We’ve had time to sit with the defeat now, I think. The Raptors were wiped out of the playoffs — and how! — on Monday night and now, at the end of the work week, we can sort through the wreckage.
Toronto played a total of ten post-season games this season (hey, the same amount as last year!), but their final resting place was the very same: crushed at the hands of LeBron James. Damn, I’m dredging up some feelings right now. Let’s just get to the overall Raptors Playoff Report card — 13 players, one coach, and 14 grades handed out.
(You can see the First Round Playoff Report Card here. This time I’ll thank Eric Koreen at the Athletic for indirectly reminding me to also prepare one of these for the whole post-season. Here’s what he said about the Raptors’ collective performance.)
To my mind, Lowry did everything he could to help the Raptors get where they needed to go. But he’s also a realist, and it when it became clear (see: Game 4 against the Cavaliers) that there was no magical lineup combination that was going to get Toronto past LeBron, his fighting spirit took a real hit.
That said, Lowry just had the best, most consistent, playoff run of his career. The highs in other post-seasons may have been higher (e.g. Game 7 vs. Miami in 2016), but the sustained excellence of this year are something for Lowry to hang his hat on.
Needs to Improve: Leadership? I ask because I don’t know what else there is to say. I suppose Lowry should be willing to lead his team with reckless abandon, even into the abyss of defeat. But Lowry is also too reasonable for that.
I’ve got to knock DeRozan here because, well, he was bad against the Cavaliers. DeMar couldn’t score efficiently, couldn’t get to the line, couldn’t make plays for others, and, on top of all of that, was getting mercilessly attacked on defense. DeRozan still had flashes of brilliance in the second round, and he was good to casually great in the first round, but the Raptors need a lot more than that to get, well, anywhere.
Needs to Improve: Defense. When your team is showing more fight (and grit) when you’re on the bench, there may be a reason for that. Not saying DeRozan doesn’t have that two-way gear, but he’s got to put it together consistently for the Raptors.
OG consistently looked unafraid of the moment throughout the playoffs, even when he was guarding the best player on the face of the planet. Any knocks on Anunoby’s performances can be chalked up to inexperience — I have no doubt he’ll be better next season, and get more trust from the coaches as a result.
Needs to Improve: His shooting was lights out in the second round (56 percent from the field, 45 percent from three) so we’ll leave that out. The main thing for OG is to be comfortable with the knowledge that he can in fact do the things his mind is telling him to do.
It can’t all be because of Father Time, can it? Ibaka joined the Raptors in 2017 as far and away their most experienced playoff performer — he’d been to the post-season almost every year of his career, including a trip to the Finals back in 2012. Serge was supposed to be the anchor for the Raptors.
But, uh, this Ibaka is not that. Instead, he shot 42 percent from the field, got worked on defense, and disappeared for long (long) stretches of games. What’s even more inexplicable is that he started off so well! I refuse to believe a 28-year-old Ibaka is already a relic, a fossil, just another casualty of basketball miles and wear, but we may need to face that reality head on.
Needs to Improve: Ball-handling and passing. Yes, there is a lot under that umbrella (and we could also probably add shooting if we wanted to get really catty about it), but that’s where we’re at with Ibaka. The stretch-4 skills he’s developed over the years have a value, but now he needs to be able to move better with the ball and make the right reads once he gets rolling.
Shout out to JV Hive, you guys were right. Valanciunas followed up on the playoff success he had back in 2016, with more minutes of absolute wreckage. It would have been nice to see one of those chippies he had in Game 1 vs. the Cavs go down, and sure, he’s still a bit slow-footed. But, there is definitely an argument to be made that after Lowry, he was the Raptors’ most consistent and fearsome player.
Needs to Improve: Speed! Not just foot-speed, but mental awareness too. This will always be the case with Valanciunas, but to his credit, he’s gotten better with it. All the other stuff: shooting, playmaking, moving with the ball, improved this year and in the playoffs — now JV just has to keep at it, and make decisions faster on both ends of the court.
Miles shot 42 percent on three-pointers in the playoffs on 45 attempts. There’s not much more to add here except to say: maybe take even more?
Needs to Improve: Defense. I know this is a tad unfair to say, particularly after he was often thrown on LeBron (and Kevin Love), but it’d be cool to see Miles find another gear to his defensive intensity.
My little brother Delon helped smother the Wizards, which was great to see, but then he got completely muscled off the court against the Cavaliers. Games 1 and 5 against Washington, in which he scored 18 points each time, shot a combined 5-of-6 from three, with a total five steals, is, to my mind, the ideal version of Wright. It’s just a shame it was so easy for Cleveland to wipe out the ineffable qualities he brings to Toronto.
