At 21-7 the Raptors have the best record in the league. Their combination of shooting, versatility and starpower has propelled them to the top of the NBA, and have them looking as the best chance to dethrone Golden State. The team has gotten significant contributions from a number of players, some more surprising than others. However, a few chinks in the armor have presented themselves. This is the quarter-ish season review.
Player: Kyle Lowry
Output: 14.1PPG, 10.1 APG, 4.4 RPG. 44% FG, 83% FT, 34% 3P , 1.4SPG, 2.7 TOV
To say Lowry’s had a good start to the season is an immeasurable understatement. Leading the league in assists, Kyle has found a way to unlock the offensive talent of whoever he is sharing the court with(4.99 RPM – 11th league-wide), masterfully pick opportune moments to attack and has set an example for everyone else to follow defensively.
As his athleticism dwindles, Lowry has adopted more of a facilitator role(as most small guards do) . As true of a floor general as the league possesses, Kyle plays the majority of the game as the tempo setter, sparking movement and opportunity offensively, and bringing a grit and toughness on the other end.
It also must be stated that Kyle has had the most talent on this iteration of the Raptors as he has ever had. Green, Siakam, Leonard, JV, OG, FVV, Miles etc. All these players provide Lowry the luxury to take a step back on the offensive end, and save his offense for crunch time situations. These two factors (athleticism and supporting cast) have played a factor in his unusual statistics.
While Lowry’s PPG is the lowest of his career, he has the highest Plus Minus(17.4) of his Raptors tenure this season. The combination of factors has brought the best out of the four-time all-star, and he has looked every bit like the best PG in the east.
Player: Kawhi Leonard
Output: 26.1 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 3APG, 49% FG, 39% 3P, 85% FT, 7FTA, 1.9 STL
After a still unexplained absence last season, we can definitively say Kawhi Leonard is who we thought he was.
Leonard has looked every bit like the superstar that terrorized the league, and was considered by many the best two-way player in the game. His ferocity on the offensive end has provided the Raptors an efficient source of scoring, whether it be from long-range, or isolation plays usually in the mid post. He has seemingly mastered his mid-range attack, and learned to abuse any size mismatch he gets(taken the most 2PA of his career this year). His high percentages and frequent trips to the line have allowed Kawhi to snugly fit the void DeRozan left.In fact, through 21 games Kawhi is leading the 2017-18 Demar DeRozan in every major statistical category besides APG and FTA.
Defensively, Kawhi is still the versatile, long and high IQ former DPOY. In years prior DeRozan was undoubtedly the weak link in the defensive chain(-2.3 DPIPM), and was constantly attacked by opposing offenses. With Kawhi (and Danny Green) in the lineup now, there is literally no weaknesses on that end. The hyper-versatile nature of the Raptors defense has provided the impetus to their 7th ranked defense league-wide.
Kawhi still has some work to do for sure.He has yet to play in back to backs, a smart preventative move which also has allowed other players on the roster to get their usage up. And he will surely hit another gear come playoff time, but it is impossible to not be impressed with KL’s first few months in Raptors Red.
Grade: A –
Player: Danny Green
Output: 9.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.3APG, 42.5 3P%
By far the most underrated aspect of the Raptors off-season has been the acquisition of Danny Green. There are few if any negatives to point at so far this season, in general for Danny as a player. Role players who operate with confidence and comfort in their position help you win championships, and he has illustrated that point over and over again through these first 26 games.
Shooting a blistering 42.8% from deep, Green has provided a narrow yet paramount skill for the Raptors. Pure-knock down shooting. His ability to space the court at a truly elite level is vital to any team attempting to compete in the modern NBA. He negates help defense by punishing defenders sagging off him, and provides the space and lanes to the basket for all the other players on the court.
His D-PIPM of 1.4 is solid, and indicative a player who is smart and plays within his role. All of his advanced defense metrics have him as a positive defensive player, and he passes the eye test with flying colors. At 6-6 (215 LBS), Danny is the right combination to handle any guard assignment. His lateral quickness has not diminished significantly as he has aged, and whatever loss of athleticism he has made up for with high IQ, predictive movement.
Players like Danny are invaluable come crunch/playoff time. One of the most glaring weaknesses in the Raptor squads of the past have been their lack of championship experience. With a proven veteran like Danny Green on the side, the Raptors have a calm mind to rely on in high pressure situations, something that could not be said in years past. The Championship pedigree rarely shows itself in December, but come April the true intangible value of players such as Danny will shine brightly.
Player: Serge Ibaka
Output: 16.2 PPG, 7.3RPG, 1.3BPG, 55.6%FG, 81.4 FT%, 27.9% 3PG
Few players let down the Raptors fan base more than Serge Ibaka last post-season. Getting benched in Game 2 vs the Cavs, Ibaka looked unfocused, lethargic and just plain bad. With the ball in his hand he looked lost and passive. Coming into this season expectations were low.
Ibaka’s switch to Center has been Nick Nurses best move in his inaugural season. Serge was simply outpaced vs. the litany of mobile, athletic power forwards at the precipice of the league, and he caused a number of problems on the defensive end.
This season however, Ibaka has been somewhat of a revelation. His mobility, while not sufficient at the four against mobile lineups, is close to perfect for most spaced teams. He provides solid rim protection and mobility, however a few weaknesses have emerged.
