I know it’s not technically mid-season, but now seemed as good a time as any to take a look at how the Raptors are doing so far. Grades are obviously fairly subjective, and sometimes better grade does not necessarily mean a better player, and visa-versa. It’s a combination of performance and expectations.
This isn’t based on their record, or the season as a whole, but where they are right now. Since December 1st, they’re one of the best teams in the league, record-wise. They’re 14-6 in their last 20, they’ve beaten the Lakers, Cleveland, Dallas, Orlando and San Antonio (no this isn’t the same dominant San Antonio team it used to be, but they haven’t lost against a bad team yet, so it’s still a nice win). They’re also currently in the 5th seed in the East, three games ahead of the next challenger, with an outside chance of sneaking in the top 4 if Boston continues it’s bad play.
Unfortunately, they still have a lot of work to do defensively and still lose far too many battles on the boards. If they want to take the next step, both of these need to improve quite a bit. On the bright side, they’ve shown the ability to play good defense in stretches. It’s just the other 40+ minutes they have to improve on.
This next week it’s important that the Raptors try to win every game, because as easy as their schedule has been recently, March’s schedule makes Novembers look like a cakewalk. They have 9 away games (as opposed to 10 in November) and FOUR back to back games (including every second game of the back to backs on the road). On the plus side, 10 of the 16 games are against teams that are below the Raptors in the standings. Still, the Raptors are going to have to learn how to win on the road next month, or they might very well see themselves drop below Miami, Chicago and Charlotte.
CHRIS BOSH: A
He’s had an MVP-type season so far, and if the Raptors were higher in the standings he’d be talked about more in that department. I mentioned in a previous post that he’s got career highs in ppg, rpg and field goal percentage, but it’s the way he’s done it that is immpressive. He’s been relentless and has played at a high level against the good teams as well as the poorer teams. He’s been labeled in the past as a player who wilts under pressure and who dominates he bad teams, but underperforms against the great teams. As and example, he’s averaging 25.3 ppg on 64.4% shooting and 11.7 rebounds in three games against Boston this season, a team he’s been criticized in the past for being intimidated by.
Now, while he’s made a lot of the steps to become truly an elite player, one area he still could improve on is on defense. That’s not to say he’s a poor defender. On the contrary, despite what some Raptor fans seem to think, Bish is actually an above average defender. If he really wants to become the player he strives to be, however, he needs to become a great defender. He can be, he just needs to commit to it fully. As it is, he seems as though he wants to save himself for the offensive end, which is natural for a player who carries as much offensive load as Bosh does. He needs to change this attitude.
ANDREA BARGNANI: B-
Now I am often very hard on Bargnani and many claim I don’t give him enough credit for what he does well. Now, had this been the beginning of December, I would have given Bargnani a D-, in large part, for his poor defense. Since then, however, he’s turned things around in that department. It’s almost unheard of. He’s gone from, by far, the worst defender on the team, someone who Triano had to take out on defensive possessions late in games, to an above average defender who has held his own against some of the best big men in the league. He’s also become more consistent on offense, although he still has work to do in that area. He disappears on offense far too often.
So why only a B-? Am I being too hard on him? Well, his rebounding is still extremely poor. On one hand, he’s looking far more aggressive chasing after rebounds, but on the other hand, he’s still not actually, you know, getting those rebounds. And I’m not forgetting when he grabbed a career high 17 rebounds and followed it up with 12 the very next game. You want to know what he has averaged since then?
His rebounding is actually getting worse. Maybe the break will do him some good.
HEDO TURKOGLU: C-
No, I’m not grading on a curve. I realize that Turkoglu has not performed up to expectations and is averaging the fewest points per game since he was in San Antonio. He’s also shooting a career low .403 from the field. No, he’s not been very impressive thus far, but the Raptors HAVE benefitted from his presence, and he’s also shown, for the most part, that clutch shooting we were expecting.
Quite frankly, though, the Raptors did not get him for the regular season. He’s always been spotty during the regular season. What the Raptors got him for was for the playoffs, and that’s how he should be judged. Well, not entirely, but that’s how he will be judged.
JARRETT JACK: B
I knew it was going to be a great signing from day one, but his play was not great from day one. That’s for sure. Still, I knew he would be worth it and now he has become an untradeable piece of the Raptors core. He’s locked himself into the starting lineup, when few thought he would be mainly a bench player. He’s shown aggressiveness, good shooting and great leadership. He’s got career highs in shooting percentage both from the field and from three, he’s probably end up getting a career high in assists, by the end of the year, as well.
