I attended a Raptors game at Sky Dome. But I’m not one of those fans who can say that I have been a fan of the Raptors the entire time. The seats we had at the Dome were bad enough my only memory is not being able to see the ball well and not understanding the game. I went to a few other games in the interim and even made it to a Grizzlies game.
It wasn’t until Vince that I became a casual fan. I watched “The [previous] Shot” not go down the same day he attended his graduation, and I witnessed and had an opinion about all the accompanying furor.
At some point after that I became a fan of Steve Nash and, as a result, a (really casual) fan of the Dallas Mavericks.
It wasn’t until the 2004-05 NHL lockout that I became a more serious fan of the sport in general, watching the entirety of March Madness for the first time in 2005 and starting to know players on the Mavericks and Raptors outside of the stars. (I remember one conversation I had with a friend around this time that convinced me I needed to pay more attention when I mistook Rafael “Not Andre Iguodala” Araujo for a point guard. After that I realized I should probably know who these guys were.) By the time hockey resumed, I knew bench players and players on other teams other than stars, knew the positions better, and had some idea of what was happening on offence. (Defense would take me another decade.)
When the Dallas Mavericks lost to the Heat in 2006, I was devastated. (And continue to bear a grudge against Dwyane Wade, whose name I often insist on pronouncing “Dweeanne”.) I was devastated because I sincerely believed the Mavericks were the only basketball team I would root for who would ever make the NBA finals, and that was their chance.
It was the 2006-07 Raptors which made me an NBA basketball fan outside of the playoffs and “Hockey’s not on so…”. Though I can’t be sure, I feel like they were the first Raptors team where I followed the results of every game, even if I didn’t always watch those games to the same degree as the Leafs, though I was way, way less informed about basketball than hockey. That year it felt like the Raptors were actually close to being a contender, though that proved incorrect.
When the Mavericks won the NBA Championship in 2011 – revenge! – I treated it as the greatest professional sports moment of my adult life. I never thought the Raptors would get to the Finals, let alone win a championship. And of course I didn’t believe the Leafs would either. Same for the Jays.
I don’t know the exact day that basketball became my favourite sport, over hockey, but it was sometime after the Mavs won the championship – giving me all sorts of positive feelings towards the sport, while the Leafs languished in perpetual awfulness. Getting such validation from my off-and-on support of the Mavs – I didn’t watch many regular season games, though I knew the roster and checked the results frequently – encouraged me to double down on my support for the home team.
I like to trace the day I gave up on the Leafs to the signing of David Clarkson on July 5, 2013, a move that everybody but the Maple Leafs’ front office knew was bad. Whether or not the switch from hockey to basketball actually occurred on that date, it was around this time that I decided the Leafs might actually be unsalvageable for the foreseeable future. (That proved to be both incorrect but also irreversible for me. I just don’t care about hockey like I used to.)
That subsequent season the Raptors made the playoffs for the first time since 2008 – winning the most games in franchise history – and whatever doubts I had about switching allegiances from hockey to basketball were erased, even with that loss to the Nets. (The thing is, the Leafs’ playoff trip in 2013 felt like a fluke, and ended disastrously, whereas as the Raptors felt up and coming in their playoff loss in 2014.)
In 2017 and again in 2018 I thought this run was basically done. I strongly believed that no Derozan-Lowry team was beating a LeBron team and that it was time to blow it up. (I believed this in 2017, got talked out of it by the 2017-18 regular season, and then believed it again after the second Cavs sweep.)
When the trade happened, I spent weeks thinking about the possibilities. But a Championship was always the absolute best case scenario. I was hoping for Finals. In my more realistic/pessimistic moments I told myself I would be happy with 3 wins in the Conference Finals against a good opponent, which would make it the best Raptors season ever.
This is a very long way of saying I’ve been waiting a really long time for something like this. Not anywhere near as long as the fans who have been serious since day 1, but long enough for this to have a huge amount of resonance and meaning for me.
More meaning than the Mavericks winning in 2011, obviously.
But more meaning, even, than the Blue Jays winning the World Series in 1992 and 1993.
I had just turned twelve in 1993. I don’t have a great memory and I particularly don’t have a lot of memories of my childhood, beyond very specific moments. The older I get, the less I am remembering from my teen years. All I remember from those Blue Jays teams is my brother and I jumping up and down on my father’s waterbed. (I suspect that was in 1992 because by 1993 I was 5’4″ or 5’6″ or something – too big to be jumping on a waterbed.)
