Another season has come and gone for the Toronto Raptors and once again they have little to show for it. The result; a fifth consecutive year without a playoff berth, longest in franchise history. 34 wins, 10th in the Eastern Conference is where most prognosticators had them slotted in the fall but it was the road they took to get there, the ups and downs, that arouse a familiar question; what if?
As second-year head coach Dwane Casey likes to point out, this has been three seasons in one for his team. Following the cavernous hole they dug themselves to begin the campaign, a group led by the now departed Jose Calderon and Ed Davis navigated Toronto through a resurgent stretch into the New Year before a mid-season trade shuffled the deck once more.
Since his arrival to begin the month of February, Rudy Gay and the new-look Raptors have produced mixed results. Despite glimpses of optimism, in the end the obstacles were too much to overcome. Among them; the slow start (4-19), the injuries (162 games missed) and the ever-changing rotation (22 different starting lineups used).
Here is a look at how the team has produced individually during the 2012-13 season:
DeMar DeRozan, guard
Season Stats: 18.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.5 APG, 45% FG, 82 games
Highlight: Playing and starting in all 82 games this season, the Raptors' iron man ended the campaign on a high note, averaging 22.9 points on 54 per cent shooting in April. DeRozan recorded 30 or more points in back-to-back games for the second time in his career.
Lowlight: After posting some of the best numbers of his career in February, DeRozan struggled in March as the team fell out of the playoff race and was officially eliminated from postseason contention. The 23-year-old scored just 16.0 points (3.8 fewer than the month prior) and attempted 5.1 free throws (down from 7.5 attempts in February).
Appraisal: DeRozan posted career highs in just about every statistical category during his fourth season in the league, though it's worth noting he played a career-most 36 minutes per game in the process. Although his numbers (per 36 minutes) don't necessarily reflect it, the Raptors' guard has taken a step forward in a number of areas after receiving a highly contentious four-year $38 million extension on opening night. Inconsistency, defensive shortcomings and an inability to shoot the three-ball with efficiency continue to hold him back but he has evolved as a distributer and post-up player.
What's Next: A career 23 per cent three-point shooter, DeRozan has vowed to work tirelessly on extending his range this summer. Adding the long ball to his repertoire would make him a tough cover for any wing player in the association, particularly alongside Gay, and would go a long way in diversifying the team's one-dimensional offence. Although DeRozan may be one of Toronto's most movable assets, even at the increased price tag, he figures to be back for a fifth season with the club next year.
Rudy Gay, forward
Season Stats: 19.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.8 APG, 43% FG, 33 games (* with Raptors)
Highlight: Gay proved he could be the closer Toronto had coveted, hitting two game-winning shots in five days as the Raptors were victorious in seven of 10 contests after acquiring him from Memphis.
Lowlight: The forward battled lingering back pain that forced him to sit out three games and limited his effectiveness throughout the month of March.
Appraisal: Gay describes his seventh NBA season as a "whirlwind" experience and it's hard to disagree with him. Amid constant trade speculation Gay's regression through 42 games in Memphis led to an inevitable move that landed him with the Raptors, where he has already faced a bounty of expectations, some unrealistic. Although he's proven to be a high-end talent in this league, a big-time scorer who wants the ball in his hands with the game on the line, he needs to become a more efficient player if he's going to live up to those lofty expectations. Gay's shot selection and diminishing percentage from long range have raised eyebrows during his brief tenure, as they did in Memphis, and he has turned the ball over at an alarming rate considering his usage in Toronto's offence. Despite these flaws and the injuries he's played through, Gay has shown glimpses of the star he can be. His presence alone instantly makes life easier on his teammates, most notably DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas, who have both thrived since his arrival.
What's Next: At 26 years of age there's still room for improvement in Gay's game and it's certainly plausible to expect more from him as he enters his prime while taking on a bigger role in Toronto's offence. Most importantly, he will have a full training camp to get comfortable in that role and gel with his teammates, an understandably challenging task to take on in the middle of the season. In addition to rediscovering his three-point stroke (he shot over 39 per cent in 2010-11), Gay must get healthy this summer and come into camp ready for battle in the fall.
Kyle Lowry, guard
Season Stats: 11.6 PPG, 6.4 APG, 4.7 RPG, 40% FG, 68 games
Highlight: Lowry got off to an almost unprecedented start to his Raptors career. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he joined Michael Jordan and Kevin Garnett as the only other players to start a season with three consecutive games of 20+ points, 5+ rebounds, 5+ assists and 3+ steals. Needless to say expectations were high.
