Initial Report Card Grades for Every Key Toronto Raptors Player
Even with a 6-8 record, the Toronto Raptors still find themselves sitting pretty atop the Atlantic Division, thanks in large part to the contributions of certain key players in their rotation.
Anything is better than bearing witness to another 4-19 start, which is how the team began their 2011-12 campaign. Am I right?
Not all is perfect in the land of the prehistoric beast, though. While some players have almost single-handedly put this team on the right path, such as DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, others are halting their progress and preventing the Raptors from truly rising up the ranks in the dreadful Eastern Conference.
With teams like the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks failing to put W's in the win column through the opening month of the season, now would be the perfect opportunity for Toronto to really separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
As the Rolling Stones once eloquently put it, "you can't always get what you want."
Enough basketball has been played to get a good enough sense as to where the most important players on this roster are after competing in a handful of games.
Who is the cream that's rising to the top and who is sinking faster than the Titanic?
Now that we are 14 games into the regular season, it's time to evaluate and grade the key players for Toronto Raptors thus far in 2013-14.
All statistics courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com, and are accurate as of Nov. 28. Grades are based on statistics, improvement, percentages, impact and overall play.
2013-14 statistics: 10.6 minutes, 3.3 points, 29.6 percent from the field, 28.6 percent from three-point range, 1.3 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.1 steals, 0.0 blocks, 9.0 PER
Steve Novak has missed six games this season for the Toronto Raptors with a bad back.
Acquired as part of the package in the deal that sent Andrea Bargnani to the New York Knicks, the hope was that Novak would come north of the border and bring some consistent three-point shooting off the bench for the Raptors.
Unfortunately, the team has yet to reap the benefits of his career 43.0 percent shooting stroke from behind the arc.
There's no denying that Novak is essentially a one-trick pony with his shooting, so when he's struggling in that area of his game, he basically negates any and all value he has.
You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who truly believes that his slump is going to last the duration of the season. However, until the ball starts making its way through the hoop on a more regular basis, Novak will be more of a liability on the court with his non-existent contributions on the glass and on the defensive end.
Grade: D -
2013-14 statistics: 8.2 minutes, 2.1 points, 29.2 percent from the field, 0.91 percent from three-point range, 0.4 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.1 steals, 0.0 blocks, 0.9 turnovers, 1.9 PER
We're just 14 games into the regular season and it already appears that D.J. Augustin has completely fallen out of favor in the rotation. Dwight Buycks, someone who had zero NBA experience prior to this season, has taken over as the primary backup point guard to Kyle Lowry.
To be fair, Augustin is digging his own grave with his poor play.
He's scored five or more points on just one occasion, and that was in the season-opener against the Boston Celtics. His plus/minus rating has been below zero in five different contests, and he almost has as many turnovers (9) as he does assists (10).
There's not a lot to like about his game right now. Augustin is putting more pressure on Lowry to stay on the court and perform because he's bringing little to no stability off the bench.
Can he turn things around? At this point, I doubt it. He struggled big time last year for Indiana, averaging 4.7 points and 2.2 assists. And he has regressed even more to begin 2013-14.
Do you miss Jose Calderon yet?
2013-14 statistics: 15.2 minutes, 3.8 points, 43.6 percent from the field, 3.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.1 blocks, 0.4 turnovers, 10.7 PER
Everything was coming up roses (or Milhouse) for Landry Fields through his first three games of the season, scoring 23 points and grabbing 20 rebounds in total. He was slowly gaining strength back in his elbow, and his shooting numbers were hovering around a respectable margin (9-of-19 from the field).
Since then, it's been a downward spiral of inconsistent playing time and overall mediocrity.
Over his last four games, Fields has totaled just 19 minutes, three points, three rebounds and three assists. Head coach Dwane Casey is putting more stock in his other wings, so there's very few minutes available for a guy like Fields.
The only way things are going to change is if Fields makes more of an impact when he does see the floor. If he's producing at a high level, there's going to be little to no reason for him to remain withering away on the pine.
Defense, crashing the glass and maintaining his mid-range jumper will be key.
He's better than this. It's time to bring it.
Grade: D +
2013-14 statistics: 19.1 minutes, 6.9 points, 45.6 percent from the field, 2.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.2 blocks, 0.6 turnovers, 12.7 PER
Sure, his overall numbers haven't taken that much of a leap in his sophomore season, but for the most part, there's a lot to like about the way Terrence Ross has come out of the gates.
