Year-End Grades for Every Key Toronto Raptors Player
The team currently has a record of 13-15 with one game remaining before 2013 draws to a close. That's good enough for the lead in the Atlantic Division and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Nothing makes sense anymore. The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets have fallen off the map while the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics were always expected to be participants in the draft lottery anyways.
Maybe the Raptors will win the division with a sub-.500 record because no one else is putting up much of a fight.
By no means do I intend to sweep under the rug the strong play the Raptors have had as of late, especially in a post-Rudy Gay world. Their ball movement has been magnificent, the effort and energy have improved and the overall morale is up.
Toronto's 7-3 record over its last 10 games will make anyone smile, even if you're a supporter of the "Tank Nation" philosophy of throwing away the remainder of the season for a slim shot at Canadian NBA prospect Andrew Wiggins.
Who deserves most of the credit for this unexpected turnaround, and who is failing to keep up with the rest of their teammates?
Contributions on both offense and defense, improvement/regression and statistics all played a part in the following grades.
Class is now in session.
*All statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and are current as of Dec. 30.
Greivis Vasquez, PG
2013-14 statistics: Eight games, 17.6 minutes, 8.8 points, 35.8 percent from the field, 2.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.0 blocks, 2.1 turnovers, 12.2 PER
My eyes must be playing tricks on me. Do the Toronto Raptors actually have a backup point guard on the roster who isn't terrible?
Greivis Vasquez is no Jose Calderon, but you'd rather see his mug out there on the court running the offense over the likes of Dwight Buycks, Julyan Stone or former Raptor D.J. Augustin.
At least he has a proven track record. It was just a year ago that Vasquez was averaging 13.9 points and nine assists per game for the New Orleans Hornets. He was also a starter for the Sacramento Kings before the seven-player deal involving Rudy Gay went through, so you can also take solace in that.
Head coach Dwane Casey has been using Vasquez in a lot of two-point guard lineups, with Kyle Lowry bringing the ball up and the 6'6" Venezuelan playing shooting guard. He can play off the ball just as well as he can with it, so expect to see more situations where Lowry and Vasquez are on the court at the same time in the future.
Is it fair to give someone a grade after just eight games? That's like giving your students a major quiz on the first day of school and judging them harshly because they don't know how many valence electrons are in an oxygen atom.
Chemistry was never my friend.
Get back to me when I have a larger body of work to go on. I'm not going to take into account what Vasquez did with Sacramento earlier in the year because that's not what's being discussed here.
Patrick Patterson, PF
2013-14 statistics: Eight games, 20.5 minutes, 6.4 points, 45.5 percent from the field, 44.4 percent from three-point range, 3.8 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.5 blocks, 0.6 turnovers, 12.5 PER
Sorry, Patrick Patterson. You will also be a victim of the dreaded "I haven't seen enough of you to give you a fair grade" train of thought.
That doesn't mean that I can't be a fan of what I have seen thus far though.
Adding Patterson to a frontcourt that already features Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough makes me grin from ear to ear. The fourth-year pro out of the University of Kentucky can shoot the basketball, keep defenses honest and attack the basket while drawing contact.
He's a tad small at 6'9" and 235 pounds to be banging down low on offense and defense with some of the larger power forwards around the NBA, so that can present a problem under certain circumstances.
No matter. Let's leave the more physical stuff to Valanciunas and Johnson, and leave the underrated finesse game to Patterson.
Almost every player on the Toronto roster has a role that fits him to a tee. Patterson is slowly growing into his. He's an immediate upgrade over both Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray, who were dealt to the Sacramento Kings in the Rudy Gay trade.
Patterson is already averaging 20.5 minutes for the second unit, so it's safe to say the Raptors got some decent bang for their buck with this move.
Landry Fields, SF
2013-14 statistics: 18 games, 14.4 minutes, 3.0 points, 35.7 percent from the field, 2.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.1 blocks, 0.4 turnovers, 8.3 PER
Why are you doing this to me, Landry Fields?
I want to shower you with support and keep giving you the benefit of the doubt. I continue to hope that you will one day become a valuable member of the rotation and wash away any doubts that came with your egregious $20 million contract.
You finally got a chance to play some meaningful minutes as a starter against the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 8, but you missed all six of your shots from the field and didn't score a single point. You followed that up by missing four of your five attempts for just four points in 19 minutes on Dec. 10 against the San Antonio Spurs.
You totaled roughly 28 minutes of playing time from Nov. 13 to Dec. 3, but once Rudy Gay was sent packing to the River City, you were given an opportunity to prove yourself to the coaching staff.
God gave you lemons and you turned it into sour milk.
I don't know what else can be done at this point. No one will pay you the kind of money Toronto willingly decided to deposit into your account, so a trade is out of the question.
Hopefully, Santa Claus brought you a seat-warmer over the holidays because the end of the bench is where you're likely staying for the foreseeable future.
