A 108-103 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers Sunday snapped a four-game losing streak for the Toronto Raptors and also represented the end of the first half of the 2012-2013 season.
The first 41 games haven’t gone the way some expected. The team’s 15-26 record has them sitting in 11th place in the Eastern Conference and five and a half games behind the eighth place Boston Celtics meaning there’s plenty of ground to make up in order for the Raptors to sneak into the post-season.
And it starts Wednesday with the team’s first tilt – a big one – of the second half as they’ll head to Miami to take on the Heat who currently sit in first place in the East, one game up on the New York Knicks.
But before looking ahead at the Raptors next steps towards a playoff push, two days off gives fans and critics the opportunity to reflect and dissect the performance of each of the Raptors in what in many ways was a disappointing first half of the season.
Two thumbs up – Ed Davis: While his stat line isn’t so flashy – 9.4 points, 6.6 rebounds per game – Ed Davis has been the Raptors most improved player this season. Given the opportunity to play starting minutes due to an injury to Andrea Bargnani, Davis has shown a much-improved jump shot and plenty of hustle at both ends of the floor. His numbers as a starter you ask? In 20 games he’s averaged 12.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
Thumbs up – DeMar DeRozan: January has been a step back in what’s otherwise been an impressive season for DeMar DeRozan. Many questioned the four-year $38 million contract extension he was given at the beginning of the year, but for the most part he has raised the bar. While he’ll likely never be known as an elite defender, his jump shot has improved and his New Year’s Eve party – or lack there of – shows that he’s willing to put in the work necessary in trying to become an elite player.
Somewhere in between – Landry Fields: He started off the season slow, but since returning from an elbow injury that kept him out of the lineup for more than a month, the 6-foot-7 swingman has been much more effective for the Raptors. He had his best game of the season Sunday against the Lakers, scoring 18 points and adding 10 rebounds.
Thumbs up – Alan Anderson: Who doesn’t love an underdog story? After going undrafted and playing two seasons with the Charlotte Bobcats, Anderson left the NBA and played overseas and in the NBA D-League for more than four years before landing in Toronto towards the end of the 2011-2012 season and signing back-to-back 10 day contracts. He eventually signed a one-year deal with the Raptors prior to this season and has been a key contributor coming off the bench for the Raptors. He’s averaging 12.3 points in less than 25 minutes on the floor per game.
Thumbs down – Kyle Lowry: When the Raptors acquired Kyle Lowry via trade this past summer, they were supposedly adding a player with all-star potential, a slashing point guard who wasn’t afraid of taking the ball to the rim and one who’d fit in perfectly with Dwane Casey’s defence first mindset. And while Raptors fans have seen glimpses of that version of Lowry, they’ve also seen plenty of the opposite. He’s been criticized for being a player who tries to do too much on his own and now finds himself coming off the bench and playing behind Jose Calderon.
Somewhere in between – Jonas Valanciunas: The 7-foot Lithuanian has missed the last month with a broken finger, but prior to the injury he’d given Raptors fans plenty of reason to be positive about his future. He’s still learning the NBA game, but once he develops he could be a star in the league, at least that’s what the Raptors are hoping for.
Two thumbs up – Jose Calderon: Some players would shut down knowing what Calderon did. The Raptors had brought in a new starting point guard to start the 2012-2013 season and it would likely only be a matter of time before the team amnestied or traded him. But it’s been quite the opposite for Calderon. While he started the season coming off the bench, an early injury to Kyle Lowry combined with Calderon’s impressive play has allowed the 31-year-old to win back his starting job. It has some wondering whether the Raptors should keep him over Kyle Lowry.
Somewhere in between – Quincy Acy: He hasn't had a ton of time on the floor in his rookie season, but when given the opportunity Acy has been a spark plug off the bench for the Raptors. His breakthrough performance of the season came in a 107-105 loss to Chicago last week when scored eight points, grabbed eight rebounds and most notably drew four charges. There's a whole lot of heart in Acy and he's the type of player fans in Toronto seem to be drawn to.
Somewhere in between – Mickael Pietrus: He was a late signing by the Raptors and brought some positive energy to a team that had dug itself into a deep hole to start the season, but he’s been inconsistent for the most part and is now having issues with his knees.
Thumbs up – Amir Johnson: While he’s made more headlines for his haircut and Christmas tree Amir Johnson is arguably the Raptors best two-way player and he and Ed Davis have paired well in the Raptors frontcourt. It’s hard to refer to his mouth guard throwing incident as a turning point in the Raptors season but the team is 11-8 since Johnson returned to the lineup from that one-game suspension.
Somewhere in between – Terrence Ross: Inconsistent will likely be the word that describes Terrence Ross’ rookie season, but he’s shown the ability to bring fans out of their seats with his high-flying dunks. If he can find more consistentcy as a shooter there’s no doubt he will be an effective piece for the Raptors in the future.
Thumbs down – Andrea Bargnani: It’s hard to fully evaluate Bargnani’s play this season because he’s been out for more than a month with an elbow injury, but his play through the first 21 games of the season unfortunately showed the holes in the 7-foot Italian’s game. He’s unwilling to commit to defence and while he is capable of putting up numbers on offence he takes too many unforced shots and doesn’t take the ball to the rim enough for a big man.
Thumbs down – Linas Kleiza: Another player who is hard to critique because he’s missed chunks of the season due to injury, but there’s no doubt that Kleiza lost minutes on the floor due to the effective play of Alan Anderson and he hasn’t shown the ability to score in bunches like he did last season.
Somewhere in between – Aaron Gray: He’s never going to light up the score sheet, but Aaron Gray can be an efficient defender and has the ability to eat up minutes if frontline big men get into foul trouble.
Somewhere in between – John Lucas III: He gets limited time on the floor when the Raptors have two healthy point guards, but he provided some solid minutes when Kyle Lowry was out with an injury earlier in the season