Of course, his defense has been good, but not great. And he’s not the floor general that Calderon is. The offense has struggled too many times when he’s been running the show, although that’s why he’s usually on the floor with Turkoglu.
JOSE CALDERON: C-
He struggled early in the season, his defense looked more like last season (when it was horrible) than it did in previous seasons (when it was passable), and he lost his starting spot in the rotation when he went down with injury.
On the other hand, coming off the bench has made him almost invaluable to the Raptors. He’s helped the bench become one of the best in the league, and on many occasions, has bailed the starters out when he came in with the Raptors trailing. A summer of complete rest was probably the worst thing for Calderon, even if it was for all the right reasons. He’s the most likely Raptor to be traded, but the way the team is going, the offer would have to be pretty good for him to be dealt.
DeMAR DeROZAN: C
He’s been a starter from day one, and has done just about everything thats been asked of him. While he hasn’t been overly impressive, Coach Triano has kept him on a pretty short leash and that has been a benefit to both his current play and his development.
He’s still not great from outside and fades into the background far too much, but we’ve seen enough flashes from this young player to realize that he’s got a bright future in the league.
MARCO BELINELLI: C-
Belinelli has shown us why Colangelo wanted him so badly, and why he was being touted as a future star by Don Nelson the summer he was drafted. He’s also shown us why he got yanked in and out of the rotation by Nelson and why he was eventually dealt. He’s incredibly talented and incredibly inconsistent. He’s had games when he was aggressive going to the hoop and had the vision of a PG, and then he’s had games when he went 0-4, all from beyond the three point line.
I could have easily given him a D, but he’s shown himself to be a better defender than advertised, and since he’s only 23 years old, his inconsistency should be expected.
ANTOINE WRIGHT: B+
He was awful for the first couple of months. Awful. At one point in the season he was shooting under 30% from the field. UNDER 30%!! I can’t even begin to tell you how bad that is. And to make matters worse, his defense wasn’t what was expected. Like many of the Raptors, though, things turned around for him as the season wore on, and now he’s playing some of the best perimeter defense the franchise has seen in years, and has become a clutch three point shooter from the corner.
The fact that he’s only 25 years old makes Wright’s play all the better. He could very well turn himself into a Bruce Bowen-like player. Not coincidentally, Dallas’ perimeter defense has been a weak point during the season. Unfortunately, with Wright becoming a free agent this summer, theres the real danger than Wright might be playing himself out of Toronto.
SONNY WEEMS: B
When Amir Johnson and Sonny Weems were traded to Toronto, I didn’t even mention Weem’s name. It was thought they he wouldn’t even make it through training camp, and I certainly didn’t have very high expectations for a guy who no one thought much of.
Well, he not only stayed with the team, he played himself into the rotation and made the Raptors depth at his position a strength. I recall watching him one game, and marvelling at the fact that he’s actually got the skills to become a very good player in the league. He was probably the biggest surprise this year.
AMIR JOHNSON: B+
It was a low risk gamble to grab Amir, and it’s paid off in spades. He’s now the first bigman off the bench and supplies everything the Raptors need. His rebounding, defense and hustle has made him a fan favourite and favourite among the coaching staff. He’s playing so well, in fact, that, like Wright, the fact that he’s a free agent this summer has become a concern. He’s a perfect compliment to Bosh and Bargnani, and his ever improving offensive game has made him a huge asset. Hopefully one the Raptors can retain.
RASHO NESTEROVIC: C+
He plays only rarely, but when he does, he doesn’t everything he’s asked to. A true professional who you can’t really complain about because he doesn’t make much, and does what he’s supposed to.
MARCUS BANKS: B
Yes, that’s right. I gave Marcus Banks a B. Why? Because when Calderon went down, he played well. Like Rasho, he has played rarely, but never grumbled, and was always ready to contribute when his name was called. I give him a B because I wasn’t even expecting that. You could do a hell of a lot worse for your third string point guard than Banks. And by the way, Banks is probably the second best defender on the Raptors, next to Wright.
REGGIE EVANS: INCOMPLETE
The second coming has played one game, so I’m not going to judge him an on aything yet.
PATRICK O’BRYANT: INCOMPLETE
The only reason I remember he’s on the team is he always seems to be highly visible on television when the Raptors head to the locker room after home games.
JAY TRIANO: B
A lot of people hated him from the start, and a lot of people never understood why he was hired. I will admit that, like the team as a whole, he struggled a bit at first. He didn’t get the team on the same page defensively, and was a bit iffy on his rotations. Colangelo, being the smart GM he is, realized that sticking with Triano would pay off down the line and it has. He’s shown himself to be a very good coach and is only getting better.
Agree? Disagree? Let’s hear your thoughts.