It does get chilly in the Air Canada Centre.
Steve Novak, SF
2013-14 statistics: 17 games, 12.1 minutes, 3.5 points, 31.7 percent from the field, 34.7 percent from three-point range, 1.2 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.0 blocks, 0.1 turnovers, 7.5 PER
The Toronto Raptors never dealt Andrea Bargnani to the New York Knicks with Steve Novak in mind as their big acquisition. Looting three draft picks (a 2016 first-rounder and second-round picks in 2014 and 2017) from their Atlantic Division rivals was the real prize.
At least Novak had some value with his three-point shooting, especially for a team that shot 34.3 percent (ranking 25th in the NBA) from behind the arc the previous season. His career 42.9 shooting percentage ranks him seventh overall in NBA history.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Novak is a one-trick pony. If he's not draining daggers from long range on a consistent basis, he's not doing much else in other aspects of the game.
His 34.7 three-point shooting percentage with Toronto isn't awful, but considering that he hasn't shot lower than 40 percent since the 2009-10 season, it has to be disappointing.
This is exactly why Novak has been riding the pine as of late. He's a specialist who isn't delivering in the one area he's supposed to be thriving in.
You can almost tolerate the lack of rebounding and defense when his shot is falling.
It's not though, not at all.
Tyler Hansbrough, PF
2013-14 statistics: 26 games, 18.0 minutes, 5.6 points, 43.2 percent from the field, 5.1 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.3 blocks, 0.8 turnovers, 13.8 PER
The playing time of Tyler Hansbrough has taken a hit over the past month or so. He averaged 19.6 minutes in November, but that number has fallen to 15.4 in December.
A sprained left shoulder could have something to do with it. It's no secret that Hansbrough competes with a rough-and-tough style that can sometimes come off as dirty to the opposition. He uses his frame to box out and assist in his efforts at crashing the glass. If his shoulder is still giving him problems, perhaps head coach Dwane Casey is aware of this it simply preserving his young forward.
His numbers shouldn't come as a shock to anyone. They're basically in the ballpark for where he's been most of his career, albeit his scoring (7.0 to 5.6.) has taken a small, yet noteworthy, dip.
I'm that sure the Toronto Maple Leafs would love a guy like Hansbrough on their squad. He embodies everything Canadians love about the sport of hockey, including an enforcer mentality in which he leads by example by putting his body on the line and helping out in areas that don't necessarily show up on the scoreboard.
Well, too bad, so sad. He's a Toronto Raptor. This franchise has needed someone like Hansbrough for years. He's no game-changer, but he's the kind of player you want by your side, but hate going up against.
More minutes may be going to some of his frontcourt colleagues, but don't look into that too much. There will always be room for a guy like Hansbrough.
Terrence Ross, SF
2013-14 statistics: 28 games, 22.2 minutes, 9.0 points, 43.1 percent from the field, 41.8 percent from three-point range, 2.8 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.2 blocks, 0.9 turnovers, 12.4 PER
I'm slowly, but surely, getting over the fact that Terrence Ross was drafted in 2012 before Andre Drummond, who is averaging 12.8 points and 12.3 rebounds for the Detroit Pistons.
Young players develop at different paces, so while Drummond may be finding more success earlier in his career, that doesn't mean Ross can't reach that level soon as well.
He's averaging 14.1 points and 3.5 rebounds over his last 10 games, which is coincidentally the same amount of games that Toronto has played since the Rudy Gay trade.
That aforementioned move paved the way for a prospect like Ross to earn more playing time and really carve out an identity with this team. The only way anyone was going to get a true understanding for what Ross could bring to the table on a nightly basis was by having his role increased and allowing him the freedom to learn on the fly, make mistakes and bounce back.
The improvement in his shooting has been a welcome surprise, along with his substantial leaps in his field-goal percentage (40.7 to 43.1), free-throw percentage (71.4 to 79.2) and three-point shooting percentage (33.2 to 41.8).
Expecting greatness too soon would be awfully silly at this stage. Remaining consistent and stringing together superb outings has never been his strong suit, so here's hoping that Ross has finally turned the corner and can continue on the path he has set forth for himself.
Amir Johnson, PF
2013-14 statistics: 28 games, 29.9 minutes, 11.5 points, 59.7 percent from the field, 7.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.1 blocks, 1.5 turnovers, 17.5 PER
I don't think I'll be needing my red pen while grading the performance of Amir Johnson up to this point.
It's easy to get carried away when praising Johnson, but he makes it so darn easy that you can't help yourself.
His 59.7 field goal percentage is third best in the NBA, just behind DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers (64.2) and Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons (61.0). Of those three names, Johnson is leaps and bounds better from the charity stripe and three-point range, proving that forwards and centers who play around the basket can even have some range sprinkled if they put in the work.
