With their victory over the Charlotte Hornets last night, the Toronto Raptors have now played 41 games, the exact midpoint of the season — which means it’s report card time.
When I did the quarter-season grades, the Raptors weren’t exactly playing great, but they were 11-10 and there was still plenty of hope, especially with Pascal Siakam having just returned from injury.
Now? They’ve gone 7-13 since, have an 18-23 record and they’re clinging to hope by a very thin thread.
Naturally, then, these grades will be much worse than last time out.
As I wrote about last weekend, the Raptors’ funk and their record isn’t entirely the players’ fault — but they still bear some of the blame and the grades will reflect that.
Let’s start at the end of the bench.
Toronto Raptors midseason grades: Deep bench
Dalano Banton, Jeff Dowtin, and Ron Harper Jr. have spent most of the season with the Raptors 905 in Mississauga, and each has had their moments in the G League. I asked our resident 905 expert JD Quirante for his take:
Jeff Dowtin: Dowtin has had a decent Raptors 905 campaign, playing 14 games during the Showcase Cup, averaging 19.4 points and 6.9 assists. He had an interesting PG stint, where he concentrated on setting up his teammates to start games while taking over in the fourth when the team needed him. He played well in pockets defensively, but it’s hard to assess whether he was good or bad overall, as the team was bad defensively the entire Showcase cup. I can definitely say that he’s shown a much better defensive effort every time he’s on the floor with the Raptors. His three-point numbers haven’t improved, though, and his catch-and-shoots threes are particularly bad. (--JD Quirante)
Ron Harper Jr: Harper has been an excellent 3rd option for the Raptors 905, showcasing a modern shot profile: 3-pointers and paint points. A streaky 3-point shooter, Harper can get hot. He plays like a PF in the paint, but finishing around the rim depends on using his wide body to carve space; otherwise, he’ll struggle to finish over a defender. Needs to get better w/ lateral defense, but his length makes a difference in passing lanes and blocking 3-point shots. (--JD Quirante)
Dalano Banton: Banton is essentially the same player that killed it in the G League last season. He’s the #1 option when he’s on the floor and always in attack mode, pushing the pace at all times. Don’t let the 905 #s fool you — his three-point shot is getting better, looking more and more fluid. He even got the box-and-one treatment from the Long Island Nets! Banton still struggles splitting screens and dribbling through traffic, which is my only criticism through five games. (--JD Quirante)
Otto Porter Jr.: The news came down yesterday: Porter will miss the rest of the season following foot surgery. Part of me is angry and wants to give Porter an F, but that hardly seems fair… but he only played in a mere eight games and although he played well enough in those contests, hitting a handful of Js and playing pretty stout D, it’s not enough to deliver a grade.
Khem Birch: Birch hasn’t played much (career low 8.1 minutes per game) and to my eye, it’s not entirely clear why. If the team had been fully healthy all year, I’d understand Birch being buried on the bench. Or, if the players ahead of him were playing at a high level. That Birch hasn’t been given more of a shot, must on its own, explain some of it; perhaps a career-low 5.6 rebounds per game per 36 also has something to do with it. If Birch isn’t hitting the glass during his few minutes, that might be a way for him to earn some more!
Malachi Flynn: Well, this was Flynn’s chance: When the Raptors came in to the season without having signed a backup point guard, it could have been taken as the team believing in his potential to fill that role. When Flynn played well for a six-game stint in late December, we all thought, “it’s finally happening!” Alas, it’s been back to inconsistent and underwhelming since. With two and a half seasons under his belt, and more than a few (mostly squandered) opportunities, I think it’s time to admit “inconsistent and underwhelming” might be Flynn’s ceiling.
Toronto Raptors Midseason Grades: Reserves
Precious Achiuwa: It’s tempting to give Achiuwa an incomplete or N/A, after he sustained a pretty nasty ankle injury in game 12 and then missed 24 straight. But in the 17 he has played... yikes. It’s been pretty rough. We’ll cut him some slack due to the injury, and his rebounding numbers are surprisingly solid in his limited minutes, but shooting 38% from the field and 15% from downtown (before last night) ain’t good enough, and the decision making — particularly on when to take the ball himself or let the offense come to him. If there’s any positive, he had his best game of the season last night: Let’s hope it’s a sign of things to come.
Juancho Hernangomez: On the one hand, Hernangomez hasn’t gotten too many chances this season. On the other hand, he’s been one of the Raptors’ most consistent bench players. Both things can be true on this team! Juancho had a B at midseason, and even though the team results haven’t been there, and the numbers aren’t particularly impressive, I just find Hernangomez to generally be in the right place at the right time and make the right play. What more can you want from the 10th man?
Christian Koloko: I think Christian Koloko has had one of the best individual seasons on the team. Not by the numbers, sure. And not really by his play, either. But against expectations? Absolutely. Koloko was the 33rd pick in the draft, a project, who was selected because he filled a need, not because he was the best player on the board. He was expected to ride the pine and play some garbage time with the big club, but spend most of his time with the 905. Surprise! He’s playing 17 minutes per game, played in all but three of the team’s games, and started 19 of them. Those minutes aren’t always pretty, and he’s dealing with a pretty rough rookie whistle, but he’s had his moments, and gives the team a different look on both ends. How can that be anything less than a successful rookie half-season?
