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Let My People Go: The Raptor Rookies

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(Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

Lets face it people, the playoffs are no longer real for the Toronto Raptors. Even the extreme optimists out there, who refuse to lose hope until the Raptors are mathematically eliminated, understand this fact. Blowing this last stretch of games where the Raps could’ve easily gained ground on the 8th seed removed any hope of making the playoffs.

Before the stretch over the last ten to eleven games the Raptors seemed pointed in the right direction. It was a time when the Raptors had won 6 out of 10 games against elite opponents; this was also the time when Rudy Gay was looking like the savior for this franchise by nailing game winners that caught the attention of even the most casual basketball viewer.

The Raptors were winning, the fans were happy and things were looking good for the men in red and white. Not only were the Raps winning but the team was also getting healthy, so it was the perfect time it seemed for the Raptors to be at full strength in terms of their roster depth towards the tail end of the season.

Usually, when things are going well for the Raptors it always seems as if the situation is just “too good to be true”, and that’s usually the case. So just when the Raptors looked like they could’ve been the NBA’s Cinderella story of the season; it happened.

The Raptors went flat; in the midst of arguably one of their best stretches of the season. Sitting only 5 games out with key injuries on rival teams; the Raptors were in a great position to make a move, especially with a favorable schedule the rest of the way. However, they failed to take advantage of their situation and now continue to fall in the Eastern Conference standings…again.

So where does that bring the Toronto Raptors now when it comes to closing out the season? Among many writers and fans, there have been many debates as to how the remainder of the season should be managed. The noble thing to do would be to play every game as hard as possible and hope for the winning outcome. That just seems like the correct thing to do.

The other idea would be to go into full out “tank-mode” and sacrifice potential wins for a better draft position. The problem being is that the Raptors would only benefit from this if they were bad enough to receive a top 3 pick in the draft. I for one, am highly against the thought of tanking, it simply jeopardizes the quality of the game reduces athletes into actors for not performing or competing at full capacity.

The season hasn’t been completely negative, the Raptors had some promising revelations in the trio of rookies Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross and even Quincy Acy. Moving forward the Raptors will eventually rely heavily on at least two of these three players in the regular rotation. With Valanciunas being drafted 5th and Ross being deemed as virtually untouchable around the trade deadline, you’d have to expect these two to be major pieces of the Raptors puzzle. Quincy Acy has shown growth and rebounding prowess when given time on the court both in the NBA and in the D-League.

So why not let the key parts of the Raptors future get their feet wet? Better yet, drenched in NBA experience before the offseason? This would seem like the logical thing to do at this point in time. These are extremely talented rookies the Raptors are dealing with, but for some reason they consistently fail to be noticed and left out to dry on the bench after providing quality minutes. In order for these rookies to grow they need to play, plain and simple. No amount of practice time will ever be able to get a player mentally ready when it comes to the real game.

Don’t believe me? Ask Solomon Alabi. It’s not even like either one of these players are hindering the capabilities of the team’s lineup when they check into the game. If they didn’t play hard, and give their all every single time they stepped on the court, than I wouldn’t have to defend them, however this is not the case.

Let’s look at the rookies on this Raptor team thus far, per 36-minutes and when they’ve played more than 21-minutes:

Jonas Valanciunas: 7 ppg (51% FG) , 5.6 reb. 1.1 blk , 0.8 ast, 75% FT in 21mins/game

Per 36: 11.9ppg, 9.5 reb, 1.9blk, 1.3 ast, Foul rate of 5

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Denver Nuggets
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Games with 21+mins played (23): 9.9ppg, 7.5reb, 1.77 blk 75.8% FT

The case for Jonas is that he is our centre piece of the foreseeable future. Not since the days of Antonio Davis have the Raptors had a big man equivalent of providing the necessary grit night in and night out while putting up eerily similar numbers.

In every way shape and form Valanciunas embodies the ideology of ‘Pound the Rock’. Every game the kid shows up and works his ass off banging in the paint against much older and stronger bodies refusing to back down only to be rewards with a seat next to his native homeboy Linas Kleiza.

Jonas Valanciunas has shown the ability to be productive on both ends of the court, even though his foul tendency has been somewhat problematic through extended minutes. However his positives by far, out-weigh any negative aspect in the big-man’s game. This is why his delegation to the bench in key stretches has raised many, many about coaching decisions among the hopefuls who are restricted access to the Lithuanian persuasion.

Since he’s returned from injury his minutes have been inconsistent, prior to the games against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics, he saw 4 straight games with under 20-minutes of playing time. If the Raptors want to ensure that Jonas Valanciunas turns into the beast the world knows he can become, then he must play, bottom line.

