Entering the season, the Toronto Raptors were considered an afterthought to finish at the top of the Eastern Conference. After 41 games however, the Raptors are second in the conference at 29-12, just 3.5 games behind the top-seeded Boston Celtics.
Let’s grade the performances of the players of this Eastern Conference powerhouse.
Lucas Nogueira – B-
When Jonas Valanciunas was out for four games early in the season, Nogueira put together a solid stretch of play. Most notably against Portland when he posted 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 blocks in 30 minutes. However, inconsistent minutes due to injury and form have slowed him down since then.
Jakob Poeltl – A-
After Jak grabbed a career-high 11 offensive rebounds at the Oracle, not only did he grab the attention of Kevin Durant, but Raptor fans. Against Cleveland he set another career-high, this time in blocks. The best part about this? He’s still on his rookie contract.
Pascal Siakam – A-
Entering the season, Siakam was poised to get the backup power forward minutes left by Patrick Patterson. Being known as just an energy player in his rookie campaign, Siakam’s improved ball handling and passing, as well as his three-point stroke (the numbers don’t really show it now), have been a revelation. His defensive intensity is promising, and his chemistry with Poeltl on that end makes it difficult for opposing benches to score.
Serge Ibaka – B
The Raptors acquired Ibaka and P.J. Tucker at the deadline last season and with that came an immediate impact on the defensive end. Before December, Ibaka had struggled to maintain the defensive prowess he showed when he finished third in Defensive Player of the Year voting in 2012-13 season. Since then he’s given more thumbs down to opponents shots at the rim.
Jonas Valanciunas – B
JV exploded against Milwaukee on the road, scoring 20 points and grabbing 9 rebounds.
In just one quarter.
We’ve seen these types of outbursts from JV in the past but since the game vs Milwaukee, JV has put together a strong string of performances. We saw his value against the Cavaliers when he grabbed 18 rebounds in just 19 minutes.
OG Anunoby – A
Anunoby is the steal of the draft.
How good has he been? Coach Dwane Casey has already shown trust in him guarding the opposing teams’ biggest offensive threats. In half a season he has already done an excellent job (for a rookie) guarding the premier players in the league, including LeBron, Harden, and Giannis. OG has made some understandable rookie mistakes but the Raptors have found themselves a gem.
C.J. Miles – B-
The sharpshooter brings a crucial element to this Raptors squad as a perimeter shooter and floor spacer. He’s been as good as advertised from long distance but has been a pleasant surprise when he’s been chased off the line.
Norman Powell – D+
Norm has been in a deep funk. After sustaining an injury early in a mid-November loss vs. the Celtics and losing his starting gig, Norm’s play and minutes have been steadily regressing. He’s shooting career lows in FG%, 3PT%, while posting his highest TOV% in his short NBA career.
All isn’t lost though. Fortunately for the Raptors, the team’s backcourt play has been exceptional. Between DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, and Fred VanVleet, Norm’s struggles have been masked. With Kyle taking a nasty fall in Brooklyn, Norm has seen an increase in minutes out of necessity. He’s been showing signs of progress as of late -- specifically in the close loss vs. Miami and the drumming of the Cavaliers on Thursday. With Kyle being day-to-day, consistent minutes in his absence could be a blessing in disguise for Norm’s confidence in the second half of the season.
Delon Wright – A-
What can you say when your backup point guard goes for 25 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 steals on the road? Delon has been stellar all season, especially on defense. His length allows him to guard positions one through three (and even 4s on occasion, the block on Dirk anybody?) and cover for the undersized VanVleet. The bench missed not only his pesky defense when he went down with a shoulder injury, but his Euro-step too.
Fred VanVleet – B+
In his second year in the league after going undrafted, VanVleet has carved out a position on this team. Alongside Delon Wright, VanVleet has been a catalyst for the young bench. He scored a career high 22 points against the Eastern Conference champions on national television and has played meaningful crunch time minutes all season.
DeMar DeRozan – A
For nine straight seasons, DeMar has come back into the season with a new element in his game. We’ve seen flashes of his playmaking ability in years past, but with the introduction of a new offense this season, his numbers finally show how he has improved this year. In the win vs. Cleveland, DeRozan dished out eight assists (the eighth time he’s had that many or more this season), but more impressive was the poise he showed facing the double teams Cleveland sent nearly every possession.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: DeRozan can consistently hit threes now.
Kyle Lowry – B+
Kyle’s numbers have dipped largely due to reduced minutes. Offensively, his early season struggles can be attributed to figuring out the new offense. Defensively, Kyle hasn’t lost a step. His rebounding numbers have jumped from 4.8 to 6.1 and he currently leads the league in charges drawn with 20. Yes, Lowry is still quite good.
Bruno Caboclo – Inc.
The Brazilian KD just needs more time, trust me.
Malcolm Miller – Inc.
Showed a nice three-point stroke when he went 2-of-2 from deep in his six minutes against the Cavaliers. That’s something at least.
Lorenzo Brown – Inc.
He’s played few meaningful minutes over the first half of the season. His spot minutes have been promising though.
Alfonzo McKinnie – Inc.
Played well in a blowout loss to Denver but has been in street clothes the majority of the season.
Dwane Casey – A
The offensive schemes developed by Casey and the coaching staff to limit isolation possessions have been working through 41 games for the Raptors. More 3s, more passes, and more off-ball movement had led to the most dynamic offense the Raptors have had under Casey. The coach’s minute management has been commendable as well. He’s cut Lowry’s minutes from 37.2 last season to 32.8 this season. He’s been able to develop the young bench without sacrificing the team’s results, even going as far as having a 12-man rotation earlier in the season.
The offense has made opposing defenses have a tough time focusing their attention on DeRozan and Lowry, but there is one question that’s on everyone’s mind: can the Raptors do it in the playoffs?