My brother and my friends remember so much about those series but I just don’t. I know that some of this is that they don’t actually remember, but rather they remind themselves. My brother watched our Blue Jays playoff highlights VHS tapes seemingly every summer for years whereas I rarely did, so I can no longer remember specific plays beyond the last one of each series and maybe a few others I’ve been reminded of over the years.
But this time I’m an adult. I know how hard this is in a way that I did not understand as a tween. And I know how rare it is. And I know that I’m going to remember individual moments until I go senile. So even though it’s sacrilegious in Toronto to say this is more important to me than those Blue Jays wins, it is. And, at this point, it’s more meaningful to me than the Leafs winning the Cup.
Yes, I said it. And I mean it.
Well, I don’t know how much I mean it. When the Leafs win the Cup, maybe I’ll know then. But right now, this feels more meaningful to me because I am more emotionally invested in this team than the Leafs, and I haven’t been seriously emotionally invested in the Leafs like I used to be for at least the last six years.
Now, about that game. (Warning, the following is kind of incoherent.)
There should be some kind of discretion the refs can have, or the team that got fouled can have, when there’s a foul called with less than a second back. I was about to jump up and down – I think I ran down the hallway to grab Jenn – when we had to wait to see how much time was left on the clock when Leonard was fouled.
First, it kind of looked like a foul by Leonard on Iguodala to me. Leonard grabbed his jersey.
Second, because it was before the play it ended up not taking time off the clock. In this way, it was actually better for the Warriors to commit the foul than not. I know that happens at the end of every close basketball game but this one felt even more ridiculous. In College there is an extra penalty for fouling before the ball is in-bounded. I guess that isn’t the rule in the NBA, but it felt like the penalty here should be that the game’s over rather than Kawhi going through the motions. If Kawhi misses his shots the Warriors could, in theory, come back. I get it that this is the point of making this call at the this time – making the same calls you would have made in the pre-season in the post-season. But this might be the one time I agree with the players and fans who think you can’t let refs decide the game in big games. (A take I usually hate.) What possible interest did the Raptors have in taking those free throws? Couldn’t they just say we’ll take a second off the clock instead of the points? (I understand that’s not sensible. I’m just annoyed with this call.)
But what I’m really mad about is it sapped my celebration. I will never know what I would have done if the game just ended. Instead I almost exploded and then I stood there watching the refs yet again try to figure out how much time was on the clock, only to decide that there was the exact same amount of time left.
It just reinforces how much I’ve come to hate video review. I wanted it when it didn’t exist but now that it is so prevalent, I kind of hate it. (Now, had Leonard been called for the foul on the floor and it was reversed by review, say, I’d feel quite differently, wouldn’t I?) The better thing for everyone is the game just ends in that circumstance. I’ve seen plenty – and I mean plenty – of basketball games with contact on the final play that didn’t have a foul call or video review.
Listen, I’m super happy they won. But I feel like it would have been more cathartic without that stupid call. I really shouldn’t whine about it but I’m not the only one. My mom called it “deflating”. And she doesn’t like basketball. I think more about it like this: I am a very inhibited guy, but I was ready to let go of all my inhibitions when they won. Like the time I screamed for what felt like 30 seconds when Crosby scored in 2010. But instead the stupid foul allowed me to catchy myself, and the scream never came. As Drew Magary said “They deserved this, and they definitely didn’t deserve to get blueballed at the end by a needless foul call that put their impending celebration on hold for 897 minutes.” But anyway…
The Raptors are the NBA Champions.
Here they are, by regular season minutes played. (All stat ranks based upon minimum 500 minutes in the regular season and minimum 48 minutes in the playoffs.)
