Well I was really hoping to publish this after a win! Alas, with the chance to finally get back to .500 on the year, the Toronto Raptors unfortunately lost last night to the Cleveland Cavaliers, moving them to 30-32 on the season. And it doesn’t take a math whiz to know that means 62 games played, which is roughly three-quarters of the season! And that means it’s report card time.
Through their first 20 games, which we covered in this report card, the Raptors went 11-9. Nothing to write home about, but not bad, especially since Pascal Siakam missed 10 of those games with his adductor strain.
The next 21, covered here, were not so kind. The team went 7-14 and lost six straight at one point, including the two straight losses to the Orlando Magic that, to me, really showed us who this Raptors team is.
In their last 21, the Raptors are 12-9. They’ve looked better since Jakob Poeltl arrived, had a four-game win streak in there, and they’re 7-3 in their last 10, so it’s possible that things are looking up and the team is heading to a strong finish...
But you are what your record says you are and at 30-32, sitting in ninth place, well, that’s exactly where this team deserves to be after a thoroughly mediocre campaign to date.
As with our previous report card, we’ll start at the end of the bench (and we’ll skip Otto Porter Jr. this time out).
Toronto Raptors three-quarter season grades: Deep bench
Jeff Dowtin: Dowtin has started to get some run with the big club, seemingly replacing Malachi Flynn in the lineup and leapfrogging Dalano Banton. In this three games post-All-Star, he’s averaging 19 minutes per content, a sure sign that he’s earned a level of trust from Nick Nurse. Nurse has praised Dowtin’s steady defensive play, which is always top of mind for Nurse; offensively, he’s only averaging five points but he’s not forcing anything, which is good to see from a young player.
Ron Harper Jr: Harper has barely played with the big club, but he’s averaging 17 points, 3 assists and 5 boards with the Raptors 905, on 50/37/76 shooting splits. As a bit of a “tweeter” he may not have a role in the NBA, but if he can play defense, and if he can hit threes at a high rate, he might find a PJ Tucker-type role down the line.
Dalano Banton: Banton continues to play at a high level in the G League (19/7/5 through 12 games) but his shooting numbers aren’t great (44% from the field, 27% from downtown) and nothing has translated to his few minutes with the Raptors. There’s a case that a more consistent role would allow him to find a groove, but with the team making a playoff push, development minutes look to be rare in the final quarter of the season.
Malachi Flynn: In the last report card, I wrote Flynn off; he’d had some chances, and had a couple of solid games, but the consistency just wasn’t there. Nothing has changed so I have nothing new to say. Bring on the Dowtin minutes.
Toronto Raptors three-quarter season grades: Reserves
Juancho Hernangomez: Jauncho had a 10-game stretch just after the midpoint of the season where he was playing about 10 minutes a night, crashing the boards and making hustle plays. But he’s barely played lately and likely doesn’t have a role in the new-look rotation. Still, I have confidence that if the Raptors do need a warm body to come in and be solid, Hernangomez can do exactly that, which — as I said last time — is exactly what you want from a player in the 10th or 11th man spot.
Christian Koloko: The early season returns, numbers-wise, were always in Koloko’s favour. Sure, he couldn’t score and got called for a ton of fouls, but the Raptors were just better with him on the floor. So it makes sense that with a much better centre, Jakob Poeltl, the Raptors are even better now! Unfortunately that means no more minutes for Koloko. He’s played 6 G League games, and is averaging 14 points on 69% shooting from two-point range, along with 6 boards and 3.2 blocks. Not bad, but there’ve been some questions about his attitude with the 905, which isn’t a great look for a second-rounder.
Thad Young: Young has slipped even further down the rotation with Poeltl in the fold (and perhaps even further if Dowtin continues to impress). I suspect we still have one or two more “Thad games” to come in this stretch run — those games where he just makes 2-3 solid veteran plays that keep possessions alive or turn a 50-50 ball the Raptors’ way, and has a direct impact on the outcome of a game. But Young hasn’t received consistent minutes all year and I don’t see that changing in the final 20 games.
Precious Achiuwa: Achiuwa has come alive! The guy we saw last year post-All-Star is finally back! Well, maybe. He was here before the break — Achiuwa averaged 13 points (on 56% shooting) and 8 boards per game for the final 18 games heading into All-Star. And his defense was significantly improved. But in the three games since the break, he’s not been nearly as impressive. Hopefully it’s just rust and missing Fred VanVleet, and Achiuwa will bounce back soon.
