The Raptors are 17-4 through 21 games, which represents the team’s best start in franchise history. There are more stats to account for here, more and more rankings that suggest that this version of the Raptors may be one of the very best teams in the current NBA.
For the long-time Raptor fan, this is somewhat unfamiliar territory. Toronto has been good before, maybe even very good, but there’s always been the twinge of (well-founded) concern there too. The 2015 squad fell apart, the 2016 surprised (and maybe over-achieved), the 2017 team came together too fast, the 2018 run blew up all too quickly. What the 2019 Raptors are trying to do is present as stable and confident. After 21 games, it’s still too early to say whether they’ve achieved this yet. But being ranked first in the entire league certainly suggests something good.
So then, how is each individual Raptors doing so far this season? Who on the roster is playing well, who is lagging behind? As is our usual tradition, here’s the first Raptors Report Card, this time for the quarter-season mark.
We’re ready with some grades.
Kyle Lowry - A+
What else do you want? What else could anyone possibly want? Setting aside a couple of poor shooting nights, and his obvious physical limitations in certain match-ups, Kyle Lowry has been about as perfect point guard as the Raptors could possibly ask for. He’s leading the league in assists at 10.4 per game, shooting 35 percent from three on over six attempts per game, and dictating the tempo every game. Is there a more soothing sight for a Raptors fan than Lowry checking into a game to settle things down, or blow things wide open? He always knows exactly what to do — and the Raptors are the clear beneficiaries of Lowry’s super genius aptitude.
Kawhi Leonard - A-
Huge twist: Kawhi Leonard is healthy as hell. Yes, he’s not playing in back-to-backs yet, and he still sometimes dribbles the ball a bit too much in isolation, but he still arrives in Toronto as advertised. Leonard is a two-way terror, capable of stripping the ball right out of his opponent’s hands (along with their heart) and taking it straight to the hoop. The minus here represents something to look forward to: there’s every reason to believe Kawhi will actually get better as the season goes along.
Danny Green - A
Far from a trade throw-in, Danny Green has quickly become the Raptors newest (and best?) glue guy. He can guard any backcourt and wing position, he’s fantastic in transition, and he’s shooting 42.5 percent on threes. The best part about what Green’s doing though is that it is exactly what the Raptors need, and almost nothing they don’t. Toronto can go to war with Danny Green.
Pascal Siakam - A+
Raise your hand if you had Pascal Siakam being this good this season. Sure, we saw the signs, we knew about his motor, we were tantalized by his potential, but this? Siakam is averaging 14.5 points (on 61 percent shooting!) and 6.7 rebounds, and approximately four highlight plays per game. Siakam is even shooting a respectable 33 percent from deep! If he can keep this up: the Raptors are definitely going to be a problem.
Serge Ibaka - A
Back from the grave! Serge Ibaka was toast heading into this season, deader than the dodo. We were drawing up trade scenarios and preparing for the worst (a $50 million sunk cost). Maybe it was the rest over the summer, maybe it was the move to centre full time, maybe it was his newfound cooking show energy: Ibaka remains the most surprising story of the Raptors early season. He’s second on the team in scoring (16.7 points per game) for crying out loud! May the Undertaker bell tone forever ring out over the land. Ibaka... is back.
Jonas Valanciunas - A
It’s not often a team will have a solid starting player, move him to the bench, and watch him become more productive. It happens, but it takes some adjustment — especially if said player is Jonas Valanciunas, established starting centre for the Raptors. To be fair, Jonas has opened nine of the team’s 21 games, but he’s also playing the fewest minutes of his career. That JV happens to be averaging a career-best 13.0 points per game while still finding his chemistry with Toronto’s bench guards is, I don’t know, commendable? Astounding? What can you even say?
Fred VanVleet - C+
Things could be better for ol’ Steady Freddy. Some of this is not VanVleet’s fault: he started the season with an injured toe (which is no joke), and has since been dealing with his whole body falling out of alignment. He’s putting up career-best numbers in points and assists (in 24.4 minutes per game, another career-high), but VanVleet’s control of the game hasn’t quite been as solid. The Raptors’ revamped rotation has something to do with that, and his lower shooting percentages could also be making his drive game a tad more difficult. I wouldn’t count FVV out though; let’s check back in 21 games.