Lowlight: Those expectations were quickly derailed as Lowry suffered an ankle/foot injury in his fourth game, causing him to miss time early in the season. The Raptors' point guard would sustain another injury (triceps) before losing his starting job to Calderon upon his return in late December.
Appraisal: To his own admission, Lowry's first season with Toronto was a disappointing one. It's hard to imagine he was ever fully healthy after suffering the first of several injuries in training camp. Lowry put up some big offensive numbers early in the season as the team was losing but scaled back once Calderon proved, once again, that sometimes less is more. The 27-year-old struggled to earn his coaches' trust until the mid-season trade forced Lowry and Casey to learn to co-exist. Although he was never able to find the balance between creating for himself and creating for others, Lowry began to excel as a playmaker towards the end of the season when he was granted more freedom to run the show. The hope, for the Raptors, is that he can carry the late-season momentum into next year.
What's Next: Another player that will benefit from some time off to rest, get healthy and commit himself for next season. It's imperative that Lowry come to camp in better shape than he did this year while continuing to build a strong working relationship with Casey, assuming both are back in the fall. Although there's a team option on the final year of Lowry's contract set to pay him $6.2 million in 2013-14, it's hard to a imagine a scenario in which it's not picked up. For him to take that next step as a point guard in this league, Lowry must become a more disciplined defender while utilizing his unique ability in the context of the team's offence. It should be less about finding a balance and more about finding himself. He's too good to be neutralized.
Amir Johnson, forward
Season Stats: 10.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 55% FG, 81 games
Highlight: Johnson became the first player in NBA history to come off the bench and record 10+ rebounds and shoot a perfect 10-for-10 from the field on Mar. 4 (he finished with 23 points and 15 rebounds, 12 offensive, in that game). 11 days later he grabbed a career-high 21 boards in a blowout win over the Bobcats.
Lowlight: Uncharacteristically, Johnson lost his cool in the middle of an embarrassing loss to Portland on Dec. 10. He was ejected and suspended by the league for tossing his mouth guard at an official. Despite battling a multitude of injuries, his one-game suspension was the only contest he missed all season.
Appraisal: By all accounts, he was the Raptors' most valuable player this season. Defensively, Johnson was often a one-man wrecking crew, carrying the load on the boards and making up for his teammates deficiencies in both areas. He also took a significant step forward on the offensive end where he has developed a trusted baby hook and has become a reliable midrange shooter. In his eighth NBA season, Johnson logged over 450 more minutes than he has ever played before, and did so on a bum ankle that he re-injured on several occasions. In many ways he was the heart and soul of a team lacking in both during multiple low points throughout a tumultuous season. It's hard to measure how much Amir means to this team but here's a good place to start; the Raptors were a plus-214 with the big man on the court, minus-335 without him. He gives so much and takes away very little.
What's Next: First and foremost he has to rest up and get healthy this summer. Johnson is under contract through the 2014-15 season and the Raptors are thankful for that as he has become an indispensable member of the team and a big part of the future. His once controversial contract now looks like a bargain and it's crazy to think that he's still getting better. He has been around so long it's easy to forget that he's only 25 years old, just entering his prime and is still an improving player. Johnson put in a lot of work on his jump shot last summer and figures to do the same, possibly even extending his range this offseason. Going 5-for-12 from three-point range this year, he has shown the ability to keep the defence honest and could be asked to do more of that in 2013-14.
Jonas Valanciunas, centre
Season Stats: 8.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 56% FG, 62 games
Highlight: Valanciunas become the eighth player in franchise history to win Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honours for his work in March.
Lowlight: The rookie learned a valuable lesson in Toronto's Feb. 1 win over the Clippers when Caron Butler, going to shake his hand, stole the ball from him in the dying seconds of garbage time.
Appraisal: Like any rookie, especially at the centre position, Valanciunas experienced his share of growing pains early in the season. Showing occasional flashes of what he's capable of, JV struggled to find chemistry with fellow big man Andrea Bargnani and was regularly exposed on defence. The seven-footer also benefited from an 18-game absence caused by a broken finger. During that time he worked hard on his strength and conditioning, learned from the bench and paced himself for a truly impressive stretch to wrap up the season. As his minutes increased in March so did his confidence. Casey began to call plays for him and his teammates started to look for him in the post and coming off the pick-and-roll. He didn't disappoint, showing off his soft touch around the basket along with some promising footwork in the post. In many ways the future of this franchise rests on his shoulders... No pressure.
