August 2, 2017, 11:39 pm
Hoop-Ball’s Post-Mortem series takes a look at the 2016-17 season and what went right and wrong for every team. From coaching analysis to fantasy impact, we dive in to the year that was and make sense of it all. If you’ve missed any, you can find them here.
The Raptors tried their damnedest to climb out of the league’s second tier by adding a few big pieces at the trade deadline and won rave reviews. Unfortunately for them, an ill-timed injury to the team’s most important player threw a wrench in the plans and by the time the whole group got together they were in the Cavs’ crosshairs. Unceremoniously swept in the second round, the Raptors are facing an offseason of existential crisis. Hoop-Ball’s Post-Mortem takes a look at a trying year in Toronto.
The Raptors entered the season in a good spot. They were coming off their best season in franchise history with an Eastern Conference Finals appearance and had the looks of a tenacious team that was still on the come up. Their offseason shopping list was a short one; they only really needed to replace Luis Scola in the organization’s never-ending quest for a power forward. Masai Ujiri made quick work of DeMar DeRozan‘s free agency and signed the guard to a max deal almost immediately, and all that was left were small tweaks. Amidst all the crazy spending, Toronto snapped up Jared Sullinger on a cheap, one-year deal. They also added some youth, picking Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam in the first round and signing Fred Van Vleet after he impressed in the offseason program.
Unfortunately, a foot injury cost Sullinger all but 11 games and the team began the season with Siakam at the four. There were a few other minor injuries on the way, but the Raptors roared out to a 22-8 record, blitzing opponents with a lethal offensive attack. As always, the offense ran through the team’s All Star backcourt, as Toronto was able to notch elite offensive numbers without any of the ball movement that the league’s big guns boasted. It’s something we’ll get to later. A mediocre start to 2017 left the Raptors at 33-24 headed into the All Star break, and while it was hardly a death knell it did pour some very cold water on their hopes of getting home court in the second round of the playoffs.
Ujiri was the star of the deadline, shipping Terrence Ross and a late first-rounder to Orlando for Serge Ibaka, finally giving the team a power forward that checked just about every box they were looking for. He’s a versatile defender, protects the rim and can stretch the floor on offense while working pretty well in the pick and roll. It was a coup, and the buzzer-beater to acquire P.J. Tucker from Phoenix for Sullinger and two second-rounders was the cherry on top. Essentially overnight, the Raptors nabbed the top two defenders on the market without sacrificing all that much. They finally had the personnel capable of carrying out Dwane Casey’s demanding defensive schemes and totally transformed their identity in a snap. It caused some consternation amongst the team’s role players, however, as Patrick Patterson, Norman Powell and DeMarre Carroll struggled for adequate court time.
PJT caught a red-eye and played in the first game after the break on no sleep, as he and Ibaka delivered a serious statement in leading the Raptors to a home win in which they completely locked down the conference-leading Celtics late (without Kyle Lowry, no less). Tucker was a cult hero, Ibaka was a missing piece, and all was well. In classic Raptors fashion, nothing good can last as Lowry unexpectedly had surgery to remove loose bodies in his right (shooting) wrist. Though the team performed well without him, he’d be key to playoff success. They were robbed of a swath of games to sort out their rotations and get everyone on the same page, and it ultimately cost Toronto, and the best team the franchise had ever assembled, a chance against the allegedly vulnerable Cavs.
The Playoff Raptors showed up in maddening fashion, as they dropped Game 1 on home court and completely laid an egg in Game 3 against Milwaukee. Though they’d eventually dispatch the Bucks in six games, they managed to blow a 25 point lead in the final 18 minutes of the clincher and had to win on some late heroics. Their ISO-heavy ways got them through the pesky Bucks but was no match for the buzzsaw on the horizon. Toronto was totally blitzed against the Cavs, who were awoken after their 86-game nap. Lowry went down with an ankle sprain in Game 2, but it wouldn’t have mattered. The painful sweep sent Toronto into an offseason of soul searching, tough choices and an ominous culture reset.