Particularly, his improvement in shooting the basketball is something to note. His field-goal percentage has gone from 40.7 to 45.6 percent, while his three-point shooting has also increased from 33.2 to 37.5 percent.
Over his last three games, Ross is averaging 11.6 points and 3.6 rebounds. He's gradually earning himself more and more minutes as he becomes more dependable with his shot.
His defense is still problematic. Ross struggles to keep his man in front of him, and he gets blown by on many occasions. That's unacceptable for a player with the athleticism and speed he possesses. He has every physical gift imaginable to become an above-average defender in this league, so that's something Ross will need to continue to work on over time.
There's still a lot of work to be done, but it's still nice to see the 22-year-old making strides towards becoming a more reliable option off the bench for the Toronto Raptors.
Grade: C +/B -
2013-14 statistics: 19.6 minutes, 7.0 points, 45.9 percent from the field, 5.9 rebounds, 0.1 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.4 blocks, 0.9 turnovers, 16.6 PER
Toughness down low in the paint? Check. Attacking the glass and fighting for every loose ball? Check. Getting to the charity stripe and grabbing offensive rebounds at a high rate? Check.
Frankly, everything that was to be expected of Tyler Hansbrough at the start of the season, he's doing.
His best outing thus far came on Nov. 9 against the Utah Jazz, when he scored 23 points and grabbed seven rebounds. He also got to the free-throw line a staggering 13 times, which is quite impressive when you consider the fact that he came off the bench.
Hansbrough is simply a workhorse of a power forward. He doesn't tend to create his own offense or take over games, but he does the little things relatively well, to the point where you want him on the floor in key situations.
Forty-eight of his 61 shot attempts have come by the basket, so he's slowly moving away from his 15-foot jumper that he's had trouble with in the past. He's aware of his strengths and limitations, so that's always a plus.
It's never good to force the issue.
2013-14 statistics: 29.5 minutes, 9.8 points, 54.7 percent from the field, 6.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.9 blocks, 1.6 turnovers, 14.4 PER
Has anyone noticed the fact that Amir Johnson has already taken more three-pointers in 14 games this season (20) than he has the past three years combined (19)?
I'm all for someone on the team adding a new skill to their repertoire, but I can't be the only one who cringes every time he takes that shot.
He's proven he can at least hit it, but he hasn't shown that he can do so on a regular basis so that you don't have to cover your eyes on every attempt.
Anyways, putting that to the side for just a moment, what the Raptors are getting from Johnson is really what they've been getting since 2009, which is scrappy play, defense and rebounding.
His numbers on the glass have dropped from 7.5 to 6.5, but that can also be explained by some of his fellow teammates in the starting lineup (Jonas Valanciunas and Rudy Gay) making more of an impact in that respect.
I'm always going to be of the belief that Johnson is more valuable to the team coming off the bench, but unless the Raptors go out on the open market and actively seek an upgrade, he's going to be the best option they have.
That's not a bad thing. There are more glaring areas to attend to.
2013-14 statistics: 35.8 minutes, 13.2 points, 40.0 percent from the field, 37.7 percent from three-point range, 3.6 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.2 blocks, 1.7 turnovers, 17.3 PER
I wonder how it feels to be Kyle Lowry right about now.
Being the man at point guard is what he always wanted. There isn't a committee anymore at the position. He has all of the playing time he can muster, which is obvious by the career-high 35.8 minutes he's currently averaging.
Dwight Buycks and D.J. Augustin are giving the Raptors nothing, so Dwane Casey almost needs Lowry to stay on the court as much as possible, because as soon as he heads to the bench, there's almost no one who can run the offense and be a facilitator quite like he can.
His shooting isn't spectacular, and he's absolutely fascinated with the three-point shot for some reason. Lowry has taken less than four three-pointers in a game just twice.
Even when it isn't falling, Lowry loves to hoist it up from long range. On Nov. 15 against the Chicago Bulls, he missed all seven of his attempts.
His turnovers have dropped from 2.3 last season to 1.7, but there's no way of knowing if that trend will hold true in the coming months. Let's just hope it does, though.
Slowly but surely, Lowry is becoming more of a vocal leader for this basketball team, which is something it has needed for quite a while. Whether its by pulling a teammate aside or simply playing with tenacity and the hunger to win (as evidenced by the comeback he inspired against the Brooklyn Nets on Nov. 27), Lowry knows how to lead by example.