What's Next: Expectations were modest heading into his rookie year but they'll be significantly greater as he graduates to sophomore status. He'll have his work cut out for him this summer if he's to meet those lofty expectations. In addition to getting stronger, Valanciunas must improve his defensive awareness and continue to develop as an offensive threat in the low post. He is expected to play for the Raptors' summer league team as well as represent Lithuania in the European Championship. Both experiences will serve him well.
Andrea Bargnani, forward
Season Stats: 12.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 40% FG, 35 games
Lowlight: This could probably be one of a number of disappointing moments in a disappointing season for Bargnani but a four-game stretch in late February seems to sum up his campaign. In four games the seven-footer was held scoreless three times, grabbing six total rebounds as boos rained down on him from the home crowd.
Appraisal: For Bargnani, the 2012-13 season was a disaster from the moment it began. The former first-overall pick was never able to get it going in any role he was asked to fill at any point during another injury-shortened year. He looked lost, completely out of place and often uninterested. When he returned from his first of two elbow injuries in February the hope was that Bargnani could come off the bench and excel in a complementary role, stretching the floor alongside Gay and DeRozan. That experiment was cut short when an injury ended his season for the third straight year, and fourth time in his mind-numbingly frustrating career.
What's Next: It's looking more and more likely that Bargnani has played his last game in a Raptors uniform. He will be shopped aggressively this summer - like he was prior to the deadline - only this time there should be more suitors. Once the free agent dust settles in July and teams with cap flexibility are looking to spend, Bargnani could catch the eye of a risk-taking GM. What the Raptors could get in return is anyone's guess at this point but as long as they can secure an asset of some value this is a no brainer; a change is scenery is what's best for both parties.
Alan Anderson, guard-forward
Season Stats: 10.7 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 38% FG, 65 games
Highlight: Anderson had a number of big performances against elite competition, none bigger than a career-high 35 points versus New York on Mar. 22.
Lowlight: The Raptors' reserve took eight of the team's 10 shots in overtime, making two, during a Jan. 23 loss to the Heat, one of many poor shooting nights for the guard-forward.
Appraisal: Anderson's story has been told more than a few times over the past 13 months, and it's a good one. Expectations were non-existent when he signed a pair of 10-day contracts with the team towards the end of last season. They were only slightly more pronounced when he was brought back to fill a spot on the end of the bench this year. Instead, he quickly became Dwane Casey's trusted sixth man and a player he turned to late in games. Anderson is a streak shooter with questionable shot selection, a combination that proved detrimental to the offence at times but his hard-nosed approach on defence kept him on the floor and often made up for his inconsistent scoring.
What's Next: With his contract set to expire, Anderson could be in line for an offseason raise. Surely there are no guarantees -- he is a 30-year-old journeyman coming off a pair of 38 per cent seasons -- but he has certainly turned some heads and made a name for himself with some big performances as a Raptor. Based on Toronto's cap situation and glut of players at the wing position, Anderson may have to find work elsewhere. If he can dial it down offensively and embrace the role of a defender and open shot-taker, he could be a solid addition to a winning team looking for depth.
Landry Fields, guard-forward
Season Stats: 4.7 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 46% FG, 51 games
Highlight: Fields scored a season-high 18 points and held Kobe Bryant in check in Toronto's win over the Lakers on Jan. 20.
Lowlight: The former Knick got off to a rocky start in his first year with the Raptors, the result of a lingering wrist injury that prompted early-season elbow surgery.
Appraisal: Following the surgery on his shooting arm -- a complex procedure the directly and indirectly effected his entire season -- Fields was never able to live up to the lavish deal he received last summer. His playing time was sporadic and his impact, at least offensively, was limited due to his broken shot. Although that contract may always overshadow his performance in Toronto, he's better than what he showed this season. Fields proved to be an asset defensively and a player who can help the offence with off the ball movement and smart cuts.
What's Next: Fields' contract, likely untradable, should ensure his return to Toronto for next season. The goal for him this summer will be to rebuild his shot in the hopes of rediscovering what worked for him as a rookie in New York. Based on the intangibles that he brings to the table, he could be a significant rotation player for the Raptors next season assuming he's able to keep the defence honest with an improved jumper.
Terrence Ross, guard
Season Stats: 6.4 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 41% FG, 73 games
Highlight: Winning the Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend
Lowlight: Ross seemed to hit the rookie wall after the acquisition of Gay in February. His minutes went down, so too did his confidence and production.
Appraisal: Ross was drafted without much fanfare last summer but caught the city's attention with his jaw-dropping athleticism and promising tools as a shooter and defender. Ultimately, his low lows out-weighed the high highs. As expected his skill set, while promising, is raw and by midseason the 22-year-old appeared to be overwhelmed with the demands of an NBA season.
