The first round has been done for the Raptors since Friday night, and we’ve had a lot of time to sit back and reflect on it. It’s a strange new world to be in if you’re a Raps fan, but it’s also very exciting.
Now that we know Toronto’s second round opponent — gulp, the Cavaliers — let’s take one last look at how the squad did in the first round against Washington, and what each player (and coach) needs to improve if they’re to advance past LeBron James.
(And let me give some credit to habbrorapjay for the idea. Check his FanPost here for his Raptors first round report card.)
The silence around Lowry’s first round performance is absolutely astounding. For the last four years, many words have been spent describing the agony of watching Lowry play in the post-season. He can’t shoot, he can’t make plays, he can’t do anything, these people said. The one mention Lowry did get, in the venerated pages of Sports Illustrated no less, he was said to have been “neutralized.”
To which, all I can say is: which series were you watching? Lowry averaged 36 minutes per game against the Wizards, put up 17.2 points, 8.3 assists, and 4.8 rebounds, while shooting 47 percent from the field and 44 percent from three. He held onto a net rating of +8.9 over the series’ six games. What more could you possibly want?
Needs to Improve: Honestly, just keep on keepin’ on. This is the version of Lowry we all know and love — featuring heady play, a constant desire to push the pace, and a sharpshooter’s accuracy from deep.
By his own admission, there are some shots DeRozan would like back in the post-season’s first six games. It’s not quite his fault the Raptors choked away Game 4, but it did represent the low point for DeRozan, and the nadir of where his game can sometimes lead the team.
That said, DeRozan still averaged 26.7 points over six games, and was just 0.2 shy of five assists per game. On top of that, thanks to the culture resent, DeRozan put in 39 percent of his threes (he took 4.3 per game), which is a huge jump over previous years. The bottom line for DeRozan is this: stay aggressive, stay active, and stay aware, and everything will work out for Toronto and him.
Needs to Improve: Just keep the situational awareness in check. Sometimes DeRozan gets a little to comfortable going 1-on-1, which is something the Raps need from time to time — but not all the time.
Did you know OG Anunoby is a rookie in his first post-season? If you watched him play for stretches — when he was, you know, allowed to play — Anunoby looked like the confident aggressor. He bombed open threes when they were there, made smart cuts, and even found his teammates with some clever passes. All this while defending two different All-Star guards for stretches.
Needs to Improve: Hmm, maybe he needs to lobby coach Dwane Casey to play more in the fourth quarter? With LeBron James coming, now may be the time.
We’ll always have the version of Ibaka from Games 1 and 2 in our memory. Whether or not this is a good thing, considering how Serge played for the final four games of the series, is still up for debate. If nothing else, Ibaka’s play highlighted both the Raptors need for the big man — he can hit shots from anywhere on the floor, and he remains a defensive stalwart — and the gaping hole in the frontcourt when he’s off.
Fortunately the Wizards didn’t have any great counter punches to hit the Raps with — as they were dealing with their own flaky power forward in Markieff Morris — but now comes LeBron and Kevin Love. Toronto will need more than 8.8 points per game, and a wavering attention, from Serge Ibaka.
Needs to Improve: Turnovers! Hoo boy, every pass thrown Ibaka’s way after Games 1 and 2 came with an airborne advisory warning: please use two hands Serge, please catch the ball before looking to the next step, please don’t shuffle your feet, please please please.
Our large adult son played just about as well as could be expected him and then some. In fact, Valanciunas’ value became so apparent, especially after the Game 4 collapse, that he got to help close out games the rest of the way. Game 5 acts as the new high-water mark for JV: the big man came in, grabbed every rebound, made plays at the rim on both ends, and even credibly defended the pick-and-roll.
Valanciunas does not get enough credit sometimes for doing everything he can to try to fit in with the Raptors, and the league at large. He’s getting his due now — let’s just hope he keeps it rolling into the second round.
Needs to Improve: There’s always room to improve for JV on defense. The Cavaliers are going to try and punish him on that end, and he’s got to remember what he can do.
I’m not going to bag on Miles for missing threes — sometimes that happens, and in truth, the Raptors need him to take as many as he can, make or miss. The Wizards knew this and threw everything they could at him to slow him down. It sort of worked, but Miles still got up 5.2 attempts per game, and hit almost 40 percent of them.
My only concern is the defense. There are times when Miles gets worked on that end, and it can cost the Raptors big time — especially when they try to go small with him at the 4-spot. Admittedly there’s only so much Miles can do (he’s not about to put on 40 pounds and become a “traditional” power forward), but still: he’s got to stay a tad stronger on that end.
Needs to Improve: I think I covered it. Work on the defensive end, and just let fly with confidence. No problem!
In case you missed it, Delon Wright played well in four games of the series against Washington, and the Raptors won all four of those games. Stepping into the shoes of Fred VanVleet may have been a tall order, but Wright did it with aplomb, while bringing is own whirl-gig game to bear on the proceedings.