Grade: B +
2013-14 statistics: 27.2 minutes, 9.0 points, 47.3 percent from the field, 7.8 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.9 blocks, 1.7 turnovers, 13.0 PER
What happened to the breakout season of Jonas Valanciunas? Wasn't 2013-14 supposed to be the coming-out party for the 21-year-old Lithuanian?
It's not happening. Sheer willpower from the fanbase won't make this happen. There is this universal philosophy that, sooner rather than later, Valanciunas will become the face of the franchise.
So how exactly is that supposed to happen when his playing time fluctuates more than the blood sugar of Santa Claus?
It's as if Dwane Casey forgets Valanciunas is on the team after the first quarter is over and done with. Rarely this season have you seen the big man on the court in late game situations. Casey loves to play matchups, so if the opposition is playing small ball, you'll likely see Rudy Gay at power forward and either Amir Johnson or Tyler Hansbrough at center, eliminating the need for Valanciunas.
Perhaps there isn't enough ball to go around. Both Gay and DeMar DeRozan are taking close to 18 shots per game, which doesn't leave much opportunities for guys like Valanciunas to put up big numbers offensively.
Some of the blame does fall on his own shoulders, however. His help defense still leaves a lot to be desired, and his shot blocking could be much higher than it is.
Valanciunas has also had bad games against some of the larger frontcourt players in the Eastern Conference, including Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers (2-of-6 shooting for five points) and Joakim Noah (2-of-5 shooting for four points).
Expectations for Valanciunas do need to be tempered quite a bit. However, the road to stardom isn't going to take place overnight.
Grade: C +/B -
2013-14 statistics: 38.1 minutes, 21.6 points, 43.0 percent from the field, 40.0 percent from three-point range, 3.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks, 2.1 turnovers, 17.7 PER
Has DeMar DeRozan been the MVP of the Toronto Raptors to start the season?
I think he has.
Fans have always wondered if the fifth-year pro could somehow elevate his game to newer and greater heights. Was there more to DeRozan than meets the eye?
Well, his scoring per game has gone from 18.1 to 21.6 points, ranking him sixth in the Eastern Conference and 13th in the NBA. His shot selection has also become more disciplined. DeRozan is analyzing his defender more and learning when best to attack while also letting his offense come to him more naturally.
How about his three-point shooting? One of the biggest flaws in his game was that he couldn't hit from long range, but to this point, DeRozan has proven that he can be a threat for the Raptors from behind the arc, shooting 40.0 percent.
He's scored 20 or more points seven different times, with his 37 points against the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 15 tying his career high.
What really makes you bang your head against the wall is that when DeRozan is on his game, you want to put him on your shoulders and celebrate him to no end. On the other hand, he has had some night's where he's been truly awful. In fact, in nearly half of his games (6), DeRozan has shot less than 40.0 percent from the field (team is 3-3).
As is the case with several other players on the roster, consistency is of the utmost importance.
Grade: A -
2013-14 statistics: 35.3 minutes, 19.4 points, 37.5 percent from the field, 39.6 percent from three-point range, 7.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.3 blocks, 3.4 turnovers, 15.4 PER
Six-of-23 shooting for 14 points on Nov. 1 against the Atlanta Hawks: loss.
Eleven-of-37 shooting for 29 points on Nov. 11 against the Houston Rockets: loss.
Three-of-12 shooting for nine points on Nov. 27 against the Brooklyn Nets: loss.
Those three aforementioned games sum up, to a great extent, just how ineffective Rudy Gay has been this season shooting the basketball. The corrective eye surgery he had over the summer was supposed to fix all of his shooting woes, no?
Surgery can make you see the basket clearer, but it doesn't cure awful shot selection. His unwillingness to attack the rim is becoming increasingly frustrating, to say the least. Gay tends to settle quite a bit with the basketball, constantly playing isolation and one-on-one with his man.
What's even more scary is that when he does get to the basket, he's shooting just 44-of-109 for a lousy 40.37 percent. Nothing seems to be working.
Sure, when the game is on the line and the Raptors need a big shot, Gay (usually) tends to deliver the goods, which almost makes you forget about his pathetic numbers prior to those important moments in time.
Does that absolve him of all scrutiny, though?
Of course it doesn't. The Raptors need that one guy who they can count on in the final two minutes of a close game, but with Gay slowly becoming one of, if not the main reason, as to why the team is trailing in the first place, how can you not be just a tad bit upset?