As the Raptors await Cleveland on Tuesday and have 48 more hours of downtime, let’s look back and examine their cases for different awards in the incredible franchise-record 59-win season. After no award winners other than Rookie of the Year Vince Carter and 6 Man of the Year Lou Williams, the Raps have a ton of shots at taking home hardware all over the board this year.
Coach of the Year
Dwane Casey probably has the strongest case of anyone in the Toronto Raptors organization for an award this season. After last season’s quick exit from the playoffs, many fans and experts were rightfully criticizing the team’s isolation heavy play. It was a legitimate question in the offseason as to if the team had peaked, as fans were calling for his head after a 4-0 embarrassment from the hands of the Cavs. 11 months later the Raptors are back and literally better than ever, with a 59-23 record this season (51-31 last season) and a legitimate shot against the vulnerable LeBron-led team. As you probably know, Casey changed the Raptors from an isolation heavy offense into a modern offense with emphasis on ball movement and three-point shooting. The team moved from 10th in offense last season to third this season with 111.7 PPG. Casey’s been great with the X’s and O’s this season, but player development is where he’s really shined. No one expected guys like Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet to be valuable contributors. How many coaches aren’t tanking and can go 12 deep to win a critical game? Especially with the 3rd youngest playoff team, having an average age of 25.43. These guys aren’t necessarily the most talented players individually either. Casey has been able to develop the young players and place them in roles they can succeed. It’s a big reason the Raptors starters have all played less minutes than last season. It’s been covered to shreds, but Casey maximized this team’s potential, and it’s been an incredible story. On paper, they definitely do not look like a one-seed. Getting this team to 59 wins is an incredible coaching job.
- Eastern Conference all-star head coach (Team Lebron)
- Most wins/best record in franchise history (59-23)
- Tied best home record in NBA (34-7)
- Eastern Conference Coach of the Month 1x (December)
- Top six offense and defense (3rd offense 111.7 ppg, 6th defense 103.9 oppg)
6th Man of the Year
Every franchise has a player that doesn’t get national attention and only their fans really appreciate. They don’t stuff the stat sheet but are key to the team’s success. For the Raptors it’s Fred VanVleet, and it’s not even close. The second year player out of Wichita State has been the most important and consistent player on the best bench in the NBA. By a quick glance of bench players around the league, Steady Freddy doesn’t seem to be an award candidate, but the buzz he has generated for the award is because of much more. This season he averaged 8.7 points per game and 3.2 assists on 42.7 per cent shooting, but when you dig deeper and watch the games it’s clear he’s been an invaluable part of the Raptors success. This season, VanVleet has taken a massive step up and done everything from captaining the bench as point-guard to closing games in the backcourt with Kyle Lowry during pivotal games. When they beat the Houston Rockets on March 9, Fred played the last five minutes with Lowry and Derozan both on the court. Dwane Casey has actually grown to like this lineup and has used it consistently throughout the season. VanVleet’s ability to penetrate defenses, make plays, and shoot the long ball has been essential to the bench’s success and average of 41.8 PPG. He shot a team high .414 per cent from deep. To put it in familiar terms, Fred is kind of like a young Lowry. He’s a scrappy undersized player that’s great on defense and level headed. The bench isn’t nearly as effect without him and the playoffs are showing that right now. With as much talent as the Raptors have it’s obvious he isn’t given the same opportunity to shine individually as other sixth men like Los Angeles Clippers Lou Williams but that shouldn’t take away from his value. Everyone will agree that wins are the most important stat.
- 9th assist to turnover ratio 3.28
- 23rd in 3pt percentage .414
- 19th highest plus minus +352
- 28th in steal percentage 2.2%
- 42nd offensive rating at 115.4
DeRozan is the best player on the number one team in the East, which should be enough of an argument to get him a spot. He’s been one of the most dominant and complete players in the league offensively all season. The Raptors have relied on his consistent play, and not just his scoring, to take pressure off his teammates all season. He’s expanded his game by taking more threes, becoming a catch-and-shoot candidate for the first time in his career. He made a career high 89-threes this season and shot 31 per cent, just enough to keep defenders honest. DeMar was still one of the best finishing at the rim and getting to the free-throw line with seven attempts per game. When it comes down to it, outside of DeRozan there isn’t anyone on the Raptors that can consistently create offense when plays break down or the game slows. His presence and scoring ability forced defenses to key on him and allowed his teammates to flourish this season. DeRozan’s become a great playmaker and this season, averaging the most assists of his career at 5.2 per game; third among shooting guards. He’s been the catalyst on the court for the team’s identity change because a team can’t change without the star buying in. Russell Westbrook is great, but the team he plays on consistently don’t have much ball movement for a reason. In a way, which All-NBA team Derozan gets placed on will show how much winning is valued compared to stats because his scoring is down 4.3 points compared to last season at 23 PPG. DeRozan was third team All-NBA last season.
