I think we can all admit that last season was a brutal one for Toronto Raptors fans. We all know that the Raptors are not only Toronto’s team, but Canada’s team, and that’s one benefit that players can hold onto when playing for the Raptors.
Last year though, was a different story. Toronto hosted zero home games, and about the same amount of wins. Obviously a slight exaggeration, they did finish with 27, their lowest win total since the 2011-2012 season: a team which saw fan favourite, Jose Calderon lead the team in win shares.
It’s safe to say it was one of the worst seasons a Raptors team has ever put together; Toronto has only finished below 30 wins eight times in their 27 years as a franchise.
This season, the team is back in Toronto and back to being a successful franchise. Since 2013-14, the Raptors have only finished below .500 and missed the playoffs once; which was obviously last season. As we sit here at the all star break, 57 games in, Toronto has already surpassed last season’s win total (32-25). Toronto looks to be headed for the playoffs (or at least the play-in) once again!
I’ve officially been out of school for two years, and I know right around now is reading week. A good chance for students to recalibrate and prepare for the stretch run of the semester. Students can receive their first half marks, following midterms, and put in the work to improve on those grades, or like myself, take it as a chance to see how much room for error you have (hopefully my mom doesn’t read this).
Just like university students, the Raptors have the same luxury. I know they’re all dying to see their grades to know where they stand, and how they can improve going forward. That’s why I’m here. I am the official teacher for the Toronto Raptors, and am prepared to expose their report cards. Now, this is confidential information, so read it with caution.
Notice: There is a cap of 100 minutes played in order to get a grade. So Raptors legend, Goran Dragic just missed the cut with 90 minutes. He would get an F though, if I were to give him one. *Gets 5,000 new followers from angry Raptors fans*
Justin Champagnie: C+
Champagnie hasn’t played a ton, but understandable since he is on a two-way contract. My guess is that the Raptors likely convert his contract for the remainder of the season, because he plays with a lot of energy.
He is a good rebounder for his position, and can hit the odd 3-pointer. Although, it does seem that he will airball a three, and then splash a double teamed three in back-to-back possessions. He is the perfect use for a two-way contract, and once again, another example of Toronto’s front office identifying undrafted talent.
Malachi Flynn: C-
Malachi Flynn really dropped the ball on this one, but please don’t show that to his dad. In no way am I ready to give up on Flynn as a player. It’s silly to give up on someone in their second season, and Flynn hasn’t even been absolute flop material.
The reason I say he dropped the ball, is because there is a clear hole at backup point guard on this team. Dragic had a shot but didn’t want to be here, and Dalano Banton has been Toronto’s best option so far, but his lack of shooting and sporadic play has led to some short leashes from Nick Nurse.
Even with saying that though, Banton still holds the backup point guard minutes for right now, even though three starters will control the offense before Nurse hands the reigns over to Banton. Flynn’s lack of shooting and failed ability to create at the NBA level has led to his less-than-expected minute total. I’m sure the 23 year-old had a fun deadline being thrown in every trade machine hypothetical on Twitter.
Yuta Watanabe: B-
I’m surprised that Watanabe doesn’t play more. He is the definition of energy. He’s a solid on ball defender, and a good help defender, even though Anthony Edwards placed him on an absolute poster last season.
The only thing is, Watanabe doesn’t have much of an offensive game. He is athletic, so he can get to the rack, but for the most part is a zero on the offensive end of the floor. I would assume he doesn’t play a lot, because Toronto has such strong defenders that they don’t have to compromise on the offensive end with. I do enjoy watching him play though, and I think he could be used in certain situations more when Toronto just needs a jolt.
Dalano Banton: B
I basically just ended up writing Banton’s write-up during Flynn’s explanation: a theme pretty consistent this season. The rookie from Rexdale has been a fantastic second round selection, something Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster seem to pull off consistently.
Saying that Banton loves to push the pace would be an understatement. Every time he’s on the floor, the offense is gunning... Or at least he is and everyone else is playing catchup. He is quite a bit bigger than the majority of point guards as well. Standing at 6’9” (the Raptors’ favourite height) he gives Toronto a lengthy defense when he’s on the floor, and the ability to play small-big-ball. Yeah, there’s a great name for what Toronto’s trying to do.
Khem Birch: C+
I really struggled with this one. Birch’s production has probably been close to a B, but only playing in 31 games hurts him. He has been a very solid backup center for the most part. Him and Precious Achiuwa both had opportunities to start at center before Nurse ultimately made the right choice and just ran with the small lineup of the five best players on the team.
Now Birch is a part of a bench that is productive in very small minutes, but can’t stay on the floor for long periods of time. Birch has probably been the most consistent option off the bench, despite his injuries. He is probably the best “big” option for a team with quite literally no true bigs. A series against Philly could likely see an uptick in Birch’s minutes, but aside from that, it is tough being a guy who thrives as a pick-and-roll dive man, on a team that doesn’t run a lot of that due to personnel.