Needs to Improve: It seems unlikely that Wright will suddenly come in next season as a hulking brute, so I’d recommend instead boosting his shooting confidence — on threes, midrange shots, any anything else he hunts out. Yes, Delon got extremely hot from three in the post-season (for a time), but he also talked himself out of taking shots, which is something the Raptors do not need.
Siakam’s first real taste of the post-season started slowly (he was generally a non-factor for the first five games of the Wizards series), but with the return of VanVleet and his own surging confidence, Pascal did get rolling. It’s just too bad there was literally no way he could stop LeBron James. That’s basically what we’re grading against here. Siakam played his heart out, and really did try to make the Cavaliers pay any time he could, but he doesn’t have all the skills and tools yet to flip games on his own. He’s trying though.
Needs to Improve: Shooting, oh god the shooting. The important thing here is this: it’s not that Siakam won’t put the ball up, and it’s not that Toronto doesn’t want him to put the ball up, it’s that other teams, right now, are hoping he’ll put the ball up. They’ll live with whatever happens after that. (Yes, I know Siakam technically shot 75 percent from three in the post-season; does that sound sustainable to you?)
Far be it for me to criticize the high-floored centre of the future in Toronto, but Poeltl’s playoffs generally trended downward as they went on. There was a slight peak in Games 3 and 4 against Washington (when Ibaka disappeared, and JV was getting run off the court — both games were losses), but that may have been a tactical error, given the Wizards’ work on the glass with Poeltl out there. And of course, the Cleveland series further undid a lot of the goodwill that Jak had built up altogether. You hate to see that.
Needs to Improve: Strength, obviously. Poeltl is a heady player who usually knows where to go and when to be there, but it doesn’t mean much if the other player can just bully him out of the way. Jak’s four rebounds per game in the playoffs actually reads as pretty high.
Not that it would have saved the Raptors’ post-season fortunes (what’s another undersized player in the face of LeBron), but it is a bummer we didn’t get the full Fred VanVleet experience in the playoffs. Props to Fred for gaming as much as he could, but he also shot 29 percent from three which is [checks papers] not good.
Needs to Improve: I’m of the controversial opinion that VanVleet is fine, and probably just needs to be playing with two functional shoulders. I know, an out there opinion, but I stand by it.
Powell needs his own personal culture reset. He barely played in the post-season for the Raptors, and his impact when he did play was extremely minimal. One year ago, who would have thought we’d be saying that about Norman Powell?
Needs to Improve: Decision making. Though he didn’t really get a chance to show it, Powell is still pressing every time he comes into a game for the Raptors. Whatever magic he had in the last two post-seasons is gone, but there’s a way to reclaim it: think just a bit smarter, don’t worry so much about outcome, and (for lack of a better phrase) trust the process.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
Needs to Improve: Mental consistency — which I wholly realize is a bit of a Catch-22 here. The reason why Bebe can make an impact is the wild randomness he can bring to a game. Sometimes (as in Game 1 vs. WAS), that’s awesome. And other times (Game 4 vs. CLE), an actual, verifiable disaster. I don’t know if this is something that can be solved.
Brown played meaningful playoff minutes in Games 2 and 3 of the Wizards series (the rest was blowout time). Toronto was fine in Game 2 (they won!), and very not fine in Game 3 (they lost), so we’ll call it a wash. I feel bad giving Brown an F here, because it’s not his fault he was tossed out there. But, yeah, he probably should not have played in any meaningful minutes. Sorry Zo!
Needs to Improve: It feels bad to dog-pile on Brown at this point. At 27 years old, he is what he is. Let’s just move on.
Yes, I realize this could slide easily to a B-grade, especially considering Casey’s performance in the Cavaliers series (e.g. putting Miles on Love, inserting Nogueira in Game 4, the inconsistent pick-and-roll coverage schemes), but I feel for Dwane regardless.
I don’t think there was an answer on the Raptors to solve the Cavs’ size, and it’s not his fault that Ibaka turned into a pumpkin, or that Poeltl was so thoroughly exposed (thus undoing his stout Bench Broskis combo). We can pick apart some of Casey’s play-calls, and those aforementioned substitution and scheme gaffs, but I’m not convinced that was all the coach’s fault. The players still have to go out and play the game.
In any case, we’ll always have that rollicking Wizards series, during which Casey unlocked some truly Fun and Good Raptors units one last time.
Needs to Improve: Uh, staying employed in Toronto? Good luck, coach!