Chris Boucher: Boucher looks to have found his groove, finally. He’s been bringing the energy all season, but the shooting just wasn’t there — until the last 10 games, where all of his averages are up, including the shooting (56% from the field). With Poeltl in place, and VanVleet coming back, Boucher’s role off the bench is solidified, and I expect he’ll continue to play well down the stretch run. (He also did this, a feat worthy of a high grade all its own.)
Toronto Raptors three-quarter season grades: The new guy
Jakob Poeltl: It should be too early to give Poeltl a grade — it’s only been five games, after all, and four with Poeltl as a starter. But the team has looked so much better (last night excepted) and Poeltl has been awesome, so, I’m gonna grade him anyway! A high one too! He’s averaging 14 points on 74% (!) shooting. I’ll take that! Plus the passing! The beautiful passing! And the defense has been much improved, and Poeltl isn’t just rim-protecting — he’s chasing out on the perimeter too! The free throws need work but, he’s a career 58% shooter so you kinda knew what we were getting there. It’s been a solid start for Jak and all reports on the ‘24 draft indicate it’s a weak one so the pick traded for him won’t be missed.
Toronto Raptors three-quarter season grades: The (old) starters
Gary Trent Jr.: I think we all know that it’s Gary Trent Jr. who’s going to the bench once VanVleet is back, right? On the one hand, it’s the most logical move; the Raptors don’t have any guard scoring or real shot creation off the bench, unless you count Achiuwa’s wild drives. On the other hand, it does make for an unbalanced starting lineup! On the other, other hand, the Poeltl starting lineup runs a lot of pick-and-rolls, but Gary might be the team’s worst playmaker as the ball handler in those situations (the next time he passes to the roller will be the first) so the bench role should be perfect. I’d like to see an uptick in Gary’s shooting numbers (just 42/36/89 in the last 21), and I have no idea what the Raptors will do with him in the offseason, but for the most part, he’s done everything he’s been asked of so far.
Scottie Barnes: It is with huge relied that I no longer have to centre my Scottie Barnes blurbs around his disappointing sophomore season. Barnes is back baby! Scottie is averaging 17/7/5 over the past 21, along with a steal and a block, on 46% shooting. While it’s not leaps and bounds over his rookie campaign, he’s been much better than he was through the first 41 games — more engaged, more active, with better decision making. It’s nice to have him back.
O.G. Anunoby: Anunoby missed 10 of the past 21 games, and hasn’t exactly looked sharp post-All-Star. One definitely wonders if Anunoby expected to be traded at the deadline, and/or if he doesn’t like his role on the new-look Raptors. Or maybe it is just rust! Whatever the case, the Raptors need more from Anunoby in these last 20 if they want to move up in the play-in chase (remember that the teams that finish 7th or 8th essentially have a double-elimination opportunity). The Raptors’ finish might also factor into personal accomplishments too. Anunoby continues to lead the league in steals, and it sure seems like he’ll (finally) make All-Defense, but finishing over .500 will make it that much more likely.
Fred VanVleet: VanVleet has taken an odd amount of blame for the Raptors’ woes this season. His numbers are virtually identical to last year when he was an All-Star though. So what gives? The defense is a big part of that. Fred’s hands are as heavy as ever, knocking balls away (particularly digging down on big men) but his point of attack D has left quite a bit to be desired. We know he was dealing with various ailments and was playing too many minutes, so maybe this extended All-Star-plus-family break are exactly what he needs.
Pascal Siakam: Now that the team is flirting with .500 basketball again, we can look forward to (hopefully) a playoff round, but also, Siakam getting another All-NBA nod. Much like Anunoby’s All-Defense case, a better team record mean’s Siakam’s chances of postseason recognition becomes that much more likely. What’s been most pleasing over the past 21 is that Siakam went through a slight funk, looking tired and slow... but he quickly snapped out of it, and has been averaging 26/7/5 on 50/50/75 shooting over the past 10. And have you seen the step-back J that’s now a consistent part of his repertoire? Smoooooth.
Coach Nick Nurse: The rotation has been more consistent over the past three games, though we’ll see if that continues once VanVleet is back (and we see how Nurse reacts to the team’s blowout loss to Cleveland). Overall the team has been playing much better of late, even before the Poeltl trade, with a stronger adherence to Nurse’s defensive principles, which is good to see. But the competition in those games wasn’t top-notch, and if more performances end up like the Cleveland game... well, then play-in (let alone playoff) success seems unlikely.