Early-season Raptors performance assessment

Toronto Raptors players (Sue Ogrocki/AP)

The NBA season is only three weeks old (seems longer, doesn’t it?), and as the Toronto Raptors get set for the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night, I thought I’d take a look at the team’s opening 12 games and how the roster has performed thus far:

Kyle Lowry
Whether it’s the new body or not, he not only seems quicker on the floor, he seems engaged that much more as well. Not to mention he’s looking for his big man, Jonas Valanciunas, more than ever before.

DeMar DeRozan
He gets criticized by some for living in the mid-range, yet he’s leading the team in scoring, shooting a higher percentage than Lowry, and getting to the free throw line more than damn-near every player in the league (top-three FTM and FTA). So I don’t buy the heat. That said, his three-point shooting is under 18 per cent. That has to improve – a lot.

Jonas Valanciunas
His pick-and-roll defence has improved and as a result, on most nights, he’s seeing more fourth-quarter action. However, in today’s smaller, more athletic NBA there are going to be nights when the big man simply can’t keep up with the pace. It’s a fact, not a criticism.

DeMarre Carroll
A few days ago, while acknowledging his early-season struggles from the floor, he said when his shots start falling folks had better watch out. Well, he’s still shooting below 40 per cent, but the increase in his scoring since returning from his brief bout with plantar fasciitis has pushed his output to 13.2 points per game, more than his career-high 12.6 in Atlanta last season.

Luis Scola
On most nights he has given Toronto more than I expected him to – on both ends.

His knowledge of the game and savvy skills are silent weapons for the Raptors to expose against a lot of opponents. But, again, the athleticism and versatility (especially on offence) of some of the opposing bigs around the NBA can quickly cause issues.

Without a guy like Amir Johnson coming off the bench, and with Patrick Patterson struggling, it makes for tough sledding for Toronto’s front court too often.

Patrick Patterson
He notched a career-best 5.3 rebounds per game last season and came into this one with a ton of expectations – from the team, the fans, and more importantly, himself. But he hasn’t found his shot consistently yet and his rebounding is way down (3.2 per game).

As noted above, Amir Johnson’s ability to finish around the rim, rebound, and simply bring energy seems to be a missing ingredient for Toronto right now and that absence is only compounded by Patterson’s slow start and the offensive struggles that impact Bismack Biyombo on a lot of nights.

Bismack Biyombo
He’s second on the team (with Scola) averaging 6.3 rebounds per game, and his free throw percentage has been through the roof this year – especially for a guy who, notoriously, has had issues at the stripe throughout his career. Plus, there’s no denying the defensive impact Biyombo has as a shot-blocker and mere threat in and around the hoop.

However, with that said, while you don’t look for the big man to give you much offence (he’s probably your fifth option anytime he’s on the floor), he has a tough time cleanly catching the ball and finishing underneath, and his jumper is not reliable at this point.

Cory Joseph
Nobody could argue the fact that Joseph has been Toronto’s most consistent performer in the second unit since the season started. You knew what you were getting from the Canadian guard on the defensive end and he hasn’t disappointed. Plus, he rarely turns the ball over and his overall knowledge and instincts for the game are fantastic.

However, his offence – especially over the last handful of games – has been a big bonus. Joseph enters Wednesday’s action shooting a whopping 57.7 per cent from the floor and his two-way play has given Dwane Casey a ton of options with his rotation.

James Johnson
His attitude may be more impressive than anything else. For most of last season he had a significant role on the Raptors, appearing in a career-high 70 games as well. This season, however, the numbers game – and a tighter rotation – caught up to him and he was on the outside looking in, yet you never heard a peep out of him. And when Carroll was sidelined for a few games, Johnson stepped in admirably, and has continued to earn minutes even after the Raptors’ starter’s return.

Norman Powell
He hasn’t looked out of place. Powell’s been confident when on the floor in the limited action he has seen thus far, and the longer Terrence Ross is sidelined the more likely it is that his role increases.

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