Pascal Siakam, 25, F
Under contract through 2020, increasing to $2.3 million in the last year
- 2548 minutes (1st)
- Per 36: 19.1P (4th), 7.8R (4th), 0.7B (5th), 3.5A (5th), 1S (10th)
- .628TS% 93rd)
- 9.3 WS (2nd), .175 WS/48 (3rd)
- 3.4 BPM (2nd)
- 3.5 VORP (2nd)
- 891 minutes (3rd)
- Per 36: 18.4P (2nd), 6.9R (4th), 0.7B (4th), 2.7A (6th), 1S (7th)
- .549TS% (5th)
- 2.4 WS (3rd), 1.31 WS/48 (4th)
- 2.4 BPM (4th)
- 1 VORP (4th)
Your 2018-19 Most Improved Player – unless something insane happens and the writers vote for Russell, a guy drafted 2nd overall who is only now living up to expectations – went to a place nobody saw coming. I thought he was a reach at 27 and now he is the second or third (or fourth) best player on a championship team, only three years later. Siakam is not only a versatile offensive player but, when locked in, is one of the best defenders in the league. It’s absolutely incredible.
He’s on a a ridiculous deal so presumably he is going to be extended on something more appropriate immediately. He is the core of the Raptors’ future, whether or not Kawhi stays. And everything about him makes me happy. If I do finally get a Raptors jersey, it might be a Siakam one instead of a Calderon one.
Danny Green, 31, G,
Free agent (Raptors have his Bird rights)
- 2216 minutes (2nd)
- Per 36: 13.3P (10th), 2A (8th), 1.2S (7th), 5.1R (8th), .9B (4th)
- .632TS% (2nd)
- 5.9 WS (5th), .128 WS/48 (7th)
- 2.9 BPM (5th)
- 2.7 VORP (4th)
- 684 minutes (5th)
- Per 36: 8.7P (9th), 1.4A (8th), 1.6S (2nd), 4.6R (8th), .6B (5th)
- .503TS% (8th)
- .8 WS (8th), .059 WS/48 (9th)
- 1.4 BPM (5th)
- 1 VORP (5th)
Jenn and I agree that it wasn’t just Kawhi being here that made this team different. Danny Green has seen it all before and appeared to bring a calmness and maturity (and sense of humour!) sorely needed on the Raptors. Playing more than just about anyone else certainly helped too.
He had an excellent regular season in terms of what you want from him – high shooting percentage and defense. But the playoffs, oof. He had one of the worst shooting slumps of his career when the Raptors needed him most. If he weren’t a good defender – some believe the greatest transition defender in the history of the sport – he would have been unplayable. Still, he was borderline at times, losing his second half starting spot to FVV.
Who knows what is happening this summer, but it’s hard to believe the Raptors couldn’t get most of what Danny brings on defense and shooting with younger legs in the off-season. Of course, if Kawhi stays, presumably Danny Green will stay too.
Kyle Lowry, 33, G
Under contract through 2020, at over $33 million
- 2213 minutes (3rd)
- Per 36: 15.1P (6th), 9.2A (1st), 1.5S (3rd), 5.2R (7th), .5B (9th)
- .562TS% (8th)
- 6.6 WS (3rd), .144 WS/48 (6th)
- 3.1 BPM (4th)
- 2.8 VORP (3rd)
- King of hustle plays
- 901 minutes (2nd)
- Per 36: 14.4P (5th), 6.4A (1st), 1.2S (4th), 4.7R (7th), .3B (8th)
- .576TS% (2nd)
- 2.8 WS (2nd), .15 WS/48 (3rd)
- 3.9 BPM (3rd)
- 1.3 VORP (2nd)
- Still King of hustle plays (example: 2nd in charges drawn per game, playing 19 more games than the person in 1st)
For all the hand-wringing about how Kyle and Kawhi couldn’t co-exist on offense, it sure worked out alright. Kyle didn’t have the greatest statistical year but the real story with him is never about the stats (as evidenced by the advanced metrics painting him as a better player. Despite his reputation for disappearing in big games (and scoring 0 points in one playoff game), Lowry upped his shooting percentages in the playoffs, while just about everyone else on the team saw their percentages drop. (Except you know who.)
Lowry’s game should age well, as most of what he does doesn’t involve elite athleticism, but he is definitely past his peak. It’s clear he’ll still be a starting PG on a good team next year but whoever pays for the next contract might be sorry.