The knocks on Dwane Casey are the same as they’ve always been. The offense is far too unimaginative and he’s not at all proactive with tactical adjustments. To his credit, he’s worked on both and the players do seem to enjoy playing for him. The problem is that any changes typically come far too late and the very nature of his offensive playbook guarantees that the team’s two best players will be worn down by the time the postseason arrives.
To wit, Casey has actually done well to experiment with his lineups in the postseason. Whether that was calling on Patterson to start, moving Jonas Valanciunas to the bench, or pulling a struggling Carroll, the right move eventually gets made. It’s a bigger regular season issue, when Casey is so hesitant to mess with the rotation even when obvious answers are laid before him. To his credit, he has found a formula for regular season success, as evidenced by the fact that Toronto was one of only three teams to rank top-10 in both offensive and defensive rating. The Spurs and Warriors were the others.
Offensively, the same problems persist, though that may just be woven into the team’s DNA at this point. Toronto can flat out score, but they have to work much harder for their buckets than other top teams. Flaky 3-point shooting really hurts them, and after Ross was traded and Lowry got hurt the team was forced to live and die with the streakiness of their role players. The team ranked 22nd in 3-point attempts with just 24.3 per game, and Lowry alone took 7.8 of those. It’s a part of the offense that the team pledged to address this offseason, so we’ll see what changes come up next year.
Elsewhere, Toronto posted an impressive 109.8 offensive rating, good for sixth in the league. The Raptors also managed to finish dead last with an assist percentage of 47.2, nearly two full percentage points behind second-last Phoenix and almost six behind 28th-ranked Detroit. Their ISO-heavy style means that the team often wilted without Lowry and DeRozan, and it resulted in the duo ranking second and 13th in minutes per game. The organization always talks about managing those workloads each year but time and time again they’re forced to play huge minutes to put games to bed.
Toronto likes a more deliberate game, as you’d imagine with such proficient ISO players, and the rest of their playstyle reflects that. They’re 22nd in pace and sixth in rebounding percentage. The Raptors also placed fifth in turnover percentage, and place a premium on holding onto the ball.
Realistically, Casey has one good kick at the can left before Toronto calls on a new coach. Last year he was given all the tools he could ask for and the team was defeated handily against the very opponent they were built to slow down. While the Lowry injury is a valid excuse, eventually something’s got to give. It’s an imperfect world and Casey has rarely given the Raptors any sort of edge against the league’s elite. For a team with a three year window, there’s little time to wait.
ADP: 18 / 21 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 31/34 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 15/12 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 60
Lowry continued to establish himself as one of the game’s best guards this season and could only be slowed by injury. As his ill-timed ailments continue to pile up, more and more voices place blame on the coaching staff for failing to give him adequate rest throughout the season. A 31-year-old racking up the second-most minutes per game in the league isn’t a great proposition, especially when it’s someone as vital to a team’s success as Lowry is to Toronto’s.
His, and the Raptors’, season completely changed when he underwent February surgery to remove loose bodies from his right wrist. It kept him on the shelf for 21 games and while he was able to return for four games before the postseason, he just wasn’t the same. Lowry also suffered a left ankle sprain in the playoffs and the team essentially shut him down for the final two games of the Conference Finals.
When on the court this season, Lowry was magnificent on his way to career-best numbers in terms of scoring, assists, rebounds and efficiency. His averages of 22.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 3.2 triples were enough to make him an early-round asset, but it was his ability to can threes at a .412 clip on high volume that put him on the edge of the first round. He blew right past his previous career-high (set the year prior) of .388 and was one of only three players to hit more than 40 percent of his threes while attempting over 7.5 per game. The Splash Brothers were the other two.