Thad Young: In some ways it’s hard to grade Thad because the minutes have been so inconsistent, and — as with Birch and Hernangomez — it’s not always entirely clear why. For example: Young had one of his best games of the year as the Raptors defeated the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, but didn’t get off the bench last night against the Hornets. So it doesn’t feel right to blame that entirely on him. That said, even though his minutes are down, his per-36 numbers are also down, and he hasn’t shown enough of those flashes that he had towards the end of last season, where he was developing awesome playmaking chemistry with Precious Achiuwa and particularly Chris Boucher. And like most of the rest of the team, he can’t hit anything from three-point range — he’s shooting 18% on less than one attempt per game (after shooting 39.5% on 1.7 attempts in his 26 games with the Raptors last season).
Chris Boucher: Remember when Chris Boucher started last season slowly, and then turned it around when the calendar turned to January? No such luck this year, at least not yet. His shooting numbers are all down (and they weren’t exactly great last year), and even tough he’s playing the same number of minutes per game, his rebounds are down. Still, he consistently plays with energy that often feels lacking — the game is never boring when he’s on the floor, and his work crashing the offensive glass has kept more than a few Raptors possessions alive.
Toronto Raptors midseason grades: The starters
Scottie Barnes: Let’s just say it: Barnes has not lived up to expectations this year. That doesn’t mean he’s been bad, though he’s certainly had a few tough moments. But he still shows those flashes of playmaking and athleticism that seem like glimpses of the future of basketball, and his numbers, while all down from last season, are still pretty solid. But the Raptors doubled down on the current roster last summer because they were expecting Barnes’ role to expand, and he hasn’t been able to meet those expectations — and that’s a big part of why their record is what it is.
Gary Trent Jr.: Everyone’s favourite trade target! Like everyone else on this cursed team, Trent’s overall shooting numbers are down from last year, but he’s still scoring 18 a game, and is often the team’s best shot creator. Furthermore, he’s been awesome since missing four games with a hip injury; in the 8 games since he’s averaging 23 points on 47/45/89 shooting splits, with 3.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.9 steals. Maybe all he’s doing is boosting his trade value (which is fine too) but the Raptors need everything they can get from Trent.
O.G. Anunoby: O.G.’s Defensive Player of the Year campaign may have taken a hit as the Raptors’ team D has gone down the toilet, but watching Anunoby has been a treat. He may not be the DPOY, but he’s still an All-NBA-caliber defender, capable of locking up the opposing team’s best player, and he intercepts passes like a cornerback (oh yeah, he’s leading the league in steals). Offensively, his shooting numbers are about on par from last year (a rarity on this team) — in fact his two-point shooting is up, and he’s averaging a career-highs in points, rebounds, and steals. If he keeps this up, we’re gonna start saying “we’re not only wasting a great Pascal Siakam season, we’re wasting a great O.G. Anunoby season too!”
Fred VanVleet: VanVleet’s grade is the hardest to determine. On the one hand, he's had some terrible shooting nights, including missing some clutch three-pointers that could have swung games; and on defense, he’s given up an alarming number of blow-bys, likely fueled by a sore back. On the other hand, they probably have six wins they wouldn’t have had without VanVleet putting his hands all over them. Much like Barnes, though, the Raptors simply needed — and expected — better play from VanVleet to allow for progression from last year’s 48-win team. They haven’t gotten it.
Pascal Siakam: I almost feel like a 17-win team that barely beat the tank-tastic Charlotte Hornets last night shouldn’t have (and doesn’t deserve to have) a player with an A grade. But Siakam is having an all-time great Raptors season — 25.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 6.5 assists, on 47/43/78 shooting splits. And that doesn’t even mention the defensive effort, which remains elite (look at his defense on Damian Lillard late on Sunday, for an example). If the Raptors’ record were better, he’d be in the MVP conversation; as it is anyone who ever questioned Siakam’s All-NBA credentials should be forever silenced. It will be a damn shame if Siakam doesn’t get the opportunity to put up these numbers in the playoffs, but I for one am glad to have this guy on my team.
Coach Nick Nurse: Nurse’s flaws as a coach (inability to trust role players, lack of offensive creativity, over-adherence to defensive scheme) have been on full display this season as his players have struggled. It’s definitely frustrating to watch the same anemic offense and the same scrambling defense, now suddenly a step behind, and not see the gameplay adjusted in a meaningful way. On the other hand, sometimes as a coach you have to step back and trust your schemes — and more importantly, trust your players to execute it, especially when you know they can do it — as they did last year. But at the end of the day, this roster should have more wins, and a good chunk of responsibility for that has to lay with the head coach.
The Raptors have 41 games to turn this thing around. Can they do it? Let’s hope these grades are a lot higher after 60 games!