Wright averaged 10.7 points, 2.7 assists, 2.5 rebounds, and an eye-opening 2.3 steals per game in the first round. What’s more, he shot 2.5 threes per game, and hit a wild 47 percent of those attempts. When Delon is playing with confidence, the Raptors are a whole different team.
Needs to Improve: The mindset. When Wright is playing his game — jumping passing lanes making those sneaky drives, going for blocks and steals and generally being a disruptive force wherever he can — the Raptors are fearsome. Hopefully Delon will not wilt under the brighter lights of the second round.
Siakam was a semi-non-factor for large chunks of the Wizards series. He couldn’t quite get into his fastbreak groove, and his offense struggled as a result. Now, we could say that the return of FVV changed that, but it also looked like Pascal started to put it together on his own as the series went on — especially on defense.
Having a hyper active forward who can guard a player as big and strong as John Wall is, get this, a good thing. Siakam finally found his legs as the team needed him to do more. He only put up 6.3 points per game, but the confidence boost he rediscovered may prove to be invaluable.
Needs to Improve: It’s always going to come down to shooting with Siakam. Toronto can’t quite count on him from deep, and sometimes his offensive game really leaves him. He’s got to, got to make the other team guard him to be at his most effective.
Like his frontcourt running mate, Poeltl took some time to find his sea legs in the post-season. And like Pascal, Jakob’s presence in the series waxed and waned with his confidence. His stat line doesn’t exactly jump out, but he did get the chance to go for a few sharp blocks, and the fake hand-off play he sometimes pulls out with Miles is a nice wrinkle to his game.
But the Raptors were killed on the boards for stretches of the Wizards series, and that’s something of an issue when Poeltl is on the floor.
Needs to Improve: Poeltl still has that high IQ to work with, but it doesn’t mean as much when he’s just straight up getting bullied. If the Cavaliers lean on Tristan Thompson more in the coming games, Poeltl may have his work cut out for him.
The only problem with VanVleet right now is, naturally, his injured shoulder. He said he felt very sore after his Game 6 minutes, but here’s hoping that fades with time. The extra days off may help too.
In any case, it’s official: FVV’s mere presence on the court helps the Raptors. I don’t know how else to describe what he does except to say he imbues the whole squad with a level of confidence and belief that they wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise. Coming into the second round, that’s huge.
Needs to Improve: His health, obviously. There’s nothing more that needs to be said here.
Well, Powell didn’t get to have a big Norm moment in the first round, as he has the past two years, but, uh, also he didn’t embarrass himself at least, right? Whether or not Powell has a role to play in the Raptors’ post-season future given that they’re now back at full strength remains to be seen.
Needs to Improve: Just... I don’t know. His whole game? It feels so weird to be here with Powell right now. The last two post-seasons he felt like an invincible cannon ball, and now I’d prefer if he maybe didn’t see the court again. Yikes.
Wild Game 1 ride aside, Bebe didn’t have much else to say or do for the Raptors in the Wizards series. He’s still the Raps’ best lob threat, and there is still something to his rim protection skills — but I’m also positive Casey does not quite trust him in a big spot. The knuckle-ball comparison remains solid: Toronto can try him out and mess with an opponent’s timing, but they also risk hanging Bebe out there and getting shelled.
Needs to Improve: Decision making. There were highs to the Bebe experience in the first round — namely, turning down a relatively easy lay-up for a pass out to Miles for the three in Game 1. But the lows were there too — putting a pass off the back of Ibaka’s head — that sum up why we probably won’t see much of Nogueira for the rest of the playoffs.
I’m not even sure how I’m writing a section on Lorenzo Brown that doesn’t involve his playing in merely garbage time minutes. No disrespect to the G League MVP, but Brown only got to play because of FVV’s absence, and because Casey really was searching for something, anything, from the bench.
Needs to Improve: Look, Brown is the team’s 12th man for a reason.
Casey was faster with his adjustments than in post-season’s past, but the Game 4 loss may still squarely hang on him. There were also times when he probably got too cute with his rotations, trying 11th and 12th-man combinations that just weren’t there. And finally, I think we can all agree that the Jakob Poeltl-Serge Ibaka pairing has to end — it’s been something of the Raptors’ Achilles heel for months now.
Still, some kudos: trusting JV down the stretch of Games 4 and 5, figuring out how to crack open Games 1 and 2 with some fun lineups, and generally just trusting when and how best to leverage the Raptors’ depth. Casey’s trust is still on something of a weird sliding scale, but it does extend to the entire roster at times — and that’s not nothing (especially as we watched the Wizards wilt from exhaustion in Game 6).
Needs to Improve: The 10-man rotation is back, and it stands to reason Casey knows how best to employ everyone now. There shouldn’t be anymore searching against the Cavaliers. Now here’s hoping he remembers how to use Valanciunas, and, hmm, maybe trusts OG a tad more? We’ll see. If nothing else, I believe in Dwane Casey.