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  • Nikola Cuvalo

OTG Team Awards: Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors had a successful regular season, going 58-24 in Nick Nurse’s maiden campaign at the helm of Canada’s one and only basketball franchise. The franchise has spent the past few weeks building toward the playoffs, emptying their bench to shake the rust off of their end-of-the-rotation pieces, in anticipation for a prolonged playoff run.

Such a postseason run is exactly what the team has been building toward all along; having placed their shiny new superstar, Kawhi Leonard, in bubble wrap for 22 games this season (although they did go 17-5 in his absence) in the name of load management. The initiative seems to have paid off, as the Klaw looks fresh after having a career year, and so does the rest of the roster as the postseason is set to begin.

In line with OTG’s recent Team Awards series, we are going to celebrate some of the most award-worthy Raptors of 2018-2019. Awards are based on performance in the 2018-2019 regular season only, with no regard to previous team stature or organizational reputation. With that being said, our sincerest apologies to Kyle Lowry, who has served as the team’s heart and soul and yet is unfortunately not rewarded for that aspect of his service here.

Most Valuable Player (MVP): Kawhi Leonard

With all due respect to Kyle Lowry (whom the Raptors have gone 11-6 without this season), Kawhi Leonard is the Most Valuable Player on this Toronto roster. When he’s playing, there’s no Raptor whose individual performance is as impactful to the team’s overall success. He was selected to play in his third NBA All-Star game, and averaged a line of 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.8 steals. He also leads the team in Win Shares, with 9.3. He was sensational on both ends of the court all year long, and proved to be the transcendent player the Raptors needed on multiple occasions, none more so celebrated than the following game against the reigning NBA champions.

If the Raptors are to make a championship run, they will need to be fueled by the All-NBA level play of Leonard, in addition to having his ancillary pieces firing on all cylinders. Kyle Lowry was a close second here, but it’s tough to go with K-Low here when Kawhi is just dripping with the MVP-like qualities that the franchise has long thirsted for.

Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY): Danny Green

It was tempting to go with Siakam here, as he bests the Green Ranger in most defensive stats, and might be flashier on the unglamorous end of the floor. But while Siakam may get to rotate onto both wings and bigs, Danny Green is constantly matched up with either a team’s best offensive guard or wing; this makes his defensive value to the team all the more important, as Toronto’s bevy of rim-protectors (Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Chris Boucher) would all be for naught without their premier perimeter stopper. The 3-and-D wing has had a splendid performance in a contract year, and will undoubtedly play a starring role for the team in the postseason, where iso defense and experience reign supreme; Green’s best chance to show that he is deserving of this team honour will come in the playoff gauntlet (potentially having to match up with offensive talents like Evan Fournier, Jimmy Butler, JJ Redick, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, and Malcom Brogdon).

Newcomer of the Year: Marc Gasol

Who else could it be? Between Toronto’s massive in-house improvements this year (hello, Siakam, Norm Powell, and Chris Boucher!) and the team awards we already gave out to the other notable new guys (Leonard and Green), the NOY (fun to say out loud) has to be Marc Gasol. The Raptors are 18-8 with him suited up, and have shot 41% from beyond the arc since his arrival; that would rank first in the NBA (the Spurs lead the league over the course of the whole season, with a percentage of 39.3%)! His dual roles as paint anchor and offensive fulcrum are invaluable to this still-coalescing Raptors squad, and he brings them some of the veteran experience they need if they wish to navigate a long playoff run.

Most Improved Player (MIP): Pascal Siakam

Not only is Pascal Siakam the Raptors’ most improved player, but he’s likely to win the same award league-wide, too (you know, the real MIP). His line of 16.9ppg, 6.9rpg, and 3.1apg on shooting splits of 55/37/79 all represent career highs, and indicate that Siakam has made the leap from rotation member to bona fide star. He is second on the team in Win Shares (9.2), tied for the team lead with Kawhi in VORP (3.5), and places third among all rotation members in PER (18.7).

If you need any more proof of his MIP candidacy, I implore you to watch the following drool-worthy performance:

At the peak of his powers, Siakam can be a superstar; should his basketball skillset evolve to match his rangy physical tools, the Raptors could end up with an in-house success story cut from the same cloth as Khris Middleton (as a low-end comparison) or his fellow Buck, the Greek Freak (as a top-end comparison). Considering the progress he’s made this year toward reaching such lofty goals, he’s certainly worthy of an MIP award.

Sixth Man of the Year (6MOTY): Fred VanVleet

There’s really no debate when it comes to the Raptors most important bench piece. Ibaka and Gasol are used interchangeably in the starting lineup, and thus neither really qualifies a sixth man (if Ibaka spent more time on the bench, he’d win this award instead). Delon Wright was shipped out, and the slightly-too-late performance uptick exhibited by Norman Powell has come too late for him to supplant FVV in the running for this award. Jeremy Lin hasn’t had a signature performance as a Raptor yet, and OG Anunoby should be ticketed for a breakout in 2019-2020, rather than celebrated for his water-treading 2018-2019 season. Averaging career highs in points (11.0), rebounds (2.6), and assists (4.8) per game, Fred deserves this award, and he gets it here as a chief member of the Raptors’ championship-caliber bench unit.

All stats courtesy of StatMuse and Basketball Reference.

#NBA #Raptors #NikolaCuvalo #TeamAwards

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