Power Ranking Every Key Toronto Raptors Player Before Season's End

Christopher Walder@@WalderSportsContributor IIMarch 19, 2014

Power Ranking Every Key Toronto Raptors Player Before Season's End

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

    The finish line to one of the more improbable seasons in franchise history is just over the horizon for the Toronto Raptors.

    The only difference this time around is that there isn't 18 holes of golf, sandy beaches and several weeks of rest and relaxation beyond the ribbon. There's just more basketball.

    Currently holding a 2.5-game lead over the Brooklyn Nets (34-31) for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, the Raptors (37-29) find themselves just a month away from their sixth postseason appearance. 

    This season has had everything: blockbuster trades, epic comebacks, awful defeats, highlight-reel dunks and even an All-Star appearance. The Raptors' roster has a united front, having applied a team dynamic where it's never about the glory of one, but the success of all. 

    It's translated in the win column. Toronto has 37 wins, which is three more than the Raptors had in all of 2012-13. When it's all said and done, we may be calling this the best Raptors team we've ever seen.

    There have been so many key contributions from so many players that it makes ranking each individual against one another all the more difficult. Statistics, accomplishments, minutes played and roles in the rotation over the course of the year will all play a factor.

    All statistics are current as of March 18 and are provided by Basketball-Reference.com.

10) Chuck Hayes

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    2013-14 statistics: 11.9 minutes, 2.2 points, 42.4 percent from the field, 3.7 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 0.6 turnovers, 9.7 PER

    A players value isn't always determined by their ability to stuff a stat sheet.

    That's especially true for Chuck Hayes, whose impact is felt more so in the locker room than on the court.

    That's not implying that Hayes is a scrub. He's had some positive showings over the course of the season when the frontcourt was depleted by injuries. As an undersized 6'6" center, Hayes has to put up more of a fight in the paint on both ends of the floor, but he holds up relatively well in the face of adversity. 

    Hayes is strictly a backup's backup who can be counted on in case of emergency. Patrick Patterson's recent elbow injury may free up some PT, but as long as Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough are productive and staying out of foul trouble, Hayes' hiney should remain firmly planted on the pine. 

    No matter. What he offers in terms of leadership and as a veteran presence matters far more to a team with as many young and up-and-coming players as the Raptors have. 

9) John Salmons

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    2013-14 statistics: 23.1 minutes, 5.3 points, 36.6 percent from the field, 36.2 percent from three-point range, 2.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks, 0.7 turnovers, 7.8 PER

    I'm running out of fish references to make on Twitter whenever John Salmons drives the lane. How many times can I write "I just saw a Salmons drive upstream" before it gets annoyingly repetitive? 

    In my defense, that's all I can really say about Salmons on social media without bursting a blood vessel over his recent play.

    He's shot better than 50 percent from the floor once since Feb. 21. He's also failed to register double-digit points since Feb. 2 when he dropped 13 on the Utah Jazz. Salmons is just not producing at a level in which the coaching staff needs him to. 

    His minutes are dwindling down game by game as a result of his recent stretch of mediocrity. DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross are forced to stay on the floor for longer periods of time because there's no real depth behind them at shooting guard and small forward.

    Salmons could change all of that if he were to snap out of this funk. No time like the present. 

8) Tyler Hansbrough

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

    2013-14 statistics: 15.5 minutes, 5.2 points, 48 percent from the field, 4.4 rebounds, 0.2 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.3 blocks, 0.8 turnovers, 14.0 PER

    If you could have one guy on the Toronto Raptors escort you through a dark alley late at night, it would probably have to be Tyler Hansbrough.

    Just don't run into Metta World Peace. 

    Hansbrough throws caution to the wind whenever he checks into a game. There's no limit to the extent he will throw his body around against larger opposition. He doesn't care, but in this case, that's a good thing.

    There is no such thing as an unobtainable rebound. You think a certain shot can't be blocked? Hansbrough is going to try and go for it anyway.

    He doesn't have the veteran savvy that Charles Oakley had during his tenure with Toronto, but their roles of enforcer strongly emulate each other. You can throw him to the wolves and watch him make an impact without scoring the basketball.

    His offensive game is probably the weakest part of his repertoire, though. Unless he's banging down low and getting to the charity stripe, Hansbrough won't be putting many points on the board. He gets dirty buckets from offensive rebounds, second chance opportunities and free throws.

    If you're looking for a solid back-to-the-basket game, you won't find it here.

7) Greivis Vasquez

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    2013-14 statistics: 20.2 minutes, 7.9 points, 38.6 percent, 34 percent from three-point range, 2.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.6 turnovers, 12.2 PER

    Greivis Vasquez may be the most polarizing player on the Toronto Raptors. 

