As they tip into the second half of the 2018-19 NBA season, the Raptors sit atop the league in total wins and once again rule the Eastern Conference. They’ve been weathering the storm of injuries quite well too, powered by some surprising wins and superlative all-around performances.
Before we turn our attentions fully to 2019 and everything that comes along with it — the trade deadline, the All-Star Game, post-season preparation — let’s look back at how those first 42 games have gone for this version of the Raptors. On paper, this could be the best team Toronto has ever had, but we have to contend with actual reality first.
It’s the Raptors Mid-season Report Card — and you know the drill. (For reference: here’s the Raptors Quarter-Season Report Card.)
Kyle Lowry: A-
If nothing else, the last 21 games have taught us exactly, specifically how important Kyle Lowry is to the Raptors. We’ve got to dock Lowry’s grade a bit here because the second quarter of his season has been nowhere close to as good as his first (what with a shooting slump and back injury). But make no mistake: Lowry continues to be the guy who can get it done for Toronto. And what’s more, when he’s on, his teammates almost always rise to his level (see Sunday night’s Indiana win for example). For a Raptors team still finding its way chemistry-wise, Lowry’s value in this regard is beyond compare.
Kawhi Leonard: A
He just keeps getting better, doesn’t he? Leonard still isn’t playing back-to-backs (contrary to reports from the Raps that he’s been cleared to do so), but that hasn’t stopped Kawhi for taking over games when he wants to. He’s on a run of 16 straight games with 20 or more points, recently set a new career-high with 45, and has done more to calmly eviscerate teams than any other Raptor (Joe Ingles may never be the same). Leonard isn’t perfect, but is there a more calming sight than one of his “I’m going to get to this spot, shoot, and score” drives? The Raptors need that kind of energy — and no one brings it like Kawhi.
Danny Green: A+
We’re going all the way with Danny Green right now. Can you remember a bad game he’s played, one where you wanted him off the court? After half a season, Green has put up maybe a handful of weak performances. The rest of the time: money from 3 (41 percent), money from inside the arc (50 percent), and always there with a steadying hand on either end of the court. Is it a coincidence that after one of the more disappointing losses of the Raptors season (vs. San Antonio), Green said some strong words and Toronto then rattled off two of its best wins? I say no.
Pascal Siakam: A+
Hi, hello, after another 21 games, Siakam’s numbers have actually gone up almost uniformly across the board. He’s now average 15 points per game, 6.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and shooting 58 percent from the field — including a truly monumental 36 percent from three. Siakam is still lethal in transition and near the basket, he’s still making plays for himself and for his teammates, and now he’s also navigating double teams (because he’s that dangerous) and bombing 3s from the corners. Siakam is the difference maker of the Raptors season.
Serge Ibaka: A-
Ibaka gets hit with the minus here only because he’s cooled off a little bit with his patented pick-and-pop jumpers. He’s gone from shooting 56 percent from the field through the year’s first 21 games, to just... 51 percent over the next 21. Everything else — the rebounding, the defensive utility, the shot-blocking — have remained consistent. Hell, Ibaka even had five assists in a big win against the Bucks. The only question remaining with Ibaka is if this level of play will last into April, May, and beyond.
Fred VanVleet: B+
There’s a case to be made here for giving Fred a straight up A for stepping into Lowry’s spot and doing a capable job. Few players can keep things going for the Raptors like Kyle can, so the fact that they’ve stayed on it with VanVleet in charge is nice to see. Also important: FVV has worked out some of his chemistry issues with the new lineups he’s been in, and he’s back to hitting some huge (huge) shots for Toronto. There are still times when he dribbles too much — even when he’s putting up, say, 14 assists in a game — but he’s making it work. I, for one, am not ready to bet against FVV.
Jonas Valanciunas: B+
The second quarter of JV’s season was going about the same as the first. He was popping off the bench and playing some uber-efficient lean minutes for the Raptors as their best rebounder, screen-setter, and post scorer. There were a couple of really fantastic performances in there too — the 26-point game against Joel Embiid stands way out. But Valanciunas’ hand injury put a halt to that momentum. At the very least, I have to take him down a peg for that. Now we’ll see if Jonas can regain his form fast.