Terrence Ross: 6.1 ppg (39% FG, 34%3PT), 0.8 ast,  2.0 reb, 0.6 stl, 65.5% FT in 16.3mins/game

Per 36: 13.4 ppg, 4.3 reb,1.8 ast, 1.2 stl

NBA: Orlando Magic at Toronto Raptors
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Games With 21+ mins played (19): 13.2ppg 3.8 reb 1.1 stl, 68% FT

Another forgotten talent who seems to fly under the radar is the 2013 NBA Slam Dunk contest winner Terrence Ross. Since putting his talents on display in Houston and putting Toronto back on the map with his display of athletics, he’s seen very limited playtime.

Ross seems to be just another victim in the inconsistent rotation that has befallen the Raptors over the course of the season, due to injuries and roster moves. Early in the season he was slow to break his way into the regular rotation, but when he did, it was awesome.

Since the All-star break the Toronto Raptors have played 12 games; Ross has averaged only 10.8mins of action in these games with 3 DNP-CD’s. For a man who’s attempting to build a profile for the only team North of the US border gaining a little on-court exposure for the young man wouldn’t hurt.

Terrence Ross is inconsistent, yes. However he’s a scoring rookie so his play is expected to be streaky and unpolished. What his game lacks is a consistent focus, Ross is caught at times simply floating around the perimeter eventually resulting in a forced or contested attempt.

When Ross is in movement off the ball is when he’s the most dangerous, far too many times he’s come in the game and been asked to simply shoot. His weak handle doesn’t allow him to break defenders off the dribble yet, so if he’s able to utilize his athleticism off-the ball a-la Rip Hamilton he should find success in this league with his flawless stroke (that’s what she said).

Jokes aside, Terrence Ross’ game is the real deal and he needs the time on the court against different defenses to gather the pace of the game. When the game slows down mentally for Ross, only good things will come.  Adopting the work effort of DeMar DeRozan would be a good start due to his level of dedication towards improvement. This is evident based on his growth and development on the court.

It doesn’t make sense to have Ross sit behind the likes of Alan Anderson and John Lucas III in the rotation at this point in the season. Anderson is a restricted FA and has a good relationship with Dwane Casey already. If the Raptors don’t offer, than Anderson will likely get an offer that the Raptors wont want to match, unless they are able to unload the likes of Landry Fields. Letting Ross play would only make sense, why keep arguably our player with the highest potential on the bench behind players who have hit their plateau?

Quincy Acy: 3.0 ppg (57% FG) 1.8 reb, 0.4blk, 0.4stl, 90%FT 18-for-20 in 7.7 mins/game

Per 36: 14.0ppg, 8.4 reb, 2.1 blk* (*Foul rate 7.7 *FT still 90%)

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Dallas Mavericks
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

D-League Stats: 13.4 ppg 6.9 reb , 0.6 blk 0.4stl 71% FT in 27.9min 

He may not be in Toronto right now, but he should be sometime soon. Call. Him. Up. Quincy Acy needs to make his return to the Raptors rotation, especially now that Andrea Bargnani is out for the season.

Based on his advanced statistics he could possibly be the best rookie on the Raptors. Obviously some of these numbers are skewed based on percentages not wavering, but centered on the numbers provided Acy provides ample rebounding and an underestimated offensive game.

Acy is no Reggie Evans, there could never be another Reggie Evans. Apart from the beard their games are very different. Acy is much more athletic and explosive, looking for put-back slams and above the rim plays. Evans on the other hand uses superior positioning and unmatched instinct to draw the basketball into his gravitational pull.

Acy’s stats in the D-League are very similar to his per 36 numbers so it’s safe to say that he would provide help in the areas (rebounding, interior defence and hustle) where the Raptors generally see deficiencies. Not saying that Acy will come up to Toronto and change the culture, but he definitely adds to the culture of this team, bringing a confidence from the bench that does not go unnoticed.

Being the first from the bench  to give your teammates high-fives goes a long way. Acy’s presence surpasses statistical measurements because when he’s on the bench the Raptors always seem a bit more confident. When’s the last time you saw Bargnani meeting his team at half-court to show love? By calling up Quincy, the front office and the fans will be able to further evaluate the significance of Acy’s presence to this ball-club. 

Numbers don’t lie (unless you’re Quincy Acy), and based on these statistics the Raptor rookies are putting up respectable numbers in limited minutes. In the time that they are given on the court, the rookies have come in and provided top-notch effort on both ends.

With only 17 games left the Raptors would have to win an absurd 76% of those contests to stand any chance. The likelihood of this occurring is slim to none, and even if they do amass a 38-44 record, they’d still only have a 6% chance of getting the 8th seed.

So that’s basically all she wrote when it comes to playoff dreams, but that shouldn’t necessarily be a negative for the true Raptors fans. With playoff dreams in the rear view the Raptors can reflect on their season as of now.

The Raptors at least managed to salvage a 4-19 record into something somewhat respectable. Also the Raps were able to add to their talented core of young players with the addition of Rudy Gay. There’s much reason to be excited heading into the off-season, however there should be NO solace whatsoever in the way the season has panned out for the Raptors thus far.

Moral victories are not enough to satisfy this Raptors fan base, but giving consistent minutes to these talented Raptors rookies might provide enough promise that success is not far away for this club.


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