There was much drama to the Raptors’ past 18 games — too much drama, if you ask me. For one thing, Toronto had to ride out a nine-game losing streak because three of the team’s core player contracted COVID. That led to a month of March in which the Raptors managed just one win. But! That one win came on the eve of the trade deadline at which we thought the franchise might move on from their captain, Kyle Lowry. Except that didn’t happen — they traded Norman Powell instead — and then Lowry hit the injured list.
The iteration of the Raptors we’ve seen most often lately has been built from odds and ends, featuring labourious efforts from Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and newcomer Gary Trent Jr. It has produced some fun outcomes (a 53-point blowout, an amazing buzzer-beater win, a few career nights), but Toronto has also stayed losing. As we arrive at the three-quarter mark of the season with the team at 21-33, having gone 4-14 over their past quarter season, the odds are now against them making the playoffs. As such, the Raptors’ grades have shifted once again.
Kyle Lowry - B+
Since Lowry is the bellwether of the team, it’s worth mentioning again that the Raptors have gone 4-14 over the past 18 games. Lowry has also missed eight of those contests and while it’s not entirely on him anymore to get Toronto to a W on any given night, it is funny to note that the one win he was involved in was also, by counting stats, his worst performance. (Though in typical Lowry fashion, he managed a +42 in Toronto’s lopsided win.) It’s perhaps sacrilegious to suggest Lowry as anything but an A-grade player, but if we’re shading towards the outcomes of the past quarter-season, it’s clear Lowry hasn’t been at his best — yes, even with a 19-assist night vs. Boston and a 15-assister against Detroit. At this point, regardless of what happens in the coming off-season, let’s just hope the toe issue he’s been dealing with is over soon and he can be his best self for the final run of the year.
Pascal Siakam - B-
If I’m going to dock Lowry a few points for his inability to get the Raptors to a win, I have to do so for Siakam too. Like Lowry, Siakam has been absolutely labouring uphill to get anything going for the Raptors. Add in COVID-related exhaustion (no small thing, to be sure) and it’s hard to be too disappointed in Siakam. There have been a few solid all-around performance from him over the past 18 games, but unfortunately the moments that stand out are the bad ones: no-showing (and fighting with coach Nick Nurse) against Cleveland, falling apart against Detroit, letting OKC run away with it, that dang double dribble against the Knicks. The circumstances do indeed suck right now — all we can really wonder about with Siakam is whether this year has taken a permanent toll on him or if progress truly is not linear and this step back will lead to another leap forward.
Fred VanVleet - A-
VanVleet has continued to be as stout as ever, despite his COVID-19 absence and a hip pointer that has had him out for the past five games. There have been a couple wonky shooting lines from VanVleet over the past 18 games, and his assist numbers are all over the place, but his effort has never been in question — even factoring in his comeback from the coronavirus. That’s truly remarkable for a player who continues to emerge as the new bedrock for the Raptors. Need an example of what I mean? While rookie Malachi Flynn was carving up the Cavaliers last Saturday, it was a sight to see VanVleet rooting him on from the bench. Yes, it would be better for Toronto to have Fred on the court, but his sheer presence continues to add something special to the team’s vibe.
OG Anunoby - A
Anunoby’s numbers continue to tick up across the board for the most part despite his own recent COVID-related absence. At this point, Anunoby’s three-point shot has become far more automatic, he can absolutely bully players at the rim, and he’s showing off more of his ball-handling and step-back jumper game than ever before. (Plus, OG is still one of the best defenders in the league.) In the Lakers game Anunoby was ejected from (for comically one-handed flipping Dennis Schroder), the reaction of the night actually belonged to OG’s former teammate Marc Gasol. The defensive genius defended Anunoby in the way that would have worked as recently as earlier this season: keep him in front of you and dare him to take an off-the-dribble jumper. Well, Marc learned quick that that doesn’t quite work anymore with OG.
Marc Gasol with the "He's doing that now??" on the OG pull-up fadeaway pic.twitter.com/dMjJqqU5kr— Vivek Jacob (@vivekmjacob) April 6, 2021
Aron Baynes - D
Maybe it’s unfair to bump Baynes back down to a D-grade after he posted his first double-double since January and also helped the Raptors win a game against Washingtion (while taking on his former back-up Alex Len). But also: Baynes is just... not good. With the arrival of Freddie Gillespie and Khem Birch, it’s clear the Raptors are looking for any reason to not have to rely on Baynes any more than they are right now. He’s trying his best when he’s out there, but, well, thanks but no thanks.