Svi Mykhailiuk: D+
A shooting specialist, who has struggled shooting the ball, only 30% from 3-point this year. Svi was a part of the Raptors eight-man rotation at the start of the year, but as Watanabe and Pascak Siakam returned from injuries, Svi slowly fell out.
He can do a bit off the dribble, and is a decent defender, he just hasn’t been effective when on the court. I still like him as a 10th man or so, but as far as rotation goes, he likely won’t be playing any serious minutes unless there are a lot of injuries.
Precious Achiuwa: B-
I was really excited when Achiuwa came over in the Lowry trade. Clearly, he is the only real asset that Toronto got back, but if you were to get asked the question of Precious or nothing, you would 100% of the time say “Precious.”
Things can get out of control quick with him. Whether it’s Precious driving to the net no matter who or what is in the way, or jumping on pump fakes, or shooting unnecessary threes, Achiuwa will typically have one or two of these mistakes per game.
However, with a young athletic big like him, a lot of upside comes with it as well. Including a 3-point shot which has grown a lot this year. Achiuwa shoots 33.3% on catch and shoot threes this season. He has a lot of upside at only 22 years old. I think Toronto got a solid back-up big for the future.
Chris Boucher: B
I think a B is the safest way to describe Boucher’s career. Some games he’s literally an A+, and some he’s below an F-. Boucher has had 14 games scoring in double digits since the new year, and has been a very consistent piece of Toronto’s bench.
A stringy big who rebounds very well, and blocks shots all over the court, Boucher is likely the most polarizing figure on Raptors Twitter. In the same night he’s getting thrown in the trade machine, while also dropping 20 points in a Toronto win.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he was used as an interesting trade piece come summer, but he is the type of guy who wouldn’t have near as much value on another team, as he does in Toronto. He’s just super unique, because he isn’t necessarily a power forward, or center. Nurse has just found the perfect way to utilize him as a 3-point shooter, and rim protector.
OG Anunoby: B+
Toronto’s best defender, and an elite 3-and-D role player. He started to gain some more comfortability shooting off the dribble, but I think his handle will be the skill which holds him back the most. It still isn’t super tight or natural, but he has developed a bit of a step back, and post fade.
On defense though, OG remains the best defender on the team. A guy who can guard one-through-five, which is extremely useful in small-ball, and is probably a top five perimeter defender in the league. I think he gets overshadowed for All-Defense recognition because of how strong every other player is on defense for the Raptors, but he most definitely should end his career with a few of those awards.
Pascal Siakam: A
After missing the first few weeks of the season, Siakam took a little bit to get into the flow of things, but ever since January, he has made a case for All-NBA. Pull-up threes, step-backs, floaters, post moves, driving and spinning, and slicing and dicing; Pascal is literally scoring in every way.
During Toronto’s eight game winning streak in January, Pascal averaged 25 points per game, on more than efficient shooting. On top of that, we all know that Siakam is a top of the line defender. This just goes to show that you can’t judge a guy based on how he plays in Disneyland, and in a season with no home games.
Gary Trent Jr.: A-
When Toronto traded Norman Powell for Trent Jr. last season, I was quite happy. I saw the upside in Trent, but not like this. He has turned himself into one of the best defenders and pass deflectors in the NBA.
ON TOP OF THAT, he is shooting nearly 40% from 3-point range. At the end of January, Trent had a stretch where he looked like a top 10 player, scoring in 30+ five games in a row. He was always the name brought up to move to the bench, so Toronto could start a more traditional center. But he has played his way completely out of that conversation. Quite honestly, in fact, pretty well every player on Toronto’s starting five has.
Scottie Barnes: A-
“We want Jalen Suggs!” Said no Raptor fan since the season has started. It’s pretty surreal how we continue to doubt the drafting ability of Masai Ujiri. As soon as Scottie was drafted, I wasn’t impressed, but immediately leaned towards Masai knowing a lot more than me.
Now Toronto has a rookie who is a clear All-Rookie First Team selection, and a likely runner up for Rookie of the Year behind Evan Mobley. Some rookie mistakes in the form of forced shots and passes, and a lack of ability to shoot bring his grade down slightly. Other than that, there is really nothing negative to say about the kid. Wow I feel old being able to say that...
Fred VanVleet: A
What else is there to say about Fred’s season? Only the fifth undrafted player to make an All-Star team, and the first since Ben Wallace in 2006.
Nearly every advanced stat favours VanVleet in the argument for best player on the Raptors. Some would lean Siakam, including myself, but there is no argument that Fred didn’t deserve to be an All-Star this season.
Fred is putting up career highs in points (21.6), assists (7.0), and rebounds (4.6), all while playing at an efficient clip. The main question now, is if VanVleet can be a number one or two option come playoff time.
With 25 games and a playoff push to go, the Raptors have a chance to improve upon their grades before the regular season ends. How they do will impact whether they’re straight through to the playoffs, or playing in.