OG Anunoby - B+
You almost have to laugh when reminded that the Raptors also have someone like OG Anunoby just hanging around on their bench. The second year forward looks like he was built in a lab to play in today’s NBA. And the knocks on his game — his ball-handling and shooting, primarily — have all begun trending upward, for the most part. (Yes, OG’s three-point shooting is down to 32 percent — from 37 — but his attempts have more than doubled.) It still feels like Anunoby is discovering how to apply himself in all situations, but what he’s been doing so far is laudable. Watch for him once again come playoff time — he’ll be ready.
Delon Wright - B-
It continues to be only semi-possible to accurately grade the game of Delon Wright. This is partly because he fills up the stat sheet in such bizarre ways, but also because his effect on a given game is often ineffable. At his best, Wright can block shots, dig for steals, hit 3s, and lead the break with the best of them. At his worst, which admittedly has come this season due to injury and adjustments to Toronto’s lineups, Wright just straight up disappears.
C.J. Miles - D
The GoDaddy Curse is real. Since filming his commercial, C.J. Miles has dealt with a prolonged shooting slump (he’s shooting 26 percent from three) and injury (an abductor strain kept him out of five games). The Raptors also have Green now, who’s doing everything Miles did last season while also playing great defense. Overall, the Raps just are not as reliant on their former marksman. Still, when he’s on, C.J. is one of the most devastating shooters in the league — it’d be nice if he could break the hex.
Norman Powell - B-
Powell’s season so far was going well enough that his recent shoulder injury setback was a legit bummer. (Every injury is sad, but in this case, it derailed what was some nice comeback momentum for Norm.) Powell does not look like he’ll ever become a franchise cornerstone — despite our wildest fantasies — and he may never live up to that $40 million contract. But kudos to him for working on and trying to do the things the Raptors need him to do. Here’s hoping Powell can get back on the floor soon and pick up where he left off.
Greg Monroe - B+
Greg Monroe smiles on the bench, does not appear perturbed by his lack of court time, and can mix things up for Toronto when he does play. There’s an argument to be made here that Monroe deserves an A for filling his reduced role so ably — who has a bad word to say about Moose after 21 games? Nobody.
Lorenzo Brown - C+
Could Lorenzo Brown be the latest Raptors folk hero? I was asked that recently and it gave me pause. The answer so far is no, but Brown can still surprise here and there. His fun one-off performance against the Mavericks is basically what gives him this grade — it’s possible to expect Brown to show out at any given moment. Not likely, but possible. Can’t ask for much more than that for your 12th man.
Malachi Richardson - D-
Richardson is trying, is about the best I can say at this juncture. As one of the deep bench Raptors to get non-garbage time minutes, Malachi has tried to make a positive impact, but the results just aren’t there. You’d be hard-pressed to recall a noteworthy stretch of D from Malachi, and his shooting (at 28 percent from the field) is better left forgotten. Maybe it can still work out, but it’s feeling increasingly unlikely.
Jordan Loyd and Chris Boucher - INC.
Hey, the Raptors 905 are 6-3, good for sixth in the entire league. And who’s making most of that noise? Jordan Loyd and Chris Boucher! Let’s just give them an incomplete and acknowledge that their garbage time minutes for the Raptors don’t mean a whole lot just yet. (Though Boucher leading the G League in scoring, while averaging 3.0 blocks and 3.0 steals is quite a sight to see.)
Nick Nurse - B+
Nurse has done solid work confronting some of the tasks that bedevil new NBA coaches. He’s had to integrate an outwardly enigmatic star coming to a new team (with one year left on his deal), he’s had to manage some interesting and proud personalities (e.g. Lowry and Ibaka), and he’s had to figure out ways to shift the Raptors away from what they’d done for most of the past seven seasons under Dwane Casey (without just dropping everything that was working). For the most part: job well done.
Still, there are things to needle Nurse about. For one, sometimes it feels like the talent he has at his disposal bails him out; Nurse doesn’t have to be a coaching genius to clear out the side and give the ball to Kawhi Leonard for example. Another thing: the Raptors bench hasn’t quite found itself yet, and there’s an argument to be made some of Nurse’s lineups are contributing to that slow start. And sure, it’d be nice if the Raps played hard for 48 minutes and stopped letting teams back into games — maybe that needs to come from Nurse, maybe not. (Giving away a win to Casey also has to sting.)
But the big picture here for the Raptors is still damn good. Nurse has them playing fun and loose, and they’re winning way, way more than they’re losing. It’s a long season, and Nurse has just as much of a chance (and more than enough time) to improve. As he would say: he just needs the reps.