Speaking of putting in the work, that's what Johnson is all about in a nutshell. The intangibles that he brings to this basketball team are worth their weight in gold. He's usually tasked with defending the opposing team's best frontcourt player, which is a job he's already prepared to take on.
Johnson is averaging a beautiful line of 14.6 points on 64.9 percent shooting, including nine rebounds and 1.5 blocks over his last 10 games. His 32 points and 10 rebounds against the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 8 opened plenty of eyes of fans in the United States who don't usually catch a lot of Raptors highlights.
It's hard to say if anyone on the Toronto Raptors has a shot at making the 2014 Eastern Conference All-Star roster, but if anyone deserved a spot on the team the most, it's probably Johnson.
Jonas Valanciunas, C
2013-14 statistics: 28 games, 28.3 minutes, 10.3 points, 50.0 percent from the field, 8.4 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.3 steals, 1.1 blocks, 1.8 turnovers, 14.6 PER
I hate to sound like a broken record, but was that Rudy Gay trade awesome or what?
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto's 21-year-old center out of Lithuania, has four double-doubles and has scored in double-figures eight times since the move was made.
This was long overdue. Valanciunas needed more looks on offense and he's finally getting them, averaging 9.1 shots since Dec. 8 against the Los Angeles Lakers. If you want the big man to be one of the future faces of your franchise, you need to treat him as such and make him feel important.
His recent string of games during the Raptors' home-and-home series against the New York Knicks showcased just how far Valanciunas has come. He scored 16 points and grabbed 18 rebounds at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 27, then followed that up by just missing out on yet another double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds the next night.
Putting up those numbers against one of the better defensive centers in the NBA today in Tyson Chandler makes the feat even more profound.
There was also an edge to Valanciunas during those games that I wish would come out more. He had an attitude and confidence to him which was very refreshing. He stood his ground and didn't let himself get pushed around.
The issues with his fluctuating minutes appear to be resolved. A trust is developing between coach and player that will continue to grow as we move deeper into the season.
Remember, I will always be the president, CEO and waterboy of the Jonas Valanciunas bandwagon. He's already becoming everything I wished Andrea Bargnani would have been during his time north of the border.
Kyle Lowry, PG
2013-14 statistics: 28 games, 36.8 minutes, 15.8 points, 42.3 percent from the field, 37.3 percent from three-point range, 4.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.1 blocks, 2.3 turnovers, 18.9 PER
It looks like someone is ready to make some serious cash in the summer of 2014.
Over his last five games, Kyle Lowry is averaging 22.4 points, 9.2 assists, 5.6 rebounds, 1.6 steals and shooting 47 percent from three-point range.
It's numbers like that which worry me and make me elated at the same time. Lowry has been the definition of elite in December, but is this just an audition for his next gig in the NBA?
That's always going to be in the back of my head.
Putting that to the side for just a moment, I truly feel that Lowry's recent play has been some of the best of his career. His shot selection is getting better, he's making wiser basketball decisions and looking to get his teammates more involved in the offense, which any good point guard should be doing.
With all the trade rumours and all the bullcrap that's going around, he's been positive and upbeat and a leader. He could've went in a shell and kind of isolated himself from everybody else, but he's dove in and been positive about it.
Lowry holds the key to how this season is going to end for the Raptors. If he's eventually traded, that could be a sign that making a push for the playoffs is something general manager Masai Ujiri is looking to avoid at all costs. However, if he sticks around, this team could end up walking away with just their second division title in franchise history.
That's something, right?
DeMar DeRozan, SG
2013-14 statistics: 28 games, 38.3 minutes, 21.1 points, 42.5 percent from the field, 31.3 percent from three-point range, 4.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.5 blocks, 2.4 turnovers, 16.4 PER
Look who's the big man on campus now.
This is DeMar DeRozan's team, whether you like it or not. If you polled fans across this great city, you wouldn't find many city folk who have a problem with that.
I think longevity has something to do with it. This is DeRozan's fifth year with the franchise, so the fanbase is starting to become emotionally attached.
Great players come and go in the annals of Raptors history. He's not on the same level as a Vince Carter or Chris Bosh, but he should still be recognized as one of the best to ever suit up in the red and white.
I find myself struggling to find major faults in his game because he has done almost everything I wanted him to address this past offseason, as far as improving his overall game is concerned. DeRozan has taken on more of a leadership role both on and off the floor. He needed to be more vocal and it appears that he has.
His three-point shooting, which was once considered the biggest weakness in his bag of tricks, has gone from 28.3 to 31.3 percent. Progress is a slow process, I suppose.
DeRozan just wants to win. It's as simple as that. Tank games? Don't mention that around him. Not having competed in a meaningful postseason game in his career must be eating away at him.
A four-year, $38 million extension from last season ensures that DeRozan won't be going anywhere else anytime soon. He's going to be a Raptor for the long haul.
Follow Featured Columnist Christopher Walder on Twitter at @WalderSports