Kawhi Leonard, 27, F
Player option for 2020 (for far less money than what either the Raptors can pay him or he’ll get in free agency)
- 2040 minutes played (4th)
- Per 36: 28.2P (1st), 7.7R (5th), .4B (10th), 3.5A (6th), 1.9S (1st)
- .606TS% (4th)
- 9.5 WS (1st), .224 WS/48 (t-1st)
- 5 BPM (1st)
- 3.6 VOPR (1st)
- 939 minutes (1st)
- 732 points is the third most All Time
- Per 36: 28.1P (1st), 8.4R (2nd), .7B (3rd), 3.6A (4th), 1.5S (2nd)
- .619%TS (1st)
- 4.9 WS (1st), .249 WS/48 (1st)
- 8.6 BPM (1st)
- 2.5 VORP (1st)
There’s not much to say that hasn’t been said a million times. The Raptors don’t win without Kawhi and the trade that brought him here. He is the rare star who is demonstrably better in the playoffs and he just had one of the best runs in the history of the NBA. (He almost shot 50-40-90, and only the last few games kept him from also having one of the most efficient performances by a star.)
Like everybody, I have no idea if he is going to stay. If he does, the Raptors are a contender in the East next year, depending upon free agency. If he doesn’t, the Raptors are still a playoff team barring something else happening, though a team that has too many players on the wrong side of their careers.
Regardless, what this shows is the same thing the famous Celtics trades showed a decade ago: in basketball you can create Championship teams with the right trades for the right players, provided you have enough good players around the stars you get back.
Even if Kawhi leaves, he is now the best player in the history of the Raptors. That’s unlikely to change any time soon.
Serge Ibaka, “29”, F/C
Under contract through 2020 at $23 million
- 2010 minutes (5th)
- Per 36: 19.9P (3rd), 10.8R (2nd), 1.8B (1st), 1.8A (10th), .5S (12th)
- .582TS% (6th)
- 6.1 WS (4th), .146 WS/48 (5th)
- .5 BPM (8th)
- 1.3 VORP (5th)
- 500 minutes (7th)
- Per 36: 16.2P (3rd), 10.3R (1st), 1.7B (1st), 1.6A (8th), .8S (10th)
- .532TS% (7th)
- 1.2 WS (5th), .117 WS/48 (6th)
- -0.2 BPM (7th)
- 0.2 VORP (7th)
Remember last year? When Serge looked done? And that contract looked like a giant mistake. How times have changed. Serge had a huge bounce-back season and then went to the bench when he was asked. In the playoffs he was inconsistent, as always, but became hugely important in the later rounds as a basically one of only two consistently reliable bench players, having some massive games with performances that helped save the season a few times.
That contract is still awful – as he’s basically a 7th man at this point, albeit a really effective one – but who cares any more? Also, if the Raptors were ever going to sell high on him, it’s probably right now. (I’m not saying they should necessarily, only that his value is about 1000 times higher than it was this time last year.)
Fred Van Vleet Sr, 25, G
Under contract through 2020 at $9 million
- 1760 minutes (6th)
- Per 36: 14.3P (7th), 6.3A (2nd), 1.2S (5th), 3.4R (12th), .4B (12th)
- .539TS% (10th)
- 4.3 WS (6th), .117 WS/48 (9th)
- 0 BPM (11th)
- 0.9 VORP (7th)
- 592 minutes (6th)
- Per 36: 11.7P (7th), 3.8A (2nd), 1.1S (6th), 2.6R (9th), .4B (7th)
- .534TS% (6th)
- 1.1 WS (6th), .089 WS/48 (7th)
- 0 BPM (6th)
- 0.3 VORP (6th)
Fred had a big regression this year, after being a 6th Man finalist in 2018. And that appeared to get worse in the playoffs until suddenly he couldn’t miss a shot. The change after the birth of his son was one of the crazier things that happened in the playoffs and one can only presume the pregnancy was weighing on his mind earlier on.
Unlike basically every other player on this team, I have followed Fred since his College days, as I was a Shockers supporter on their March Madness runs. Though I loved his play, I never imagined he would make it being the 6th man of a NBA Championship team. It’s kind of insane. (Where’s Ron Baker these days?)
Fred has a couple of really important skills – he’s a tenacious defender, he has a knack for suddenly shooting better when he needs to, he is scared of nothing – but he does not have the body of an NBA player. I know a lot of fans think of him as the PG of the future after Lowry is gone, but I still have a hard time imagining that. But watching him destroy everyone’s expectations has been a pleasure.
