Holly MacKenzie – Raptors.com
With a 98-83 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 82, the Toronto Raptors finished the 2016-17 regular season with a 51-31 record. It was the second time in franchise history that the team topped 50 wins and the second consecutive season after reaching 56 wins a year ago.
Although this year’s squad fell short of last year’s 56 wins total, this regular season finish might be more impressive, considering all that went into those 51 victories. Below, a look at some of the key elements of this year’s regular season.
DeRozan’s hot start — and sustained finish
DeMar DeRozan started the season on a tear, scoring 40 points against the Detroit Pistons. He sat the final game of the season against the Cavaliers because of illness, but he finished the season as he started it: On fire.
The 27-year-old had the best season of his career, averaging 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.
Although DeRozan missed seven games in January in the middle of a season-high five-game losing streak, he was named to his third All-Star game alongside backcourt mate Kyle Lowry and his 27.3 points per game was good for fifth in the league. It was a phenomenal season for DeRozan, and with Lowry missing time following wrist surgery, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
It would be impossible to talk about this season without discussing the injuries the team had to deal with. From offseason acquisition Jared Sullinger missing the first 41 games of the season to DeMar DeRozan missing seven games with an ankle injury during a rough stretch for the team, or Patrick Patterson’s 16 games missed because of knee issues and Kyle Lowry’s 21-game absence following wrist surgery after the All-Star break, it’s been a year of adapting for Toronto.
Through the injuries, the team continued to find ways to come out on top. Whether it was DeRozan or Lowry or a combination of reserves stepping up, this was a season where head coach Dwane Casey’s “next man up” tagline was truly put to the test.
Whether it was rookie Pascal Siakam starting the first 34 games of the season in place of Sullinger, Norman Powell moving from bench to starting lineup to various positions depending on what was needed from him, or Cory Joseph taking over the reins and stepping into Kyle Lowry’s shoes when the three-time All-Star was rehabbing after surgery, the entire roster, top to bottom, starting lineup to reserve, played a part in the 51-31 season.
Reserves ready to shine
As a result of the injury woes mentioned above, this season, Toronto’s bench was more important than ever. Sophomore Norman Powell continued his steady rise, proving his versatility and maturity has he wore many hats. Joseph’s stability was crucial at so many points of the season, particularly when he started alongside DeRozan with Lowry out of the lineup. Patrick Patterson’s presence on the floor generally coincided with Toronto’s success, Lucas Nogueira had standout moments earning him 19.1 minutes per game, nearly tripling his minutes from a season ago, and Delon Wright took advantage of the opportunity provided by Lowry’s absence to back up Joseph at the point guard spot. Although Wright played just 26 games following shoulder surgery in the offseason, he was a spark off the bench, impressing and delighting teammates and coaches alike.
While these players were each expected to be called upon to some degree, Casey’s rookie trio of Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl and Fred VanVleet were a pleasant surprise, playing with energy, force, and passion every time they entered the game. In a season with plenty of moving parts and five-man lineups, the buy-in level was high and it was necessary as things changed from game to game depending on the opponent. In addition to the players, Casey and his coaching staff also handled the highs and the lows of the season well, refusing to overreact during the tough moments, and managing to get the most out of the entire roster that was available each night. In a recent victory against the Detroit Pistons Kyle Lowry praised his coach’s commitment to his defensive principles.
“That’s what he is,” Lowry said. “The last five years I’ve been here that’s all he cares about. He doesn’t care about nothing else but defend, which is, you’ve got to commend him and respect him.”
Trade deadline acquisitions
The Raptors have stood pat at the trade deadline in recent years, choosing to focus on the chemistry within the locker room rather than make moves mid-season. That changed this year when the team brought in veterans P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka at the deadline in exchange for Terrence Ross and Jared Sullinger. Ross, who had been with the Raptors since he was drafted by the organization five years earlier, went to the Orlando Magic. Sullinger, new to the Raptors after signing in the offseason, went to the Phoenix Suns.
The moves for Ibaka and Tucker addressed immediate needs for Toronto as they improved the defence while also adding perimeter scoring. The impact was immediate and only became even more important when Lowry was injured. In 23 games with the Raptors, Ibaka averaged 14.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting 46 percent from the floor and 40 percent from the 3-point line. Tucker, also in 23 games, averaged six points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.3 steals while shooting 41 percent from the floor and 41 percent from beyond the arc.
A post shared by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on Feb 28, 2017 at 7:22am PST
Equally as important as the numbers is the toughness that the duo bring with them to Toronto. From his first game in a Raptors uniform, Tucker has been shouting instructions to his teammates on the defensive end of the floor while challenging them to be better each possession. Ibaka has provided scoring when needed, blocks when necessary, and a scoring threat whenever he is on the court. Jonas Valanciunas has had some of his strongest performances of the season post-deadline, while Tucker’s presence means DeMarre Carroll gets to share some of the burden of defending the opponent’s greatest perimeter scorer, lessening his load. Tucker has never been in the postseason in the NBA and is hungry for the opportunity to come into the game and change things on the defensive end of the floor. Ibaka has plenty of postseason experience, making it to the NBA Finals with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Through ups and downs, highs and lows and plenty of unexpected twists, the Toronto Raptors remained true to their goals of the preseason and now, 51 regular season victories later, are ready to begin the NBA’s second season. The 2017 Playoffs tip off for Toronto on Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks at 5:30 P.M.