Even with Ibaka soaking up more touches than the departing cast of characters, Lowry should have no problem returning second-round value so long as he’s healthy. The team would be wise to cut down on his workload, but they now have a three-year window to win and can’t afford to let games slip away when Lowry is on the bench. There’s also the potential for lingering effects from the wrist surgery, and his shooting percentages are likely to come down a bit anyway. Regardless, Lowry will remain an elite fantasy point guard barring a total collapse.
ADP: 38 / 41 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 37/42 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 44/46 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 74
DeRozan signed a max deal to stay with the only franchise he’s ever known, and the tireless worker continued to expand his game rather than rest on his laurels. He returned from the offseason as an improved distributor and was far more willing to facilitate for his teammates rather than force tough looks. That’ll always remain a part of his game, but he showed excellent restraint when presented with an open teammate. DeRozan also increased his scoring output, finishing fifth in the league with 27.3 points per game. That was buoyed by his stellar 8.7 free throw attempts per game, also good for fifth in the league. His ability to hit free throws (he shot .842) at high volume most certainly helps his fantasy value. Elsewhere, DeRozan posted 5.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.4 threes in 35.4 minutes per game.
Of course, the big story is the spike in efficiency. DeRozan fired off a career-high 20.9 attempts per game and still managed to post a .467 mark from the field after shooting .413 and .446 the two years prior. He made huge improvements in the paint and in traffic, as anyone who watched him swish a bevy of floaters will tell you. In 2015-16, DeRozan shot 41.4 percent on shots in the paint (not including the restricted area). This year, he connected on those same looks at 49.2 percent while also increasing his field goal percentage by over three points in the mid-range and just under five points in the restricted area. DeRozan also saw an increase in the amount of shots following plays where he had the ball for six seconds or longer, up from 22.7 percent to 31.9 percent. A guy with a cadre of deft moves and fakes will tend to thrive in those situations, and they probably helped lead to his bountiful free throws.
After an offseason of work to get stronger, DeRozan has pledged to work on his 3-point shot this summer. While that’s typically something that everyone says, it’s tough not to count on some form of improvement from the former USC Trojan. DeRozan has an incredible work ethic and any improvement from long range might unlock some untapped potential for fantasy owners. Coming off a year at 26.6 percent, don’t expect the world, but be ready for a little uptick.
On the injury front, DDR missed seven games in January with a sprained ankle but was otherwise healthy, receiving only a single rest day.
Unfortunately, DeRozan is settling in as a player who doesn’t leave much room for profit in drafts. His scoring output is flashy enough to draw a top-40 selection out of someone, and he just doesn’t bring enough cash counters to ever really outdo his ADP. If you miss out on scorers in the draft’s early rounds, feel free to go after him. Otherwise you might be better served by pursuing players with a higher profit margin. DeRozan should be a top-50 guy, even accounting for some regression, but be mindful of your roster build if and when you decide to draft him.
ADP: 41 / 29 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 35/32 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 48/41 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 79
Ibaka began his season in Orlando as part of some unholy frontcourt experiment. While he emerged unscathed with career-highs in scoring, assists, steals and threes, it didn’t work out and he was shipped to Toronto. Unfortunately for him, he’s now back to being the third option on offense and while he does fit tremendously well with what the Raptors like to do, it’ll be tough sledding to carve out this big of an offensive role again.
His numbers didn’t suffer too much once he left the Magic, and he still posted 14.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.3 steals, 1.4 blocks and 1.8 triples per game in his short stint with the Raptors. The important caveat there is that pretty much all of those numbers were accrued with Kyle Lowry out of the lineup. It’s also worth mentioning that he shot .398 from three, and while Lowry’s presence might get him more open looks he’s still due for some regression in that area. It’ll also hurt his efficiency as a whole (as evidenced by his .459 with Toronto vs. .488 in Orlando) as he becomes more of a deep threat with the ball-dominant guards going to work in isolation.
