (mostly at the rim, but still), rebounded the ball well (in small doses of minutes), and maintained the team’s level of rim protection (yes, at close to Biz levels). It would be nice to see Bebe play with more force when he tries to finish around the rim — but the fact that he is now looking to make plays at the rim is a giant step in the right direction. Outside of being a bit foul prone, Nogueira has done everything the Raptors need of him, and done it with style.
So those are the names. Let’s hear your choices in the comments.
Update: The Twitter Poll! (Which also sort of gives away my thinking on the subject.)
Follow-up poll: Raptors 3rd best player in January?— Raptors HQ (@RaptorsHQ) February 1, 2017
Also accepting write-in votes for Ross, Joseph and Patterson (who missed most of the month).— Raptors HQ (@RaptorsHQ) February 1, 2017