Though the sting of the Toronto Raptors’ second-round series against the Cleveland Cavaliers is fresh, time will allow the 2016-17 season to be one remembered for many franchise records, firsts and fun moments. Below, a look back at some of the highlights from a journey that began in September at the team’s Vancouver training camp and ended on Air Canada Centre floor in May.
GETTING THINGS GOING
The Raptors got the 2016-17 campaign started in Vancouver when they kicked off training camp in late September. The All-Star backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were fresh off a summer of basketball, earning Olympic gold medals as they represented the U.S. National team in the Rio Olympics. Rookies Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet had already been in September training with Raptors assistant coaches, getting familiar with the team’s system. Norman Powell and Delon Wright were getting in extra work as well, while Wright rehabbing hard following offseason shoulder surgery.
DEROZAN LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD
DeMar DeRozan started the season on fire and he sustained it, having the best year of his professional career. DeRozan averaged 27.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.1 steals in 35.4 minutes per game. He scored 40+ points seven times and 30+ points 32 times, setting Raptors franchise records for both accomplishments. He also became the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Over his seven seasons, he has grown into one of the NBA’s best scorers, lethal from the mid-range, an expert at getting to the line, all the while becoming perhaps the best “difficult shot” maker in the NBA.
LA LOCHE DREAMS BIG
Away from the floor, Masai Ujiri provided an assist to students from La Loche, Sask., who spent a weekend in Toronto visiting with the team as well as touring Ryerson University and going through a basketball clinic. The students were in Toronto after Ujiri saw photos of a student in mourning wearing a Raptors hat following a shooting that left four people dead and a community forever changed in Jan. 2016. After hearing about the students affected, Ujiri made the trip to La Loche to visit the community and the school, speaking with the students about their futures and sharing the “Dream Big” mantra of his own Giants of Africa foundation. When the students came to BioSteel Centre to go through the basketball clinic, they were also met by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who helped with shooting drills alongside Raptors head coach Dwane Casey.
BACKCOURT REPPING TORONTO WELL
After serving as unofficial hosts of the 2016 NBA All-Star Game in Toronto a season ago, Toronto’s backcourt besties were off to New Orleans to represent the Raptors organization for the 2017 All-Star Game. It was the third selection for both players, with DeMar DeRozan being voted in as a starter and Kyle Lowry being selected by a combination of coaches, players and media member votes. While in New Orleans, the two took part in various All-Star activities, including the NBA’s All-Star Day of Service. In addition to participating in the 3-point shootout, Lowry also served as a coach for Team East in the NBA All-Star Celebrity game, while DeRozan and his daughter were on hand to support him.
WEATHERING AN INJURY STORM
The Raptors were hit with a blow after All-Star weekend when it was discovered that Kyle Lowry would have to undergo wrist surgery. While the rest of the league was trying to gear up for the postseason, finish the regular season strong and try to peak at the right time, Toronto was learning it would be without its starting point guard for the next six weeks as he rehabbed from surgery on his right wrist. With Lowry out, as the team has whenever one player went down, the rest of the roster stood up in his absence. Cory Joseph, showing off his experience gained in San Antonio and then again backing up Lowry last season, slid into his starting role and did a solid job. Thanks to Joseph and fearless minutes from Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet, the Raptors went 15-7 without Lowry and managed to hold on for the third spot in the Eastern Conference heading into the postseason.
The trade deadline was a busy one for the Raptors this season as the team completed two trades leading up to the February deadline. Serge Ibaka came to Toronto as Terrence Ross went to Orlando and P.J. Tucker arrived from Phoenix in exchange for Jared Sullinger. Though the two newest Raptors didn’t get much time to gel with Kyle Lowry in the regular season as Lowry rehabbed from surgery, they provided an immediate boost on the defensive end of the floor while also providing an additional dose of veteran leadership in the locker room.
CLOSING OUT IN MILWAUKEE
Though Toronto’s postseason got off to an unwelcomed but familiar start with a Game 1 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Raptors settled in and, despite an incredible effort from Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, closed out their series against the Bucks on the road in a wild Game 6. Sophomore Norman Powell helped to turn things around when he was inserted into the starting lineup in the final three games of the series. Each of Toronto’s All-Stars had standout moments in the series. Kyle Lowry drilled the dagger to put Toronto ahead by four with 8.9 seconds remaining in a Game 2 victory to even the series. DeMar DeRozan had the defining play of the series and one of the most memorable dunks in Raptors history when he drove the lane with 50 seconds remaining and the Raptors leading by three to throw down a thunderous statement dunk, complete with fist pump as if to signify that the Raptors were going home with a win.
ROAD TO THE SIX
On the same night that the Raptors were closing out their first-round series against the Bucks, Raptors players Pascal Siakam, Bruno Caboclo and Fred VanVleet were back in Mississauga helping Raptors 905 clinch a D-League Championship. In Jerry Stackhouse’s first season as head coach of 905, the team defeated the Rio Grande Valley Vipers 122-96 to win a best-of-three Finals matchup. Siakam was named D-League Finals MVP and Caboclo scored 31 points to go with 11 rebounds and four blocked shots in the championship game. Raptors 905 dominated all season, recording a 39-11 regular season record, the second-best record in D-League history.
FRANCHISE RECORDS AND NOTES
* Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan became 3-time All-Stars in 2017, trailing just Chris Bosh and Vince Carter for most All-Star nods in franchise history. Bosh and Carter are each 5-time All-Stars.
* DeMar DeRozan set a franchise-record with his eighth consecutive opening-night start. He also became the first player in team history to score 40 points in a season-opener, passing the previous mark of 39 points set by Vince Carter.
* In that same season-opening game, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas made NBA history by becoming the first teammates to record 40 and 30 points, respectively, in a season opener.
* DeMar DeRozan became the first player since Michael Jordan (1986) to open the season with five consecutive 30-point games.
* DeMar DeRozan was the Eastern Conference Player of the Week four times in the 2016-17 season, setting a new franchise record.
* The Raptors set a franchise-record for largest margin of victory in a 128-84 victory against the Atlanta Hawks.
* DeMar DeRozan became the franchise leader for games played, while already holding the franchise record for most starts.
* DeMar DeRozan became Toronto’s all-time leading scorer when he passed Chris Bosh in a road loss against the Golden State Warriors in December.
* Kyle Lowry set a franchise-record with 59 3-pointers in 14 games for the month of December. It was the most 3-pointers made by a Raptors player in any month. Lowry joined Stephen Curry, Ray Allen and Kyle Korver to become the only players in NBA history to record 55+ 3-pointers while shooting better than 50 percent from beyond the arc in a month.
* Dwane Casey was named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month after overseeing a 10-4 record in December, despite a road-heavy schedule.
* Kyle Lowry recorded a 15-point, 10-rebound, 11-assist triple-double in a victory against the Brooklyn Nets.
* Kyle Lowry became the franchise leader for 3-pointers made when he passed Morris Peterson in a victory against the L.A. Clippers on Feb. 6.
* Dwane Casey notched his 300th career victory with a Raptors win in Washington on Mar. 3.
* DeMar DeRozan became the first player in franchise history to reach 11,000 career points. He joined James Harden and Stephen Curry as the only players from the 2009 draft class to top 11,000 points.
* DeMar DeRozan surpassed Vince Carter for most 30+ point games in a season.
* The Raptors set a franchise record for reaching the NBA playoffs for the fourth straight season.
* Toronto finished with a 51-31 record, topping 50 wins for the second consecutive season and second time in franchise history.