    There are days where you find yourself applauding his every action, shouting your approval as he looks to take over games in short spurts. Then, just to throw your emotions off-kilter, Vasquez will do the exact same thing at the worst possible time, setting Toronto's chances back in the process. 

    When he's hot, you want him to have the basketball. When he's not, yet he's still throwing up shot after shot, you want to put your hands through your television set and beg him not to do anything crazy. 

    With Vasquez, you have to accept that consistency isn't one of his strong suits. He'll make up for it by being an above-average facilitator, but as a poor shooter, he'll immediately wipe away any good will you had towards him. 

    There's no middle ground. Since Jan. 21, Vasquez has shot between 40-to-49 percent from the field just once. You're either going to be really happy or really upset with the way his shots are falling. 

    He's a legitimate backup point guard with a true love for the city of Toronto. Vasquez just needs to differentiate when it's most opportune to be a scorer and when it benefits the team for him to share the wealth on offense. 

6) Patrick Patterson

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    2013-14 statistics: 23.4 minutes, 9.7 points, 49.2 percent from the field, 43.9 percent from three-point range, 5.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.7 blocks, 1.1 turnovers, 17.4 PER

    The Toronto Raptors desperately need Patrick Patterson back on the bench.

    He's expected to miss at least another week of action with a right ulnar collateral sprain (via The Toronto Sun). The team is 3-3 with him on the sidelines over the past few weeks.

    The second unit was outscored 59-11 against the Phoenix Suns on March 16, with a majority of the offensive load falling on the shoulders of Greivis Vasquez. Toronto's bench isn't a disaster, averaging 33.9 points on the season (13th in NBA, via HoopsStats.com), but without Patterson, they play like one. 

    He's not the most replaceable guy in the world. Patterson is the only frontcourt player on the roster who can consistently stretch the floor, play defense, grab rebounds and attack the basket. He keeps the defense honest with his ability to hit from long distance, while also being able to put the ball on the floor if need be.

    Patterson was averaging 13.5 points on 55 percent shooting in two games before his injury. 

    The Raptors can extend him a qualifying offer of $4.3 million in 2015, which they'll almost certainly do. He's a sixth man this team needs and one they cannot afford to lose. 

    At 24 years old, we haven't even seen his best basketball yet. That's someone you want to be a part of your ever-growing foundation. 

5) Terrence Ross

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

    2013-14 statistics: 26.0 minutes, 10.9 points, 43.2 percent from the field, 41.5 percent from three-point range, 3.0 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks, 1.1 turnovers, 12.5 PER

    The "more style than substance" moniker for Terrence Ross is on its last legs. 

    One thing Ross should should look to avoid is fitting into the mold guys like Gerald Green of the Phoenix Suns created early on in their careers. Being known for your slam dunks makes you popular with a certain demographic. What any great basketball player is judged on is how they contribute to their teams success and not how viciously they can throw it down on the fast break. 

    Thankfully, Ross is avoiding a reputation of that nature by dazzling fans with not just his dunks, but his three-point shooting, underrated perimeter defense and knack for scoring. 

    His teammates, including Patrick Patterson, are more than impressed with the way he's delivered the goods in his sophomore season (via Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca): 

    I had no idea he could shoot like that. I always knew about his athleticism, I watched him in college. I knew about his scoring ability, his ability to attack the rim. He's a solid defender as well. He's got some good hands on him as well, but for him to be able to knock down that three at such a consistent rate, come off screen and rolls and hit that midrange jump shot, I had no idea he was such a great shooter.

4) Amir Johnson

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

    2013-14 statistics: 29.1 minutes, 10.8 points, 55.8 percent from the field, 6.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.2 blocks, 1.7 turnovers, 15.5 PER

    Give him some face paint and let him cut a deranged, yet still awesome promo. Amir Johnson is The Ultimate Warrior.

    No one exemplifies the never-say-die attitude of the Toronto Raptors more than Johnson. He's pushed through pain and injury several times this season, forcing himself to fight through the limitations of his body in order to continue being an asset. 

    I would put together an Amir Johnson hustle play drinking game but you would all be dead.

    — Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) March 19, 2014

    In each of his last six games, Johnson has scored in double-figures in no less than 32 minutes of action. While he's far from being the perfect power forward, the 6'9" Johnson makes up for his deficiencies by playing with unparalleled energy and passion.