Firstly, his three-point shooting has taken a steep decline. Serge went from shooting near 40% in his first two seasons with the Raps, to 36 last year, and now is shooting an abysmal 28 percent from deep. This can partially be explained by his shift to the Center, which has him shooting 2 less threes per game. To be fair as well, his 56.8 FG% is his highest in over 5 years, and he is averaging almost four more points than last year. He is shooting a career high from 0-3 feet, and looks to have transitioned nicely on the offensive end from center, even if his shot isn’t falling with consistency.
Working as the primary screen man in all of the Raptors PnR/PnP actions, Ibaka has become the beneficiary of many drop off passes near the rim, and has for the most part capitalized on his opportunities offensively.
Defensively however, Ibaka has struggled, especially rebounding. His DREB% has dropped nearly 2 percent, he averages only 1.1 contested rebounds per game(34th among centers), and his defensive win shares has dropped almost 2 points. The starting lineups defensive rating is better by almost three points with JV in for Ibaka, and has a higher rebounding percentage.
Ibaka will have to focus on handling physicality and the consistent banging down low vs. larger and stronger players. The Raps have looked vulnerable at times vs. skillful centers(Jokic triple double last week), and Nick Nurse has emphasized a needed improvement in rebounding. At 6-10 he is still undersized vs. most centers in the league, and through the first quarter of the season is has shown.
Overall Ibaka has played well enough, but without the ability to space the court and make threes at a high clip his value will be mitigated going up against bigger stronger centers, as he has struggled corralling them on the glass.
Player: Jonas Valanciunas
Output: 13.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG , 58.3% FG, 82.2% FT, 19.4MPG
Jonas is arguably the best backup center in basketball, averaging nearly 13 and 8 in less than 20 minutes a game. His PER36 is a ridiculous 24 and 14. Opposing second string centers don’t know what to do with his combination of strength and soft touch. He is producing at such a ridiculous clip, a pure statistical analysis would make you wonder why he isn’t starting.
However, as previously discussed, Jonas is a liability and will always be a liability against most good teams in the NBA. His immobility creates a very low defensive ceiling, and thoughtful game planning makes him the target of innumerable actions, leading to good looks for a skilled offense.
Jonas is just an unfortunate case of a player in the wrong place at the wrong time, however, he has found life in this new role. Most sides don’t have a stretch 5 that they take off the bench, so when JV can play within his sphere of comfort(another non-shooting big), he absolutely feasts. He gives the bench a focal point offensively, and can create for himself on offensive rebounds and nullify second chance opportunities for the opposition with his glass work. JV is a valuable piece of the puzzle for this Raptors squad, but his limitations are as glaring as they are unfortunate.
Player: Pascal Siakam
Output: 14.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.7 APG, 61.4% FG, 78% FT, 30.4MPG
By far, the biggest surprise and bright spot for this early Raptor season has been the play of third year man Pascal Siakam. After 20ish games he has averaged career highs in every major statistical category, and absolutely ran away with the starting PF spot.
Pascal has the perfect body for this modern NBA game. Long, athletic, quick and is equipped with an absolute motor.
Offensively, Pascal is lethal in transition, and is a major contributing factor in his absurdly high shooting percentage from the field. Siakam has the second highest FG% in the paint in the NBA, as his long frame is perfect for awkward finishes in traffic. Alot of those attempts have come in transition, as Siakam is one of the fastest players in the game. He simply flies down the court on long rebounds and turnovers, and can take a drop off pass to finish in the paint at seemingly impossible angles.
Defensively, he is everything the Raptors could ask for and more. His size and mobility allow him to guard 1-5, and he has the grit and toughness that is contagious in this Raptors starting unit. Mobility and versatility are key on the wing, and Pascal has those traits in bunches. His energetic play completes many points off turnovers, as he sprints to the rim or leads the break himself.
With an emerging three-point shot, Pascal projects to be in the Raptors starting lineup for the foreseeable future, and will be a vital piece in the Raptors journey to June.
Bench Mob Notes
While the emergence of Pascal and trade of Jakob Poeltl has shifted the vaunted Raptor bench mob, they have still been solid.
FVV has played the backup point guard role perfectly. Calm, cool and collected, he has provided a release valve for Kyle Lowry, and allowed the Raps to rest their star without a significant drop-off in performance. The top three lineups(NETRTG) this year for the Raptors have FVV with the starting unit.
His shooting and playmaking ability are invaluable off the bench, and he provides the spark of creativity offensively, to allow the second unit to produce.
Delon has filled in as the backup combo guard, providing a nice blend of dynamic cutting offensively and tenacity on the defensive end. His long athletic frame is perfect to send to some of the more crafty playmakers in today’s game, however his glaring weakness is still shooting from deep.
44% may suggest otherwise, but on only 1.7 3PA the low output indicates a hesitation which wouldn’t make sense if he is as good as his percentage would suggest. Without a solid jump shot Delon will be relegated to a bench role, but he still brings value to the club.
The unfortunate downside of Pascal’s emergence has been OG Anunoby’s relegation to the bench. Starting the season off with an injury, Pascal took his opportunity and ran with it.
All of OG’s shooting percentages are down significantly, as he has had to adjust to this new role. He undoubtedly has an upside(3nD potential), but his development may be taking a backseat at the moment with Pascal playing so well. Regardless, these are the types of problems a team would like to have.
Overall, the Raptors look poised to make some noise come April. It would be hard to imagine the Raptors getting worse as the season progresses. Kawhi will get more and more attuned to rigors of NBA basketball, players will become comfortable in their new roles and it is definitely exciting times in Raptorland.
Thanks for reading.