Though the overall numbers were good, Ibaka probably won’t hit these levels in a full year with the Raptors. His scoring, efficiency and assists are strong bets to dip while his turnovers will go up, as last season the team displayed a dispiriting trend of dumping him the ball in the post and forcing some rough dribble moves or a fadeaway. On the other hand, he might see his blocks increase a bit as the team’s primary big. If he gets his wish and plays the five spot, he might be able to offset his other declines with increased blocks and boards production. Until then, he’s a top-50 play that’s likely to be a tad overdrafted.
ADP: 82 / 39 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 59/50 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 79/69 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 80
Valanciunas was supposed to carry over the momentum from a beastly playoffs in 2015-16 where he averaged 13.8 points, 11.8 boards and 1.2 blocks in under 27 minutes per game. An opening night 32 & 11 did little to dispel the hype, though JV’s star waned slowly but surely. The thought was that he had finally proven himself capable of 30-plus minutes per night as a hyper-efficient third option who can dominate the glass, but his defensive woes persisted. Coach Casey has never fully trusted the young Lithuanian to keep up on defense, and that was the same story this season. He wound up averaging 25.8 minutes per game, the lowest total since his rookie year.
JV was really hurt by the Ibaka trade, as suddenly the Raptors had an athletic rim protector who could adequately defend quicker players late in games. Once the trade went down, Valanciunas averaged only 23.2 minutes per contest. It’s an unavoidable ceiling on his fantasy prospects at this point, and eventually he’ll need to prove he can defend well enough to stay on the court whether that’s in Toronto or somewhere else. A shame, really, as Valanciunas posted 12.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 0.8 blocks and 1.3 turnovers per game while shooting .557 from the field and .811 from the free throw line.
As for next season, the trade rumors seem to have died down after Ujiri received no satisfactory offers at the draft. The Ibaka-Valanciunas frontcourt wasn’t super effective together, so it remains to be seen how JV will be used going forward. There’s some thought that he could follow in Greg Monroe’s footsteps as a traditional big off the bench who can crush opposing second units, but there’s been nothing to indicate the team will go that route yet. Valanciunas can pretty easily deliver double-doubles with strong efficiency numbers, but he’ll be hard pressed to climb past the top-75 level if he can’t find more playing time.
ADP: 102 / 93 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 151/125 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 160/143 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 72
Carroll signed a four-year, $60 million deal with the Raptors and was meant to be the defensive stopper alongside Toronto’s dynamic offensive backcourt. It didn’t work out, as he only played 26 games in the first year due to foot and knee injuries and he never really gelled with his teammates. Carroll came from a Hawks team that relied on ball movement to find open shots or easy backcuts, so the adjustment to Toronto’s deliberate offense was one that he could never really make.
Still, he was relatively healthy this year, only missing 10 games. Five of those came in March when back and ankle problems popped up but never had any prolonged absences. He, like a few others, saw his minutes cut after the trade deadline and was often relegated to the bench in fourth quarters. He shot just .400 from the field, which was an improvement on last year’s .389 but a far cry from the .479 he averaged on his good looks in Atlanta. The rest of his line read 8.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.5 triples. With both sides acknowledging that the fit wasn’t going to come, the Raptors completed a salary dump deal that sent Carroll to the Nets.
It’s tough to pin down his role in Brooklyn as the Nets have a few wing types who they want to develop for the future. It’s possible that the veteran Carroll draws the starts, while it’s equally possible that he gets fewer minutes than the young bucks at his position regardless of who starts. Brooklyn viewed the attached picks as the greatest assets in the trade, so there’s no incentive for them to get much out of DC. If he’s fully healthy he could regain his subtly helpful fantasy form, but that’s a big if and Carroll doesn’t warrant a draft pick.
ADP: 140 / 141 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 96/81 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 135/116 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 81
Tucker split his season between Toronto and Phoenix and ended up posting a very nice fantasy year, though that was almost entirely driven by his elite steals output. As expected, he saw most of his counting numbers decline once he joined the Raptors but did see an uptick in threes, making good on many of his open corner looks.