Gary Trent Jr. - A+
It is astounding how cleanly Trent Jr. has joined the Raptors, slotted into the starting lineup, and become a fan favourite in Toronto. (Showing out like this definitely helped.) He’s played just ten games for Toronto and is already posting a 18.4 points per game average with shooting splits of 47%/41%/86% — that’s productive stuff! Yes, Trent Jr. has had a few clunkers with Toronto, but he’s also set his career-high in scoring — twice! — and had the confidence to charge down the floor to hit this shot against the Wizards. Any player coming to Toronto to replace Norm was going to have big shoes to fill emotionally, yet Trent Jr. has done it all in such a short time it makes one excited for what the Raptors can hope for from him next.
Chris Boucher - B
Setting aside his monster career night against Chicago (38 points and 19 rebounds in a loss), the Boucher Experience has taken a bit of a tumble over the past 18 games. To his credit, Boucher has been trying to do a little more to flesh out his offensive game — a little more dribbling, a few more moves at the rim, etc. — but that “more” often equates to a little less in the grand scheme of things for the Raptors. With his Montreal buddy Khem Birch now on the team and playing minutes at centre, Boucher can ideally settle into his power forward role the rest of the way for Toronto. There’s still much value there, if only because Chris’ confidence never wavers on either end of the floor, but for now the appropriate level for Boucher’s role on Toronto is set.
Khem Birch - INC.
Birch has played 18 minutes for Toronto and we’re already quite excited. I don’t know if this is because it means no more Baynes, or if we’re all just really invested in the idea of an all-Montreal frontcourt. In any case, Birch gets the INC. for now. Let’s revisit at the end of the season.
Stanley Johnson - D
Like Baynes, Johnson occupies a weird space on the Raptors right now. He’s clearly a good guy and trying his best to help the team, but he’s just... not able to affect winning much for Toronto. At this point, we’re just running the clock down on Stanley, which doesn’t feel especially good. Special note here: that sequence in the game against Cleveland really was the Complete Stanley. He dribbled it off his foot in the pick-and-roll, recovered for an amazing chasedown block on Collin Sexton, and then crowded Sexton at the three-point line before simply ripping the ball away from him.
DeAndre’ Bembry - B
Yes, B still for Bembry. The Raptors’ do-it-all backcourt player has been up and down, as well as in and out of the lineup, but he’s a lot of the little things that help a team win. Bembry is not meant to be Toronto’s starting point guard — despite putting up a 15-7-5 line on one of the nights he was slotted in the role — but as the off-guard chaos creator, he can do a lot. Like Boucher, the key for Bembry is playing under control and picking his spots. When he’s on, he’s seemingly every where at once — when he’s off, you wonder what sport he’s even playing.
Malachi Flynn - B
If we were grading Flynn on the last four or five games, it might be an A+ to be honest — even with some of his costly turnovers. Since finally getting consistent minutes with the Raptors over the past 18 games, after his time in the G League and a COVID-related absence, Flynn has been steadily improving. At this point, this is really all he needs to do right now. That Flynn is also showing off a strong pick-and-roll game, a superlative handle, and a proclivity to shoot from anywhere (finally) is an added bonus — oh, and it definitely augurs well for the future.
Paul Watson - C-
When Watson played over the past 18 games (in just eight games), he was better than he’d been in the 36 games before that. His numbers are obviously still generally non-existent, but he’d been showing some of the calm utility the Raptors were hoping for when they signed him to a full-time NBA contract. I know I’ve been grading hard on absences this time around, but Watson’s COVID-related disappearance feels particularly cruel given the timing. Let’s hope he can get back to the court soon.
Yuta Watanabe - B-
The pendulum has swung back into the positive on Watanabe, even if we’ve had to readjust (re: lower) or expectations for the third-year forward. Given his place in Toronto’s rotation, Yuta tops out as a glue guy who doesn’t take much off the table when he’s out there. He lacks Bembry’s wild abandon, and he’s shooting comes and goes, but Watanabe does what he can. Over the past 18 games Watanabe has also set a new career-high in scoring (14 points) and hit more shots than he’s missed. In a season like this one, that’s good enough for the Raptors.
Jalen Harris - INC.
Any Jalen? No Jalen.
Freddie Gillespie - INC.
He’s a big guy!
Nick Nurse - B
Credit to Nurse for still trying a few things, and for giving players some chances to shine — even if they don’t quite deserve it (yet or ever). I don’t know how loose Nurse is able to keep his team, but I have to believe whatever he’s doing is working in part because, well, other than that blow-up with Siakam, the Raptors have been a tight ship once again.
This has been a tough year, and while Toronto has slowly fallen apart since the season’s midpoint, he’s still out there trying to win games while managing all of the bizarre ups and downs of the year. And while a player like Birch, for example, isn’t exactly a franchise-changer, it was cool to see a player excited to play for the Raptors’ head coach.