A No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, home-court advantage in the NBA playoffs and a franchise-record 48 victories caps off what has been the most surprising regular season the Toronto Raptors have ever had.
After beginning the year 6-12, general manager Masai Ujiri shook things up by sending Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to the Sacramento Kings for Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez, Chuck Hayes and John Salmons. The team went 42-22 after the deal, which was the best record in the East and fourth-best in the NBA in that span. They were also the only team in the conference to finish in the top 10 in both offensive (106.0) and defensive (102.4) ratings, per ESPN.com.
All of this is almost too good to be true. Canadian prospect Andrew Wiggins was on everyone's radar as the Raptors were expected to "tank" games for a high draft pick this summer. 2013-14 was meant to be a rebuilding year under the tutelage of new management and a head coach in Dwane Casey who was fighting to keep his job.
The players had other plans, especially DeMar DeRozan, who had yet to see the bright lights of the postseason, per SB Nation's James Herbert:
I'm tired of going home early, watching everybody else play, watching my friends play. It's sickening to me. I get tired of it. Me personally, I work my ass off so we can play in that moment, be a team in that eight, seven, six, whatever spot it is to have an opportunity to play. That's my goal and I'm sure everybody on this team feels the same way.
The Raptors don't have a megastar who you can credit for a majority of the team's success. This has been a collective effort by a group of guys who are more concerned with establishing the name on the front of their jerseys than they are with the name on the back.
Statistics, development, individual success and importance to the team will all be factored in as I hand out my final regular-season grades for each Raptor player.