If you can believe this, the Raptors are 27-14, which means they’re only two wins off last year’s (championship) pace. On top of that, yowza, we’re already at the half-season mark! Time flies when you’re having, well... fun is perhaps a strong word to use. The Raptors have been racked by injuries for most of the past 21 games between the quarter and mid-season. It’s been stressful for a few reasons because of that. But the Raptors are still good, and still in a good place to make some noise in the post-season. What more could we ask for?
I know what we could ask for: a mid-season report card! Welcome to why we’re here. With 41 games now on the books, it’s time to re-assess the Raptors after half a season. Who’s been playing up to standards? Who has exceeded them? And who has, well, not being doing that. Let’s get to it.
Kyle Lowry - A
Not surprisingly, Lowry has been the bedrock of the Raptors once again. With Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet missing for chunks of the past month, the team’s offense has fallen almost entirely into Lowry’s hands and he’s made the most of it — and his teammates. To use a recent example of what Lowry has been doing, look to that recent OKC game: things going sideways, game on the line, and there’s Lowry making a sequence of huge plays to secure the win. The fact that he still has that in his bag — when he’s supposed to be ceding the offensive controls to Siakam — is striking. Putting up 20.2 points a game this year is exactly what Toronto needs from Lowry.
Pascal Siakam - A-
I thought about notching Siakam down to a B+ for the past 21 games, but it felt unfair to do so since his relative quiet on the court has come because he hasn’t been on the court. We know this, which makes talking about Siakam for the season so far a bit odd. Prior to his injury he was, generally speaking, awesome. Since returning he has been, uh, kind of invisible? I don’t know what else to say here. Coming back from a groin injury, for a guy who relies on his elasticity above all else, is no easy feat. Here’s hoping Siakam can regain his form before the three-quarter mark.
Fred VanVleet - A
As with Siakam, the key with VanVleet is his health. We’ve seen what happens when Fred is not quite 100 percent — even as he gamely tries to play through whatever ails him. He’s been on and off the court for most of the last 20 games, and it’s shown in the lengths the Raptors have had to go to match what he brings to the team (steady ball-handling, great on-ball defense, deadly shooting). VanVleet’s only poor performance over the past month or so came against the Heat, a team designed to smother his inside-out game. It’s worth monitoring, even as he continues to average 18 points and seven assists a game on a steady diet of 3s and drives to the rim.
OG Anunoby - B
To start the season Anunoby looked like the second coming of Scottie Pippen. It got Raptors fans extemely hyped up, to say the least. When injuries struck, all eyes turned to OG to see what he would unleash with more usage coming his way. The results, unfortunately, were less than encouraging. It’s also worth noting that Anunoby’s shooting took an intense dive too. (He’s at 38 percent now from deep, but that’s mostly because he was at 50 percent for most of the first month of the season.) But lo and behold, guys like Siakam and Marc Gasol returned to the lineup, and suddenly the old Pippen look reemerged. It confirms something we perhaps already know about OG: he’s a secondary player, and a useful one at that.
Marc Gasol - A-
We were harsh on Gasol to start the season — he looked even more passive than usual on offense, and his scoring from inside the 3-point line was comically inept — but since his return after a month of rest, he’s been... awesome? The box scores don’t necessarily reflect this (though his 20-piece last night against the Wizards was something), but Gasol’s effect on the Raptors’ defense and, most importantly, their less offensively gifted players is noticeable. Making a hesitant player like Patrick McCaw into someone useful — at least some of the time — takes a special gift.
Serge Ibaka - B+
Serge Ibaka is now perhaps the most consistent player on the Raptors. He gets you 15-8 every night on a mix of jumpers and hook shots, he protects the rim, and he plays with a confidence befitting a man of his station. Ibaka also consistently does a few goofy things here and there — suddenly developing hands of stone, picking up dumb fouls, trying something wild on offense — but we can live with that for all the other positives he brings to Toronto. If nothing else, there’s no question of who Serge is, and that continues to be a comfort.
Norman Powell - A+
Speaking of consistency: Norm! The other night, with the game getting out of control in OKC, I actually sighed in relief when Powell checked in to settle things down. Norman Powell! Since returning from injury (which looked like it was going to be much worse, thank goodness), Powell has put up 20, 23, and 28 points while shooting 64 percent from the field and 55 percent from three, and becoming as solid a finisher at the rim as he’s ever been in his career. Small sample size, yes, but still: Norman Powell!
