Handing out player awards after up-and-down first half

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The Toronto Raptors have managed to somewhat put their calamitous 2-8 start to the 2020-21 season behind them, as the 17-19 club is right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt despite some extremely difficult circumstances.

Not only have the Raptors dealt with injury issues and played their entire season away from home in Florida, but some COVID-19 issues robbed them of their depth heading into the break. Despite all of that, there are some positive takeaways from the first chunk of the season.

Most of the usual suspects, like Kyle Lowry, have been playing some excellent basketball for the entire season, while studs like Pascal Siakam have put slow starts behind them in order to get Toronto back on the right track.

Some Raptors have impressed, while some need to make some serious improvements in the second half of the season.

Toronto Raptors 2020-21 First Half Awards Showcase

Raptors Most Improved: OG Anunoby

Anunoby came into the league as a promising defender that needed to work on his offensive game if he was ever going to justify Toronto burning a first-round selection on him. While he isn’t scoring 20 a night, his performance this season has been the most encouraging returns to date with regards to his offense.

Anunoby is averaging 13.8 points per game, all the while shooting 48% from the floor and 39.5% from the 3-point line. Anunoby’s sterling defense is finally starting to be paired with some tremendous offensive skills, and Anunoby’s upward ascension should only continue.

Raptors Sixth Man of the First Half: Chris Boucher

Boucher, who was re-signed during this offseason on a two-year deal, is quickly becoming an elite rim protector and shooter. Averaging just under two blocks per game, Boucher is scoring 13.6 points per game while shooting 53% from the floor and 44.5% from 3-point range.

Boucher is the one saving grace on what has been a genuinely poor bench. Boucher is the one non-Siakam big man that the Raptors can trust to get baskets inside, all the while becoming one of the best stretch bigs in the NBA. He’ll compete for the proper Sixth Man award.

Raptors Newcomer of the First Half: DeAndre Bembry

Bembry’s 4.4 points per game might not make it seem like he is making a huge impact, but the former first-round pick is showing that he can handle the ball, attack the rim as he did in Atlanta, and show off an improving jump shot.

While rookie Malachi Flynn has struggled to adjust to the professional ranks, Bembry looks totally comfortable in this new role. Bembry may never be an elite scorer, but his performance this year proves he could be a solid role player on a team with title aspirations.

Raptors Offensive Player of the First Half: Norman Powell

Powell started off the season as a poorly performing reserve, but the potential impending free agent has stepped on the accelerator after being moved into the starting lineup. Since a January 16 win against the Miami Heat, Powell is averaging 23.1 points per game, all the while shooting 53% from the floor and 45.5% from 3-point range on 6.7 attempts per game.

Powell is scoring at a level that could lead to him potentially getting a nine-figure contract this offseason, as his offensive production is just short of elite over the last two months. Considering how inefficient Fred VanVleet can be and the inconsistent rotations, Powell has been a godsend for the Raptors.

Raptors Defensive Player of the First Half: OG Anunoby

Anunoby picks up his second award here, barely beating out Boucher for the honor. While Boucher has become one of the best shot blockers in the game, it’s clear that the Raptors defense with Anunoby in the lineup is twice as fearsome as it is when the Englishman has to take a seat on the bench.

Being a 6-8 wing/power forward combination thanks to his 7-2 wingspan, Anunoby can guard essentially all five positions on the court, and the advanced data backs up the fact that Nurse is using him in that exact role. Anunoby’s offensive improvement and defensive skill make him one of the best young two-way players in the league.

Raptors LVP: Aron Baynes

At the risk of beating a dead horse, Baynes has been a bitter disappointment this season, failing to match the breakout scoring output he tallied during his season in Phoenix. He was supposed to be a quality rebounder, but the Raptors are one of the worst rebounding teams in the league.

While Terence Davis’ poor performance off of the bench also warranted consideration, Baynes’ featured role in the rotation makes him the prime target for the ire of most Raptors fans. Unless he makes a major adjustment, Baynes might end up with this designation once again at the end of the year.

Raptors MVP: Fred VanVleet

VanVleet was signed to a four-year contract in the offseason that effectively denoted him as the preferred offensive option, especially considering how Lowry might bolt in free agency. VanVleet has not only tread water in that role, but he’s thrived.

VanVleet is leading the team in scoring with 20.1 points per game while dishing out 6.6 assists per game. Even though he is just a hair over 6-0, his perimeter defense has become invaluable to the Raptors. A turnover machine and lethal scorer, VanVleet is the team’s MVP.