Raptors Cage

What Really Happened This Season?

Credit to Kevin Liles - USA TODAY Sports.
Credit to Kevin Liles – USA TODAY Sports.

What happened to the Toronto Raptors this season? Do the fans remember the promise Jamaal Magloire made before the final game against the New Jersey Nets (now Brooklyn Nets) last season?

“…and continue, continue, continue to stick with us, ’cause we are going to improve, and we are going to make the playoffs next year.”

 

This season was full of hope, promise, disappointment, streaks, roster turnover, regression, and injuries. It has been a season where all potential and possibility did not happen. The Toronto Raptors will not make the playoffs this season, where they were officially mathematically eliminated in a loss against the Atlanta Hawks, on Wednesday night, March 27th. We look back from the beginning, to this point, on what really happened to the Raptors this season.

One word that comes up constantly, is injuries. It was a major setback that affected the team even before the season had started. Going into training camp, Jonas Valanciunas slowed himself down with a leg injury that caused some serious talk, and all the way into pre-season. He than was slowed once again with a broken ring finger, and was out within the time frame of 4-6 weeks. Kyle Lowry was already injured halfway into the training camp, and did not play until after a couple games into the pre-season. He was able to get healthy for the start of the season, but only until he was injured once again in Oklahoma City. Everything went downhill for him, and the worse came when he was back on the reserved list, re-injured with a shoulder injury on the road against the Portland Trailblazers. Does anyone still remember Linas Kleiza?

How about the isolated, Andrea Bargnani? Coach Dwane Casey made a comment towards Bargnani’s preparedness coming into training camp, saying he “came to camp in shape”, but that was proven otherwise as early as the pre-season. Bargnani, after a small sample of fantastic play (the well known 13 games) came into this season with high expectations. Many saying he would be the reason for playoffs, possibly an all-star appearance, but what made all of that turn? Starting the season, he went back to being what fans know him to be; a soft, lazy big man. Rebounding was back at the below average level, – if anything, worse – the shots weren’t falling, the energy was non-existent, and the effort level was abysmal. Than came injury, sustaining a  ligament tear in his elbow, where he was sitting in his Italian leather until February, where he made a return off the bench against the Boston Celtics. A couple days later, Bargnani would not play a handful of games due to flu-like symptoms, where he once again returned, but not for very long…

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Andrea would leave in the first half in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers, where he would re-aggravate his elbow, thus resulting in being shut down for the rest of the season. Andrea Bargnani finished this season as his worst in his pro career, averaging a career low in Points Per Game (12.7), tied his career low in Rebounds Per Game (3.7), and a career low in Defensive Rebounds Per Game (2.9), To top it all off, he entered almost every home game with the crowd reigning down on him with boos, and while it was poor judgement and class, the booing was justified.

Rudy Gay was acquired January 31st in the afternoon. From then on, Toronto had gained some wins, meaning they were keeping the playoff hopes alive. The point? A massive roster turnover. Toronto lost Jose Calderon, arguably the heart and soul of this team with his professionalism, team first mentality, and pass-first play. They also lost Ed Davis, a big man drafted in 2010, who was having a breakout season, looking like the clear cut replacement for Andrea, assuming he would be gone. No one knew exactly who or what was going to enter that locker room door, neither did they know who would end up leaving it.

One word to describe Coach Casey and company? Regression. One place where regression was obvious, was on the defensive end. During the 2011-2012 lockout shortened season, Toronto was one of the better defensive teams in the league, mostly in the top half of the association. In 2011-2012, 9th in opponent points per game (94.0), tied for 6th in opponents field goal percentage (.435%), and 11th in opposing assists (20.1). In 2012-2013, the Raptors are currently 18th in opponent points per game (99.2), 20th in opponents field goal percentage (.460%), and 12th in opposing assists per game (21.8). How about Casey coming out recently saying if the Raptors were (still) in the playoff race, we’d be seeing much less of Jonas Valanciunas in crunch time moments (meaning Aaron Gray? Yay!) How about a poor rotation management? “Come hell or high water”.

To add, the NBA came out twice to apologize to the Toronto Raptors for missed calls at the end of games, became a background story to all the dizzle-dazzle of the season. First one, Andrea Bargnani clearly getting hacked on the elbow after rising up for a jump-shot against the Charlotte Bobcats, than another time where a call (or no-call) was botched, where Amir Johnson was given a non-shooting foul after being hacked attempting a game-tying layup to send the game to overtime. These games weren’t the only times the Raptors have been hurt by poor reffing. It almost became a formality, which cost the team a couple of wins for their record in their playoff race early on in the season.

Then there are the actual basketball games, where the Raptors quite frankly struggled more often than not. Let’s take a look at the 4-19 start, where Toronto rarely came out winners, especially in the final moments of games. The close ones killed this team more than anything.

Toronto struggled in the end of games, players faded away, some took advantage, some tried too hard. It was an issue that carried from last season, into now, where many had expected this would change. Guys like Alan Anderson, and Kyle Lowry would be in the ‘try hard’ category. Lowry was expected more so than Anderson was, to be a guy that played a major role. We saw far too much of Lowry, with the ever persistent ‘hero-ball’, and a guy labelled to be a ‘third-stringer’ become a crunch time option at the offensive end. The set plays down the stretch were abysmal, many times Toronto just couldn’t find themselves a quality look. The defense was at the level it was in the past years. Bad. And to add, the poor reffing and calls that hurt them, which was mentioned in the above. Toronto’s start to the season put them in far too deep a hole, and obviously we know they weren’t able to climb out of it.

The big word to summarize the reasons for what has happened this season? Continuity. The lack of continuity, consistency, meshing. When was the last time all players were healthy? When was the last time all these players were healthy for more than a week? This season, filled with hope and promise, only answered with ‘what could be’, and disappointment.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

But there are always things to show for, regardless of how disappointing a season was for this team. How about young big man, Jonas Valanciunas? In this stretch to finish the season, he has been fantastic, having 11 out of 15 games scoring +10 points in the month of March, also having 14 games out of 15 rebounding +5 rebounds. To top that all off, he was recently awarded the KIA Eastern Conference Rookie of The Month for March.

Demar Derozan, having a career year, and the numbers definitely back it up. averaging career highs in points (17.6), assists (2.6), rebounds (4.0), free throw percentage (.829), and minutes per game (37.1). To add on, he’s been the only player to play and start all games this season (76 currently), which is a positive, knowing that one of your core guys are durable, and ready to dress every night.

The trade to acquire Rudy Gay was definitely a positive this season. While Rudy was able to win a couple of games for the team this season, the trade itself was the positive. Why? Because he is on a long term contract, securing the fact he will be a Raptors for the next couple years. A dynamic small forward who can get his own shot, win you games at the end of the clock, defend the opposing team’s best wing players, and who still has that room to get to the next level – an all-star.

What about another small event? Like Terrence Ross bringing the NBA slam dunk championship back to the North of the border. It was definitely a great time for many fans and players to watch a young rookie, a player with a dream, bring a small token of success to a team looking at a bigger picture.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

What has happened to the team this season? It was a team that went through numerous ups, and downs – but mostly downs. The team was not able to live up to their expectations, injuries hurt meshing or continuity within the team, the roster turnover added to the struggle of ANY consistency, but one thing this team has to show for this season, and the future, is the potential. A solid young core, built likely around the likes of Kyle Lowry, Derozan, Gay, and Valanciunas looks bright, and to look at it in a less critical way, this team is better record wise, currently 29-48, with  games remaining to play.

This team has the potential to build into something special in the future. However, we’ll save the rest of that talk for Bryan Colangelo’s end of year presser.

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