OG Anunoby, 21, F
Rookie deal with a team option in 2020-21
- 1352 minutes (7th)
- Per 36: 12.5P (13th), 5.2R (6th), .6B (6th), 1.3A (12th), 1.2S (9th)
- .544 TS% (9th)
- 2 WS (11th), 0.07 WS/48 (11th)
- -1.2 BPM (11th)
- 0.3 VORP (11th)
- Playoffs: N/A
Count me among the many who thought OG would eclipse Pascal by around now, given their performances in 2017-18. He was so good defensively as a rookie and he looks like he could do so much offensively with a little more experience, it was easy to imagine him as an MIP candidate within a couple years. Instead, injury and tragedy turned his second year into a bit of a lost season. I still really think he’s worth sticking with, though, and I remain a firm believer until he has a healthy season where he doesn’t progress.
Norman Powell, 26, G
Team option of $11.6 million in 2021-22
- 1126 minutes (8th)
- Per 36: 16.5P (5th), 2.9A (7th), 1.2S (6th), 4.4R (10th), .4B (9th)
- .596TS% (5th)
- 2.4 WS (8th), .102 WS/48 (10th)
- -0.7 BPM (10th)
- 0.4 VORP (10th)
- 366 minutes (8th)
- 14.8P (4th), 2.6A (7th), .9S (9th), 5R (5th), 0B
- .558TS% (4th)
- 0.8 WS (7th), .1 WS/48 (6th)
- -0.9 BPM (8th)
- 0.1 VORP (8th)
At this point Powell is what he is: a player who occasionally looks like an all star and occasionally can’t even stay on the floor. He’s old enough at this point it’s hard to imagine him ever “figuring it out” so that he is a consistent performer (and can start!) but it’s certainly not impossible. Currently he’s just one of those bench players who can change a game some nights but other nights you wonder why an organization would have signed him long term.
And it should be noted he changed a couple games in these playoffs, as is his reputation (“Playoff Powell”). And I personally wouldn’t give those games away for the world. A Raptors team without Powell on the bench – with at least the potential for a game changing performance – is perhaps one that doesn’t make it all the way to the Championship.
But I’m sure there is a cheaper more consistent version of Powell out there somewhere in the basketball universe.
Delon Wright, G, 27
Traded for Marc Gasol
- Minutes: 897 (9th)
- Per 36: 13.5P (9th), 4.4A (4th), 1.8S (2nd), 5R (9th), 6.B (7th)
- .527TS% (11th)
- 2.3 WS (9th), .123 WS/48 (8th)
- 0.8 BPM (7th)
- 0.6 VORP (8th)
- Playoffs: N/A
I loved Delon as a Raptor.
It’s easy to look at the Championship and to say everything that happened prior to the Championship must have happened in order for the Championship to happen. That is true in a sense, but also not true because it is of course theoretically possible the Raptors could have won the Championship without Marc Gasol. (Not so much Kawhi…) This is a tempting line of thought for us fans of him because Wright is, by many metrics, better than Powell as an NBA player, even in a down year for Wright. One could imagine a bench with both of them, or just Wright, that might have performed more consistently.
But Wright never had the scoring touch Powell shows at times and though Wright’s length would have come in handy, the Raptors’ were a strong defensive team without him, and needed better offense. Having both of them on the team removes Gasol. And swapping Wright for Powell would not have added enough offense. Also, despite Wright’s age – he’s always older than I think! – who knows if Memphis makes the deal if Powell is in Wright’s place in the deal.
Anyway, I’m glad he’s getting minutes on Memphis.
Marc Gasol, C, 34
Player option of over $24 million for this season
- Minutes: 648 (10th)
- Per 36: 13.2P (11th), 9.6R (3rd), 1.3B (3rd), 5.6A (3rd), 1.3S (4th)
- .565TS% (7th)
- 2.1 WS (10th), .157 WS/48 (4th)
- 3.2 BPM (3rd)
- 0.9 VORP (6th)
- Minutes: 735 (4th)
- Per 36: 11.1P (8th), 7.5R (3rd), 1.3B (2nd), 3.6A (3rd), 1S (5th)
- .564TS% (3rd)
- 2.3 WS (4th), .151 WS/48 (2nd)
- 4.3 BPM (2nd)
- 1.2 VORP (3rd)
I am a big Marc Gasol fan. (I love centres who are good passers.) When the trade happened, I said something along the lines of “If this trade happened two years ago, I would be over the moon.” I loved JV and Delon but Marc Gasol is a whole different level of player. However, I had heard rumblings from reliable sources that Gasol had been a shadow of his former self this season.
