With every single regular season second now spoken for, we can finally, properly, give out some awards to deserving recipients on the Raptors. Taken all together, this season was a momentous one for Toronto, with achievements across the board — a franchise-record in home wins, overall wins, first place in the East, and a crossing of the symbolic 60-win barrier.
Individually, many Raptors, both young and old, new and not-so-new, excelled. They had to in order to produce such a magical run through the regular season. (Here’s hoping it carries over to the playoffs.)
So, in that spirit, here is the 2017-18 awards breakdown for the Raptors:
Most Improved Player: Pascal Siakam
The only real understanding you need to have regarding this award and Siakam is this: the dude played in 55 games for Toronto in his rookie season, started in 38 of them, and it was mostly seen as a stop-gap measure. Siakam wasn’t meant to be there just yet.
Once the Raptors acquired Serge Ibaka, I think most of us figured we wouldn’t hear that much about Siakam this season. He was a late first round pick and still something of a project. In fact, you may even recall that he didn’t play much in the team’s first three games (including a DNP-CD vs. the Spurs) this year. But then he blew up against the Warriors, and made it impossible for coach Dwane Casey not to play him.
The jump in Siakam’s numbers from rookie to sophomore may only be modest. And we can chuckle at his starts going from 38 to five. But his effect on the Raptors as been, without a doubt, huge.
Runner-Up: Jonas Valanciunas
The long-time Raptors centre added a three-point shot (sort of), improved his passing and decision-making skills, and showed enough growth on the defensive end to stave of extinction. Much love to JV.
Defensive Player of the Year: Delon Wright
It’s true that (runner-up) Siakam is maybe more valuable as a defensive player for the Raptors, and Fred VanVleet has a certain admirable toughness Toronto needs, but I’m still voting for Delon Wright here; there are just so many facets to what he does on the court.
The counting stats tell some of the story: 2.9 rebounds a game (or 5.0 per 36 minutes), 1.0 steals per game, and sure 0.5 blocks (or 1.8 and 0.8 per 36 minutes). Wright also has the team’s lowest opponent’s field goal percentage (among qualified players). That he gets after the peskiest of point guards, but can also body up shooting guards and some wing players is just another element to add. Ultimately, Wright’s defensive contributions can be summed up by all of this together — deflections, active hands, sneaky blocks, speed, size, utility. It all matters.
Runner-Up: Pascal Siakam
Bottom line: Siakam can basically guard everyone but the biggest, bulkiest players in the NBA. Pascal has made life miserable for all sorts of different players this season — the power forward who thinks he’s made a move past him, the guard who thinks he can shake him — and he just keeps on coming.
Coach of the Year: Dwane Casey
If I had a vote Casey would be my pick for the NBA’s Coach of the Year. Obviously I’m a tad biased in my opinion, but since the award, to me, requires something of a narrative, Casey should be the easy pick.
This season, Casey was tasked with integrating a surfeit of young, untested players into a new offensive system, and then had to get his long-time veterans, some of whom (Lowry) are not always the most adept at taking instruction, to buy into the change. The Raptors won 59 games this season — more than everyone thought they would — and that deserves some dang recognition.
Runner-Up: Nick Nurse
The Raptors offense needed to be seriously re-worked, and Nurse is the guy in charge of mapping out the team’s execution on that end of the court. Toronto finished third in offensive rating for the year. Give the man something!
Rookie of the Year: OG Anunoby
An obvious choice. OG wasn’t even supposed to play for a month or two of this season, and yet there he was on opening night pitching in nine points in 17 minutes. It was literally all up from there — OG flashed great defensive chops, some ability moving both with and without the ball, and aired out a three-point shot. Only a couple of tweaked ankles, and a brush against the rookie wall, kept his inaugural season from being even better.
Runner-Up: Malcolm Miller
It’s bittersweet to give this award to Miller now, since he’s not on the Raptors’ playoff roster. But kudos to the young swingman for coming in and down what’s asked of him — playing defense and hitting 3s. We’ll always have those out-of-nowhere seven points against the Rockets (and four NBA starts!).