What's Next: Experience and hard work are necessary to get a clearer picture of what Ross can truly achieve as he continues to develop. His second season will be crucial and should be telling in that regard. Like Valanciunas he needs to get stronger, both mentally and physically, while also becoming a more aware defender.
Quincy Acy, forward
Season Stats: 4.0 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 56% FG, 29 games
Appraisal: Acy, the Raptors' third rookie, embraced the opportunity (in disguise) that presented itself when he was sent to the D-League and as a result, he's better for it. His game is still very raw but to his credit he did not look out of place during his late-season audition and proved he could have a future as a hard-nosed rebounder in the association. Acy is a hard worker on and off the floor, a player that has quickly earned the affection of his teammates and ire of his opponents.
What's Next: The success rate for second-round picks is not especially promising in this league but Acy has a shot to stick as a serviceable big man based on his coveted skill set and willingness to play within himself. He'll need to continue to put in the work, which shouldn't be a problem for him, and expand his game to crack the regular rotation next year.
John Lucas III, guard
Season Stats: 5.3 PPG, 1.7 APG, 39% FG, 63 games
Appraisal: At this point in his career, Lucas is what he is. He's a specialist, a change of pace guard, a streak shooter and binge scorer. That's not a bad thing but it was probably unfair to expect more of him when he was allotted back-up point guard minutes after the Calderon trade. When he's on, Lucas can put points on the board in a hurry. Regardless of whether or not his shot is falling he's proven to be a positive influence on a team with young players. He's a hard worker, a good teammate and an entertaining presence in the locker room.
What's Next: Lucas is under contract for one more season and should be back for 2013-14.
Aaron Gray, centre
Season Stats: 2.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 53% FG, 42 games
Appraisal: Every once and a while he's good for something somewhat spectacular (see the 22-point, 10-rebound performance on Jan. 28). Mostly, he is what he is. A serviceable, in case of emergency big man who always stays ready at the end of the bench. The NBA has gone smaller but there are still a handful of dominant bigs (like a Dwight Howard) that require a counter attack. That's where Gray comes in and he rarely tries to do more than what he's capable of.
What's Next: Gray has a player option for next season, one he is fully expected to pick up.
Linas Kleiza, forward
Season Stats: 7.4 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 33% FG, 20 games
Appraisal: Injuries and inconsistency derailed his season and possibly even his career. Although he'll have something to prove next season, if he can make it back from lingering knee injuries, it may be for a different club. Kleiza has a player option for 2013-14 but remains a likely amnesty candidate after being relegated to the bench since the end of the 2012 calendar year.
Mickael Pietrus, guard-forward
Season Stats: 5.3 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 35% FG, 19 games
Appraisal: Pietrus was signed for the remainder of the season to fill a hole at small forward when injuries had deteriorated the position. That's what was expected of him and that's what he did. Ultimately Anderson and Fields recovered and Gay was acquired leaving Pietrus the odd man out. Knee injuries continue to plague him as he reaches the end of his NBA career.
Sebastian Telfair, guard
Season Stats: 4.3 PPG, 3.0 APG, 29% FG, 13 games (* with Raptors)
Appraisal: His impact was minimal after arriving in a deadline deal from Phoenix. The veteran point guard was brought in as insurance, which was never truly required as Lowry remained healthy and the team fell out of contention. It's unlikely his future is in Toronto meaning he'll have to audition for a back-up gig this summer.
Dwane Casey, head coach
Appraisal: Like (nearly) everyone else involved, this has to be considered a disappointing season for Coach Casey, coming off a promising debut campaign with the club. The second-year head coach struggled with rotations and late-game play calling, but its the team's regression on defence that stands out most. Toronto went from 14th in defensive efficiency to 22nd this year. To Casey's credit, the roster he had to work with was fluid for most of the season (injuries and a major trade). As for the defensive drop off, personnel is partially to blame. The combination of inexperience (Valanciunas and Ross) and the addition of some risk-taking defenders (Gay and Lowry) contributed to an undisciplined defence throughout portions of the season. However, Casey would be the first to take a share of the blame for what went wrong this season and understands he must be better if he's back for a third season in Toronto.
Next Steps: Casey had his option picked up for 2013-14 after leading the defensive charge last season. Although he has one final year on his contact, he faces an uncertain future going into a summer of evaluation for the organization. It's worth noting that Casey, like most of his players, is relatively inexperienced in his position. A bright basketball mind and an experienced coach at several levels, Casey is still getting his feet wet as a head coach in this league. He has to grow with this team and the collective improvement towards the end of the season, most notably on the defensive end, could buy him another year to do that.