That turned out not to be true. Though he was sometimes frustratingly hesitant on offence, he was still excellent (or, at the very least, good enough) defensively when he matched up against the most of the largest centres on opposing teams and, far more importantly, he improved the team’s assist rate, which led to the Raptors becoming a better three point shooting team for the rest of the regular season.
We know JV couldn’t defend some of those centres. (Not Embiid, though!) And he can’t defend in space as well. And, well, he’s just not remotely on Gasol’s level as a passer. Does this Raptors team with Ibaka or JV starting at the 5 (and the other coming off the bench) win the championship? I have no idea but I have my doubts.
The issue going forward is Gasol’s age and that very large player option.
Jonas Valanciunas, 27, C
Traded for Marc Gasol
- Minutes: 564 (11th)
- Per 36: 24.5P (2nd), 13.8R (1st), 1.5B (2nd), 1.9A (9th), .8S (11th)
- .639TS% (1st)
- 2.6 WS (7th), .224 WS/48 (t-1st)
- 0.9 BPM (6th)
- 0.4 VORP (9th)
- Playoffs: N/A
It is to JV’s eternal credit that he continually improved as a player over his career despite Casey refusing to play him late in games basically all the time. When he turned himself into a super bench player this season (prior to Ibaka doing the same thing), he made himself an asset in a way he hadn’t been for a few seasons, which enabled the trade for him as the centrepiece of a deal that brought back a former Defensive Player of the Year. That does not happen without JV’s buy-in to an organization that regularly distrusted him defensively and which arguably never really treated him as well as his talent and effort deserved. (At least in terms of playing time. He’s doing fine financially.)
As I said above, I am not confident that a team with JV in Gasol’s place wins a title. And it’s for the simple reason that he would have been played off the floor too much, meaning more minutes for Ibaka. And Ibaka felt like he was in the perfect role during the playoffs.
But I’ll continue to miss JV for his offense, for his personality, and especially for the fact that he came back to support his old team.
C.J. Miles, 32, G/F
Traded for Marc Gasol
- Minutes: 562 (12th)
- Per 36: 14P (8th), 1.4A (11th), 1.2S (8th), 4.4R (11th), 0.6B (8th)
- .484TS% (12th)
- 0.4 WS (12th), .035 WS/48 (12th)
- -3.7 BPM (12th)
- -0.2 VORP (12th)
- Playoffs: N/A
When Danny Green arrived in the Leonard trade the writing was on the wall with Miles because, of course, Danny Green is a better version of Miles on both ends of the floor. Worse, Miles found himself in one of the worst shooting slumps of his career. It’s a minor miracle they were able to convince Memphis to take Miles over, say, Powell or Anunoby or somebody like that. Fortunately, for Miles, he had a way better rest of the season, which might have a lot to do with playing way more.
So that’s the team, at least all of those who played enough matter. Lin and Monroe didn’t play enough minutes to make the regular season cut off and I don’t feel like there’s much point discussing the two players (Meeks and McCaw) who made it above my absurdly low playoff cutoff of one full game.
This is a Raptors team I will always remember. In addition to wanting them to win, I liked so much about them but perhaps nothing more than their insane versatility, their ability to play different styles and schemes well, and to flummox their opponents as a result. As a long-time fan of the sport, I have also come to appreciate defense, as one does, and it was nice to root for a team that was not only good on that end, but sometimes so great they were the best defensive team in the league. That is not something we’ve ever seen in Toronto before. (In Canada, really.)
I find myself almost sad that it’s over. Though I stressed through all the playoff games – and way, way too many regular season games! – I really enjoyed it and still can’t quite believe they won. That might never happen again, so I’m left with waiting for the official DVD, if there is such a thing, so I can relive this year in the fallow years to come.
As for next year, I don’t much care right now. The Greatest Sports Moment of My Life just happened, and it’s hard to care about the future. If Kawhi stays, I’ll be over the moon. If he doesn’t the Raptors will be a lower seeded playoff team with too many old players, but whose old players are on contracts soon ending, and with one player who just might be good enough to build around for the future. And that’s completely okay with me.