- Eastern Conference Player of the Month x1 (January)
- Eastern Conference Player of the Week x5 (Nov 20, Dec 25, Jan 8, Mar 5, March 12)
- Eastern Conference All-Star Starter: Team Curry ( 2nd in East, guard votes 998,999)
- 11th in scoring at 23.0 ppg
- 3rd in SG assists 5.2 apg
The other half of the Raptors All-Star backcourt is unlikely to make one of the three, but shouldn’t be overlooked for All-NBA Team considerations. Lowry is the heart and soul of the Raptors. His leadership and hustle on a nightly basis is incredible, and it’s been key to the teams success. His scoring average dipped this season because of his minutes decrease and the team’s new system, but his impact on games didn’t. He lead the league in charges drawn per game this season with 0.47 of players with 50 or more games played. At 6’0 he averaged 5.6 rebounds, the most of his career. When a team has a guy like this willing to put his body on the line to win it becomes contagious, and it is clear that Kyle, above all else, is a winning player. Lowry does all the little things necessary towards getting W’s that don’t always wow non-Raps watchers, but he clearly remains in the below-superstar tier of point guards. His pick and roll play with JV and ability to find shooters like Serge Ibaka and OG Anunoby in the corner are staples of the Raptors offense. It also helps that he was one of the best three-point shooters in the league this season and set a franchise record for makes with 238. A huge reason the Raptors finished 4th in 3-pointers made as a team. On both sides of the ball he’s found ways to make winnings plays all season whether it be taking a late charge or fighting through the trees in the paint to secure a crucial rebound.
- 9th assists in the league (6.9 APG)
- Eastern Conference All-Star (Team Stephen)
- 3rd in 3-point makes & franchise record (238)
- Tied for 6th in triple doubles (3)
- 1st in charges drawn 0.47 per game
This one is also long shot, but given the need for a centre on each team, there is an argument to be made for JV. Valanciunas has been one of the most underrated big men in the league for a long time. This season he put together all his skills and became a complete modern NBA center, taking as big as step up as any Raptor. For a big man, Valanciunas is extremely skilled and versatile. He showed this season that he do everything: drive the ball, pass, shoot threes (!!), score in the post, and protect the rim. There was no huge weakness in his game all season, other than concerns on defending the PNR. The Raptors backcourt is relatively small and rely heavily on Valanciunas to be the last line of defense. Although he only averaged 0.9 blocks per game he is tied for 7th in contested 2-point shots with 9.8 per game this season. Pretty impressive considering he only averaged 22.4 minutes. Valanciunas seems to produce for the team whenever he’s on the court, for short or long periods. He’s 7th in rebounds per 48 minutes, a stat that describes his impact on the boards more accurately than his 8.6 rebound average. The Raptors don’t even worry about taking him out of games late because of his .806 per cent free-throw shooting. Valanciunas, at least this season, has been one of the most versatile and consistent 5’s on both ends of the court.
- 8th in field goal percentage (.568)
- Tied 15th rebounds per game (8.6)
- 13th defensive rating
- Only player averaging 12 points & 8 rebounds playing under 25 minutes per game
- .405 3-point percentage & .804 free throw percentage
This depression get the best of me…
— DeMar DeRozan (@DeMar_DeRozan) February 17, 2018
Yes, we’re deeeep into the awards now. Thanks to a simple tweet. awareness was brought to the issue of depression and mental health. Many were shown they aren’t the only ones with these issues, and it can happen to anyone. Even a rich and famous athlete with thousands of people cheering for him on a nightly basis. DeRozan’s upstart on the mental health conversation also inspired Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love to publicly speak about his anxiety issues in a Players Tribune piece. This is a step towards the progression of mental health awareness. If athletes can come forward with their mental health issues in public, maybe other people will feel more comfortable to express their own issues and look for help.
The NBA Awards Ceremony will be held on June 25th.