First, the facts: the Toronto Raptors just finished the 2019-20 NBA season with a 53-19 record, which was good for second place in the East (and the league), and equates to a .736 winning percentage, a franchise high-watermark. Second, the commentary: it is absurd to be reflecting on any of this now, given that it is August 15th. Yes, the new normal has us reflecting on NBA basketball — NBA regular season basketball — in August. Third, the feeling: phew!
Now, as you may or may not recall, we issued a 3/4-Season Raptors Report Card back in March, on the 12th to be exact, the moment when we realized the NBA season was to be put on hold — and perhaps outright cancelled. In that moment, it felt like those grades were to be the last ones we issued on the matter. Instead, here we are months later with the season finished, the playoffs set to begin on Monday, and a whole new assessment of the team.
So, off we go: here is the final 2019-20 NBA season report card for the Toronto Raptors.
Kyle Lowry – A
For this season, all we can really do is grade Lowry against himself. In that spirit, his production this season stands as better than last year — when he had to accommodate Kawhi Leonard — but not as good as his peak a couple of years ago. That said, putting up 19.4 points and 7.5 assists per game as the tactical and emotional leader of the Raptors is damn good (even if the first two numbers of his 42/35/86 shooting splits are a bit of a concern). It remains a comfort to have Kyle Lowry in Toronto.
Pascal Siakam – B+
We’ve got to dock Siakam a tad here because, well, his performance in the Bubble was muted. It’s not like he was bad per se, but there just weren’t many times when Siakam would exhibit his full skill-set or take over a game the way he has in the recent past. (That game-sealing lay-up against the Lakers was something though.) Again, we’re grading on a hard curve for Siakam, a first-time All-Star on the year, because he’s supposed to be the alpha of the Raptors for the future. For now, even with averages of 22.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists, there is room for Pascal to grow.
Fred VanVleet – A
VanVleet’s grade stays steady because he accomplished what he set out to do: prove himself to be a starting guard in the NBA. The proof is not only in the numbers (17.6 points per game, plus 6.6 assists while shooting 39 percent from three), it’s in how Fred carries himself on the court. We saw it again in the Bubble: when the Raptors needed a calming hand on offense, or a defensive save from nowhere, VanVleet was there to make it happen. Pairing him with the more mercurial Lowry just feels right — when they’re together, few backcourts are as smart and tough, undersized though they may be.
OG Anunoby – A-
Who knows how he did it in those long months off, but Anunoby emerged in the Bubble as a whole new force with which to be reckoned. His defensive skils — already formidable — were still on display, but they came along with some new ball-handling skills (check out OG’s spins!) that increased his utility on the offensive end. Anunoby’s three-point shooting also remained solid (39 percent on 3.3 attempts per game), which will be important if he wants more chances to show off his dribbling abilities. All told: Anunoby continues to chart upwards.
Marc Gasol – A
We’re going to weight this entry towards his Bubble performances because Gasol was absent for long stretches of the season. While its true the (now less) big Spaniard never did regain his two-point shooting touch this season, the Raptors can still rely on Gasol to nail threes at a steady clip. More importantly, he’s still an all-world defender, especially against the handful of dangerous centres (Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Nikola Vucevic) who have their way elsewhere. Add in a strong two-man game with Norman Powell, plus his ability to boost Toronto’s sometimes flagging offense with his passing, and it becomes hard to sink Gasol’s grade below what it is right now.
Serge Ibaka – A-
After some spry scrimmages, Ibaka’s experience in the Bubble didn’t look that great. Still, for long stretches of the season, it was Serge who carried the Raptors’ frontcourt, doing all the big time work on the glass, patrolling the paint, and protecting the rim. As has been noted elsewhere, Ibaka also got his three-point shooting back up to productive levels (38.5 percent) and even developed his passing game — marvelous improvements for a player many thought had turned into a statue a few years ago. In all, despite a continued reserve role, Ibaka set a bunch of new career-highs this year — and of course, looked great while doing it.
Norman Powell – A+
It took a few games for Powell to rediscover himself after coming into the Bubble (playing with Gasol helped), but it’s still hard to knock Norm’s year at all. Putting up 16 points a game while shooting 40 percent from three makes him one of the deadlier sixth men in the league. In the right Toronto lineups, Norm bounces down the court, able to attack smartly in transition, work off the ball, and pounce on lax moments from opponents. Gone are the moments when we wonder if Norm will do the right thing, now we just assume he will every time.