    On March 16 against the Phoenix Suns, Johnson passed Antonio Davis (405) for third place in Raptors history for career blocks. Longevity has a lot to do with him achieving that milestone, but that shouldn't diminish the accomplishment. His dedication to defense and being a pest under the basket should be commended.

    The important thing now is too stay healthy. His ankles are ticking time bombs that are one awkward roll away from putting him on the shelf for a long time. Sucking it up and playing through pain is one thing, but realizing when it's opportune to dial it back over this final stretch is another. 

3) Jonas Valanciunas

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    2013-14 statistics: 27.4 minutes, 10.4 points, 52.1 percent from the field, 8.5 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.9 blocks, 1.8 turnovers, 14.7 PER

    Something has awoken inside of Jonas Valanciunas. Whether it was a light bulb turning on or a flame being lit underneath him, this new confidence on display by the big man is more than welcome.

    He's averaging 18 points on 69.6 percent shooting and 33 shot attempts in his last three games. This new, aggressive Valanciunas is making everyone happy.

    A problem the Toronto Raptors have on their roster is that they don't have someone they can consistently throw the ball down to in the low block. Valanciunas is the closest thing they have to a back-to-the-basket threat, but he's still a work in progress. You won't be confusing him with the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge, Anthony Davis or Dwight Howard

    It's frustrating for Valanciunas, but playing in just his second season, he knows that good things will happen if he continues to push towards his goals, via Eric Koreen of the National Post:

    It’s hard. You want to play good every game. But it’s not every game that’s going that way. After the bad game, you’ve got to keep being focused: know what you need to do better, know what you need to do next game, and step up and play.

    If his last three outings are any indication, Valanciunas is starting to understand certain advantages he has on the floor, being a man of his size and agility. 

    He did suffer back spasms against the Atlanta Hawks on March 18, so here's hoping that doesn't derail his progress. 

2) Kyle Lowry

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    2013-14 statistics: 36.5 minutes, 17.2 points, 41.9 percent from the field, 38.3 percent from three-point range, 4.7 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, 2.4 turnovers, 20.1 PER

    The maturation of Kyle Lowry in 2013-14 has been something to behold.

    No longer is he the headache his reputation has made him out to be in years past. No longer is he a thorn in the side of coaches where proper lines of communication are rarely ingrained. 

    As Dwane Casey points out, Lowry is more focused on establishing his name around the NBA and winning basketball games, rather than allowing former issues to get the best of him (via Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun): 

    He’s always had the reputation of being hard to coach. We had a period of time where we had to get to know each other. But he’s becoming the player he wants to be. And he’s becoming the man I know he wants to be. And he’s doing away with the reputation that he’s had. It’s a small league. And he’s outgrowing his reputation.

    Lowry is proof that it's not about the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog. According to the Hoops Manifesto, Lowry is leading the league in drawn charges with 28 as of March 13. His willingness to put his body on the line for the good of the team is inspiring to those who watch him compete. 

    The big question now is whether the Raptors can re-sign him over the offseason and keep him wearing the red and white for the foreseeable future. His stock has never been higher, so offers will be coming at him left and right. 

    If his heart truly is in Toronto, the answer is obvious. Lowry is one of the main reasons why the Raptors find themselves in the running for a high seed in the playoffs. Losing him would be the equivalent of having your power come on for a few short moments after not have electricity for several days. It would get a lot of peoples hopes up. 

1) DeMar DeRozan

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

    2013-14 statistics: 38.1 minutes, 22.5 points, 43 percent from the field, 30.5 percent from three-point range, 4.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks, 2.2 turnovers, 18.3 PER

    This season has been the coming-out party for DeMar DeRozan to the rest of the league. An appearance in the NBA All-Star Game helped push his name to the masses, but it's been the way DeRozan has taken on the responsibility of being a franchise player that stands out the most.

    You heard me right; DeRozan is a franchise player. We're reaching that point where we can start ranking him with the likes of Vince Carter and Chris Bosh.

    Maybe we don't need to wait. Maybe he's already there.

    Only LeBron James (27.0) and Carmelo Anthony (28.0) score more points than DeRozan in the Eastern Conference. To be a star in the NBA, you need to group yourself with those who are already considered elite.

    DeRozan is well on his way, even with opposing teams placing more of a target on him in their game plans, via the Toronto Sun

    I’m kind of happy it’s happening now so I will know even more what to expect when playoffs come. They are just trying to take me out of the game the best way they can and I’m trying to learn as much as I can every night. They are just doing little stuff. Just trying to be physical with me and trying to take away the handoffs I get with Amir.

    If the Raptors can find success in the postseason, DeRozan should see a majority of the credit. His growth in a little over a year has been remarkable.