Patrick McCaw - D
McCaw’s continued presence and role on the Raptors is mystifying. Theoretically he’s the team’s third point guard/ball-handler, and he got a lot more minutes over the past month because of VanVleet’s absence in the backcourt. As many have pointed out, this is too many minutes for McCaw — but they’ve got to play someone. This his credit, McCaw has looked less hesitant to shoot as of late, and he’s actually put together some strong performances — an 18-8 vs. the Celtics, a double-double vs. the Hornets — but he still comes out at the bottom of Toronto’s plus/minus rankings more often than not. No amount of counting stats is going to change that.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson - A-
True to form, Hollis-Jefferson continues to be all over the place — both on and off the court. When he’s rolling, Rondae is a literal wrecking ball, able to break up any sort of situation on defense due to his ability and relentless effort. His shooting remains poor, but on offense he can surprise with a dose of ball-handling and a sneaky pass or two. In short, RHJ is not without his charms — even if they continue to be extremely rangy and, yes, all over the place. It’s likely Rondae’s role in Toronto will continue to vacillate based on situation, which is not a bad luxury to have on the bench.
Terence Davis - A-
Davis keeps his A- grade because he’s still doing the same things he was doing for the first quarter of the season. When he’s off, he’s way off, but when he’s on: slick pick-and-roll passes, unconscious threes, and a toughness the Raptors really do need. He’s a rookie — and an undrafted one at that — but the calls for Davis to get more minutes are not unfounded. He’s putting up 7.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game, while shooting 40 percent from three, and we are all just waiting... for more.
Chris Boucher - B-
Boucher has undoubtedly carved out a place for himself in the NBA. That’s the good news for the Raptors (and for him). He can get up and down the court with the best of them, his confidence is almost reckless, and his wingspan means he’ll always have some kind of role on defense. Boucher continues to work hard for Toronto even as his minutes start to shrink with the return of Siakam and Gasol. It’s also not his fault that, well, he’ll likely remain a guy who can be pushed around down low, even with his jumping ability and obvious toughness. For the Raptors, Boucher is a situational player, which tracks as an improvement in his case.
Matt Thomas - C+
Speaking of situational, here comes Matt Thomas, another player trying as hard as he can to stay on the floor for the Raps. Thomas is still a lights out shooter (48 percent from three!), but his utility at most other things on the floor is limited. Paired with other stout defensive players, he can hang; and let loose on offense, Toronto can absolutely call his number. There will always be a need for that kind of shooting, and coupled with Thomas’ ability to mix in a bit of passing and in-between shooting (including a floater!), means he’ll stick around. He’s just been mostly quiet as of late due to injury and, well, a lack of situations in which to really use him.
Stanley Johnson - F
Johnson is burly, and theoretically provides the Raptors with another strong wing on defense. But while his return from injury coincided with the absence of half of Toronto’s rotation, his effect on any one game was muted. The bottom line is this: Johnson’s defense is nowhere near effective enough to cancel out his disastrous efforts on offense. Seems like a nice guy, but I’ll be happy to not seem him take the court again outside of garbage time. Sorry!
Malcolm Miller - F
I hate to do this to Miller, but he recently got his shot — quite literally — and missed it. If we’re going to flunk Johnson for this then we have to give the guy who hit his first shot in almost two months just last night a failing grade. Miller may be the nicest guy on the Raptors’ bench, but much like Stanley, his defense is not all-worldly enough to offset the Kelvin scale absolute zero he brings on offense.
Oshae Brissett - C
Well now, look at this. Despite still being on a two-way contract with the Raptors and likely due to spend most of the rest of the season in the G League, Brissett gets his own spot because he made an impact in Toronto. Obviously Oshae’s game is still limited, but he did what he was supposed to do: hit a few threes, hustle as hard as possible on the glass, and make things difficult for opposing wings, guards, forwards, and anyone else unlucky enough to be put in his path. Coming out of nowhere to contribute means Brissett gets a passing grade for the half-season.
Dewan Hernandez, Shamorie Ponds, Paul Watson - INC.
Dewan has still barely played. Ponds hasn’t played either and is now off the team. Watson is officially a two-way player now for Toronto but, as you may have guessed, has not played any NBA minutes for the Raptors yet. We wait in anticipation!
Nick Nurse - A
What’s left to say about Nurse? After spending chunks of the first quarter of the season trying out all kinds of wacky defenses, Nurse has had to jig and re-jig his lineups to fill the holes due to injury. He’s done that with aplomb and helped the Raptors keep their wins and confidence up. In the process, he’s also become something of a player whisperer: when a guy needs a kick in the pants, he’s there to give it in just the right way to produce results.
Yes, Nurse’s insistence on playing McCaw upwards of 20 minutes is still somewhat confusing, but his ability to roll with what’s working (or to cancel what’s not) is a sight to behold. The latest wrinkle has been Toronto’s super big lineups with all four of OG, Pascal, Ibaka, and Gasol taking the floor together. It’s just one more tool in the box for Nurse and the Raptors, and it’s why he remains just the right coach for this squad. Now, on to the next 20 games.