Highlight of the Year: DeMar DeRozan’s Dunk on Detroit
Nothing is topping this — sorry!
Runner-Up: Jonas Valanciunas’ dunk on Milwaukee
This is definitely the wildest finish to a Raptors game I’ve ever seen. And you better believe JV was fouled on the play. Yes, the Raptors... were robbed.
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Before running up on the big name awards, let’s touch on some of the sadder stuff this season.
Most Disappointing: Norman Powell
Before running up on the big name awards, let’s touch on some of the sadder stuff this season. Without question, the mystery of Powell is this year’s biggest bummer. Coming into this season, it felt inevitable that Norm would get to start for the Raptors and be a big part of their identity moving forward. Now, however, it remains to be seen if there’s even still a place for him on this team.
Of course, we’ve all seen what Norm can do. He was the hero of two straight playoff runs. That counts — even if his shooting is still very streaky, and his decision-making is shaky at best. I don’t have an answer here, I just want Powell to get back to... his norm.
Runner-Up: Bruno Caboclo
Almost four years later, we never got any closer to unravelling what Bruno Caboclo could bring to Toronto in the NBA. All those jokes, and for what???
Most Disheartening: Lucas Nogueira
Bebe is arguably the easiest Raptor to root for, which makes his long absences from the court highly crushing. That said, when Nogueira enters a game, it’s to a decent amount of fanfare (online and IRL) and to a weird knuckleball-type effect. He can come in, change the team’s energy, make some wildly compelling plays — and then disappear.
It’s just disheartening that Nogueira remains the third centre on the Raptors, and does not appear to be any closer to claiming a more permanent spot on the team. The injuries that come almost every time he gets an extended run don’t help. And what’s worse: Nogueira seems to understand his (at times existential) predicament quite well. Bebe, we’re all cheering for you!
Runner-Up: Bruno Caboclo
Ditto for Bruno. I don’t have any bad words for the young Brazilian, even though he never quite worked out in Toronto. There’s also that 905 title though, that’s something at least.
And now the grand finale...
Sixth Man of the Year: Fred VanVleet
All you need to know about VanVleet winning this award is in the games he missed. Each and every time FVV sat a game — for whatever reason — the Raptors’ bench lacked organization and punch. They could still win without him, but the work always looked just a bit harder, the squad always looking a tad unsettled. That Toronto now trusts VanVleet to close games, to make the right play, to hit the big shot, is a testament not only to his tireless work ethic, but also his entire “bet on yourself” ethos. The Raptors (and the fanbase) are ready to go to war with Fred VanVleet — a statement no one saw coming at the start of the season.
Runner-Up: Pascal Siakam
We’ve gone over Siakam enough so I’ll just add this: I am very much invested in and excited for the future of Pascal in Toronto.
MVP: DeMar DeRozan
We take DeRozan for granted sometimes. Not every good player can identify his own weaknesses and then, through sheer will, turn them into strengths. DeRozan has been so good this season, we didn’t even blink when his scoring average dipped by four points. Shooting more efficiently from the field (and from three) will do that, of course. But averaging a career-high in assists (5.2), and exuding a certain belief in your teammates helps too.
DeRozan has been Toronto’s hero a few times this season, the go-to player who has delivered some electrifying moments (see the above highlight, or his 52 points against the Bucks on New Year’s Day). DeMar has become a big game player, and the Raptors have often needed him to do it all on the offensive end. That he can now actually do that, again, is a testament to DeRozan and his ability to reinvent himself. We take it for granted, but we shouldn’t: DeRozan is something special.
Runner-Up: Kyle Lowry
I think it’s summed up extremely well here. Lowry had to modify his entire sense of the game of basketball, and himself, this year. And while it’s taken time to get there, it’s the biggest change-up for the Raptors this season. It has also proven to be incredibly valuable indeed.