Patrick McCaw – C-
It feels bad to give McCaw a D-level grade now because, if you can believe this: the Raptors could use his steadiness in the eighth man spot. Yes, McCaw doesn’t like to shoot, and his defense is suspect at times, but Toronto at least knows what they’re going to get (which is not as easy to say about the next two entries on this list). Plus, McCaw is trying to make it 4-for-4 for championships in his career, a most cherished subplot. It’s just sad it sounds like he won’t get the chance to be an active participant in the playoffs for Toronto.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – B
If this makes sense, Hollis-Jefferson has been reliably unreliable for the Raptors this season. I decided to keep him at a B because his output this year — in and out of the Bubble — hasn’t changed much. At this point, Rondae is what he is for Toronto: a dogged defender (who gets distracted every few games), a wicked rebounder (who is defeated every few games), and a play-maker extraordinaire (who amasses too many turnovers every few games). The key for Toronto continues to be channelling the good Hollis-Jefferson can do and identifying in time when it’s going to be one of those games.
Terence Davis – C
There’s no other way to say this: Davis looked every bit the undrafted rookie he is in the Bubble. Maybe the long layoff messed with his head (understandable!), or maybe he started reading too much of his own press (also understable), but Davis just did not have the same productive edge he had through much of the “normal” regular season. In truth, that’s totally OK. Davis was always going to be a project, even if at times it looked like he was ready to be a major player for the Raptors right away. We’ll see if he has any big moments in the playoffs — and they’ll we’ll look forward to what Davis may be able to do next season.
Chris Boucher – B
If nothing else, this season proved two things for Boucher: he has a role on these Raptors, and he is an NBA player. Like the rest of Toronto’s reserves, there are obvious limitations to Boucher’s game. But few players can confidently bomb threes (even if only hitting them at 32 percent), chase blocks at the three-point line, and be as active as he is on the glass (despite a modest frame). Now that it is absolutely clear that Boucher works best as a power forward, I’m liking his spot on the team.
Matt Thomas – B+
The Matt Thomas Propaganda Machine almost had me doling out an A here after this shooter’s shooter got his chance to shine in the Bubble. I’ll say this instead: few things are as excited for the Raptors as when Thomas is curling off a screen. It’s been some time since Toronto had a guard who could shoot like that (Terrence Ross comes to mind) while working as hard at all other aspects of the game. Like Boucher, Thomas is limited, but he’s working with what he’s got to maximum efficiency. And, I mean, come on: he’s shooting 48 percent from three!
Stanley Johnson – D
The penultimate Bubble game of the season against the Sixers, also known as the one where Stanley Johnson hit the game-winning shot, single-handedly bumps this grade up to a D. Few in Toronto trust Johnson to do anything with or without the ball right now, but that game (and the season finale in which he led the way for the Raps) at least proved that young Stanley has some skills. Now, on to next year.
Malcolm Miller – F
The very last game of the season saw Miller shoot 4-for-5 from the field. It was one of two randomly great — albeit completely meaningless — shooting lines from him on the year. There’s just not much else to say here. Sorry, Malcolm.
Dewan Hernandez – D
I can’t chicken out here on Hernandez this time. He did indeed get to play in the Bubble, and actually had a hand in winning a game for the Raptors after scoring five points down the stretch against Philly. So why just a D? The main gripe with Dewan’s play is that the skills he most needs as a little-used forward for the Raptors are the ones that so far elude him. He’s not much of a rebounder, not much of a defender, and he can’t protect the rim. These skills could come in time to complement his shooting and driving ability — or not.
Oshae Brissett – D+
We didn’t get to see Oshae in the Bubble thanks to injury, and in truth I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to watch him play at all. Let’s just say, I have a hard time ranking him any higher than a D+ — even though he’s Canadian and tries hard, which counts for a lot — but I would love nothing more than to see more.
Paul Watson – C-
Yes, Watson is leapfrogging all of the Raptors’ other deep deep benchers because he played well out of nowhere in the last couple of games of the season. His play was even enough to elicit some compliments from coach Nick Nurse. And what’s more, Watson looked totally unflappable throughout. Seriously, he cuts and drives, he dunks, he hits threes, and he maintains a stoic demeanour throughout. As with OG, it’s hard not to enjoy that — now here’s hoping for more from Watson.
Nick Nurse – A
Nurse is this season’s NBA Coach of the Year — even if it hasn’t be announced yet and even if the Coaches Association doesn’t agree. (And while this doesn’t mean a lot here, I docked him the plus-grade because of his mishandling of the Adrian Griffin situation, which just bums me out.)