The Toronto Raptors are exactly half way through the 2013-2014 NBA season. They have a 21-20 record and lead the Atlantic Division by two and a half games. They currently hold the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and look as if they could reach the playoffs for the first time since 2007-2008. The Raptors look to have found their identity of what makes them succeed – ball movement and defense. Whenever the Raptors share the ball and lock down on defense, they can beat almost anyone, if not everyone, in this league. They have quality wins against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks. The next step they need to take is to become a consistent basketball team where each night they are putting forth the same intensity and effort.
Last year at this time they were 15-26 and were trying to search for their identity. Although the season is still a long way from being over, it is safe to say that this Raptors team is in much better shape compared to last year's team. The players know their roles this year, some are having career years, and they are all hungry for a playoff berth. It will be exciting to see if the team can keep up their strong play in the second half of the season.
Since we are half way through the season, we thought we would give out our mid-season grades for the Raptors. From players to coaches and management, here are our grades for each member thus far.
*Players will be listed alphabetically, season stats in parentheses
Dwight Buycks (3.4 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 0.8 apg)
Buycks has appeared in 12 games this season, averaging just over 10 minutes of play. He hasn't had much time to show what he can do, but did a decent job when he was called upon.
Austin Daye (1.1 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 0.3 apg)
Daye has appeared in seven games this season and has played around a total of 30 minutes all season. Whenever he gets on the court it is when the game is out of hand. He hasn't impacted the game positively at all and has done poorly when given the chance to play.
DeMar DeRozan (21.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.7 apg)
DeRozan is averaging career-highs in every statistically category. After a strong preseason, DeRozan started the regular season off flat and couldn't find his shot. He has gone through a couple of shooting slumps this season, but overall DeRozan has been one of the Raptors' best players. He ranks 11th in the NBA in scoring, second amongst shooting guards. The only main knock on DeRozan is his disappearance in most fourth quarters. He often tries to do too much and forces a lot of things late in games.
Landry Fields (2.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 0.8 apg)
Fields has seen his way in and out of the rotation this season. He has dealt with injuries, but has remained ready to go whenever called upon. Fields doesn't stuff the stat sheet, but he does a nice job in most aspects of the game.
Tyler Hansbrough (5.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 0.3 apg)
Hansbrough is an energy guy who was one of the Raptors' first guys off the bench. He has missed the last 11 games due to an ankle injury and his absence has been felt. He brings a unique style of energy and intensity and he is a force on the glass. The hustle he brings is amongst the best in the league and can't be replaced.
Chuck Hayes (3.0 ppg, 4.7 ppg, 0.5) apg) – stats with Raptors since trade
Hayes has played in 12 games since being acquired from the Sacramento Kings in December. He has seen more playing time as of late with Hansbrough being injured and has filled in nicely. He isn't a threat on the offensive end of the floor, but his defensive presence and rebounding ability has been very important. He also provides a strong veteran presence in the locker room.
Amir Johnson (10.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.1 apg)
Amir has had an up-and-down year. He has had stretches where he has been unstoppable in the paint, but he has also gone through stretches of struggling to find his shot. Amir is one of the most valuable Raptors as his effort, hustle and inside presence are so crucial to the team's success.
Lowry wears his heart on his sleeve – plain and simple. Whether his shot is falling or not, he is the hardest working Raptor each game and it shows. He leads the NBA in offensive fouls drawn and charges drawn. He is averaging career highs in points and assists and has been the catalyst for the Raptors this season. Lowry has accepted the leadership role on this team and is very vocal on and off the court. Based on his play and leadership this season, we think Lowry should represent the Raptors in the 2014 NBA All-Star Game.
Steve Novak (3.5 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 0.4 apg)
Novak doesn't play much, but like Landry Fields he is always ready to go when called upon. Novak possesses one of the best shooting strokes in the NBA and can greatly affect the game in just a matter of minutes. Although not used much now, Novak's shooting ability could really help the Raptors as they push for a playoff berth
Patrick Patterson (8.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.0 apg) - stats with Raptors since trade
Patterson has played 21 games for the Raptors and has been a huge boost of the bench. His play on both ends of the court has been strong and he has become a reliable scoring option on offense. Patterson has the ability to stretch the floor with his shooting stroke and does a nice job crashing the glass.
Terrence Ross (9.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 0.8 apg)
Ross has shown a lot of potential in just his second year in the league. He is a streaky shooter that becomes unstoppable once he gets in a groove. His defense has also improved this year as he has taken it upon himself to guard the opponent's best player. Ross has had great success against the likes of Paul George and Kevin Durant.
John Salmons (6.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.2 apg) – stats with Raptors since trade
Salmons has played in 20 games this season for the Raptors. He has been a strong defensive presence and has hit some big shots on offense. Salmons provides the Raptors with another ball handler and play maker, as well as a veteran presence in the locker room.
Julyan Stone (1.2 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 0.7 apg)
Stone has appeared in 15 games for the Raptors, but has only averaged seven minutes of play per game. He has had a couple of decent games for the Raptors, but overall hasn't had a big impact on any games.
Jonas Valanciunas (10.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.0 bpg)
Valanciunas is still young and adjusting to the NBA game. He has shown flashes of what he can do, but needs to get stronger and learn positioning. Valanciunas has the potential to be a top five center in the NBA and in a couple of years he should be in that discussion. His play this season has been good, but not great. He has been solid in the paint and is starting to develop a strong post game. He needs to develop more consistency and stay out of foul trouble.
Greivis Vasquez (7.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.8 apg) – stats with Raptors since trade
Vasquez has played 21 games this season for the Raptors and has done a nice job filling in as the back-up point guard. Vasquez went through a stretch where he was struggling with his shot and was turning the ball over too much, but he has since settled down. Now that his ankles appear to finally be healthy, Vasquez is playing some of his best basketball of the season as of late.
Now let's give our Head Coach and General Manager a mid-season grade.
Head Coach – Dwane Casey
With the Raptors starting the season with a 6-12 record, Casey's job appeared to potentially be on the line. However, after the Rudy Gay trade in December, things started to fall into place for Casey. The team is 15-8 since the trade and seem to be headed in the right direction. He has developed a solid, consistent rotation and for the most part his players have bought into the idea of playing tough defense. The team ranks in the top five in defense and has been top three since the trade.
General Manager – Masai Ujiri
Ujiri is in his first season with the Raptors and has already made a big impact. Out of the 15 players on the Raptors' roster, nine have been acquired by Ujiri. He made some good free agent signings in the offseason with Tyler Hansbrough being the best, but signing players like Austin Daye make you scratch your head. Ujiri's biggest impact has come via trade.
In his short time with the Raptors, he was able to unload two of the worst contracts in the NBA in Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay. Although the Raptors did not get much back in return for Bargnani, they certainly look to have hit the jackpot from what they received in the Gay trade. Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes have all been a major part of the team's recent success and their chemistry has been very impressive.
Overall, Ujiri has done a solid job constructing this team and it will be interesting to see what direction he wants to take them over the next couple of years.
So those are our mid-season grades for your Toronto Raptors. Some players have had a great season thus far, while others haven't been impactful at all. Let's hope all these grades go up in the second half of the season as the Raptors push to make the playoffs.
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