On the year, the 32-year-old was able to post 6.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.9 triples per game, shooting .413 from the floor in 27.6 minutes per night. Tucker also accounted for just 0.8 turnovers per game, further boosting his value in 9-cat leagues. That’s unlikely to change since he makes his money on defense and catch-and-shoot looks. His 116 total steals tied him for 17th in the league, and just about everyone ahead of him played starter’s minutes. His tenacity as an on-ball defender means that he’s a pretty safe bet to keeping racking up swipes, and his new role on the Rockets should mean plenty of clean looks from deep.
Of course, Houston sports a very crowded roster and it’ll be tough for Tucker to top, and possibly even approach, last season’s minutes total. If the Rockets acquire Carmelo Anthony, it’ll be even more difficult for him to earn minutes at the four, and he’s already contending with Trevor Ariza for minutes at the three. That might be enough to knock him to the fringes of the standard league radar, but he’ll still be a viable play in deeper leagues who’ll be good for at least a steal per game.
ADP: 140 / 137 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 141/163 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 182/203 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 80
Cory Joseph has long been one of the league’s better backups and performed well in two-guard lineups beside Lowry. This season, he got a real chance to prove his worth as a starter once Lowry went down. It was a decent 22-game audition, and though he wasn’t a primary option he still managed to keep everything in order on both sides of the ball. In starts, he averaged 32.4 minutes per game, posting 12.2 points (on .500 from the floor but only .293 from three), 3.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.8 threes and 2.1 turnovers. His other bugaboo was free throw shooting, as he hit just 70 percent of his freebies as a starter, albeit on very low volume.
Cory Joe has never been an offensive force but did set some career-highs this year in threes, scoring, rebounds and assists, no doubt in part due to that long run of starts. His 9.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.6 threes made for a serviceable low-end package. This was also the second year in which Joseph started taking threes at a worthwhile clip, and managed to shoot .356 from deep on 1.6 attempts per game. He’ll never be a long range artist but every little bit will help improve upon his .452 overall field goal percentage.
The size of the Lowry and Ibaka deals made Joseph a cap casualty this summer, and he was traded to the Pacers in part to clear space. He could start, but the most likely scenario is a timeshare with Darren Collison. That’ll sap his chances at serious fantasy value, and he could be a top-100 guy if he manages to wrestle away a starter’s workload. Improving his shot would also help tremendously but CoJo can produce enough assists and steals to have value without hurting you too much in any category. It’s a camp battle to watch.
ADP: 140 / 137 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 204/190 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 221/187 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 65
Patterson has long been one of the driver’s of Toronto’s success by most analytical measures. He was the Raptors’ best help defender whose versatility made him a fixture in the team’s top lineups. Unfortunately, his 3-point shot was notoriously streaky (though he was strong overall) and he lost a healthy chunk of his playing time when Tucker was acquired. Patterson averaged 27.3 minutes per game before the trade and just 20.3 after. For a player who is such a bit part of the offense, losing those minutes was the death knell to his fantasy value. On the whole, he averaged 6.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.4 threes, 0.6 steals and 0.4 blocks in 24.6 minutes per game, with a career-low .401 from the field and a .372 mark from deep.
Patterson also had some very poor injury timing, as he missed four games at the start of January with a left knee strain. He returned for two games and then sat out six more with left knee soreness, and a left knee contusion in February cost him the six games leading up to the All Star break. Tucker had joined the team by the time Patterson was relatively healthy again, but by then it was too late.
Signed to a very affordable deal in Oklahoma City, perhaps Patterson gets a new lease on life. It sounds like he’ll be the team’s starting power forward and should stay on the court due to his defensive abilities. In a larger role with a coaching staff that seems to trust him as a full-time starter, he could easily scratch out late-round value. A classic stretch four, he’ll be a cheap source of threes and rebounding with a steady trickle of steals to boot.