OG Anunoby: C
Anunoby’s two most productive games as of late (a 21-point, 8-rebound blast to Cleveland, and a 12-piece on the road vs. the Clippers), have been lost in a general morass of forgettable outings for the once and future wing king in Toronto. Anunoby still has immense utility as a defensive stalwart, he just hasn’t been as good with the bench unit as he was with the starters last season. There are reasons for that, obviously, beyond just OG’s talent — but still, it does feel a bit disheartening to not see him take some sort of leap this season.
Delon Wright: D
My guy Will Lou compared Delon Wright to Terrence Ross and it felt like an accurate comparison. Wright isn’t the shooter Ross is — and likely never will be — but both have that same spiritual aura about them: they can make things happen in fits and starts, and look like the coolest players out there — and then they just disappear for long stretches. Even in garbage time or during games against weak opponents, Wright’s wow moments have shrunk (to say nothing of his numbers), and it’s not hard to see when and how his role will diminish as the Raptors head for the playoffs.
Norman Powell: B
Norm back??? This could be one of the most significant and feel-good stories of the Raptors’ year (and that’s saying a lot). Now in his fourth year, Powell has gone from folk hero, to pumpkin, to injured, to... dependable? Since coming back after a month off with a shoulder injury, Norm has flashed more control with his confidence, more moves with his feet, and just an all-around better presence on both ends of the floor. Yes, sometimes it’s still feast or famine with him (0-of-5 one night, 10-of-12 the next), but if Norm gets back to something resembling his breakout rookie season, the Raptors are on to something.
Greg Monroe: C
An injury hit Valanciunas, so Monroe got considerably more minutes than he did through the season’s first quarter. As a result, what have we learned? Well, every few contests Monroe will come up huge in the post and get the crowd chanting for Mooooooose. More often than not however, Monroe reverts to what he is now: a one-dimensional journeyman centre with some significant defensive issues and a general inability to do much else besides being big. Still, good guy though.
C.J. Miles: F
It brings me no joy to report this: the GoDaddy Curse has C.J. Miles completely in its grasp. There will likely not be any recovery. A real and true bummer. C.J., you’re still number one... in our hearts.
Lorenzo Brown: C-
It’s perhaps a bit telling that Brown hasn’t gotten many significant minutes in the past 21 games for the Raptors. He’s still ably filling his role — defensive-minded point guard who may or may not try something wild (e.g. trying to dunk on Myles Turner) — but the Raptors just haven’t had as much of a need for his services as of late. That’s fine though — someone has to sit at the end of the bench. [UPDATE: But apparently that guy is not going to be Brown.]
Malachi Richardson: D-
Unlike Brown, Richardson hasn’t really done anything to stand out at all. There have been no Malachi moments of note. Kudos, I guess, to the Raptors trying to make something happen with this former first round pick, but I’m not sure what else there is to do with a 3-and-D wing who hasn’t really played much defense (not from lack of trying!) and who can’t shoot (31 percent from the field).
Jordan Loyd and Chris Boucher: Inc. and C
The former hasn’t gotten any run in the NBA, and the latter did this in a recent game:
It took all of my will power not to give Boucher an immediate A.
Nick Nurse: A-
It’s the mark of a good coach that he can adjust when adversity strikes. The Raptors were hit with one serious injury (to Jonas Valanciunas) and then had to deal with another significant, troublesome one (to Kyle Lowry). They’ve had some tough losses, and some tremendous bounce back wins. Through it all it’s been hard to keep them out for long, whether it be from game to game, half to half, or quarter to quarter. Obviously the players play the games, and it doesn’t take a genius to, say, put the ball in Kawhi Leonard’s hands and let him go to work. But that’s discounting the general mood rookie coach Nick Nurse has fostered with the Raptors, and the in-game tactical adjustments he’s made — whether it be his use of zone defense or his re-jigging of lineups on the fly. Even with fantastic players, a coach doesn’t get a team to 30-12 by accident.
[in an extremely Nick Nurse voice] ...right?