ADP: 140 / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 210/214 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 257/254 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 76
Powell put himself on the map last postseason, as the second-round selection played a huge role in the team’s white-knuckle victory over the Pacers in the first round. Unfortunately, coach Casey has yet to trust Norm with a full slate of minutes and he hasn’t been able to gain any consistency from a fantasy perspective. In reality, Powell has been a true professional, bringing defensive intensity, secondary ball-handling and slicing drives whenever he gets on the court. He’s a popular teammate who worked plenty to improve his shot from his college days, and a bigger role is on the horizon.
He was supposed to get that role following the departure of Ross, only for Tucker’s arrival to rain on his parade. Nevertheless, Powell continued to impress with his on-court exploits and delivered 8.4 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.7 triples in only 18.0 minutes a night. He also shot .449 from the floor and .324 from deep, and he should be a lock for increases across the board this season given Toronto’s sudden lack of depth on the wings. It’s Norm, C.J. Miles, and then some total unknowns.
Powell makes for an excellent late-round flier, especially if he wins the starting small forward job. His ability to create his own shot should help him mesh with the offense better than Carroll did, and he’ll be the de facto point guard in a pinch. If Norm can get minutes in the high 20’s there’s enough to like with the total package to believe he can be a fantasy factor.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 181/158 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 132/109 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 57
Lucas Nogueira is something of a darling among the fantasy community thanks to his ability to rack up steals and blocks. Bebe is a stat magnet, and always finds his way into fantasy value whenever he gets minutes. Therein lies the rub, as he’ll often look completely out of place on defense, which drives the coaching staff wild and lands him on the bench. It’s a shame he so often has his head in the clouds, as he’s the team’s best passing big and could help with a lot of persistent problems.
An ankle injury cost him the season’s first five games, while a sore knee caused a lone December absence and a January concussion kept him out of action for two games. The other 17 inactives were all DNP-CDs.
By the end of the year he had been passed over for Jakob Poeltl, and that’s unlikely to change this year. But from November to the end of February, Bebe was a top-100/75 play, and it’s not hard to imagine why given his .682 shooting, 4.6 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.7 blocks over that stretch. Unfortunately, he’ll be used sparingly unless he shows major improvement with some of the mental aspects of the game.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 336/337 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 378/372 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 54
Poeltl was taken as a high-floor prospect with the ninth overall pick and displayed good rebounding instincts as a rookie. He also emerged as one of the team’s better screen setters though he was often hit with the dreaded rookie whistle, averaging 2.1 fouls in only 11.6 minutes per game. Poeltl had a decent Summer League and looks ready for more playing time. A softer touch around the rim would help him convert on some of his offensive rebounds (1.4 in those 11.6 minutes), but he’s unlikely to jump on the fantasy radar unless Valanciunas is traded away.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 286/274 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 275/256 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 55
Siakam is a tremendous raw athlete who has plenty of time to grow into his lanky frame. Sullinger’s foot injury forced him into action early, and for the most part he could tread water. In his 38 starts he averaged 4.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 0.5 steals and 0.8 blocks in 18.5 minutes and it’s easy to see why the Raptors liked him in the draft. He was named the Finals MVP in the D-League and had a very nice showing in Summer League, drawing rave reviews for his defense and even displayed some 3-point range. Siakam could get a legitimate role as a versatile, defensive oriented combo forward with Patterson now in OKC but remains unlikely to have fantasy value this season.
The Raptors decided to get most of the band back together, signing Lowry and Ibaka to three-year deals in free agency. They’ll expire at the same time as DeRozan’s contract and it’s clear they have a very narrow window to make progress. Unfortunately, they had to lose a handful of depth pieces as Tucker, Carroll, Joseph and Patterson all landed with new teams. They’ll be relying on internal improvement from guys like Powell, Delon Wright, Siakam and Poeltl to keep up this year. The addition of C.J. Miles will also help a lot and should greatly aid the team’s quest to increase their 3-point output, but it’s tough to see a stripped down version of last year’s squad getting any further in this postseason. Unless Toronto delivers on their “culture reset” and incorporates some new moves into their offensive playbook, we’ve likely seen the best that this core has to offer.