#CrystalBasketball: Ranking the Toronto Raptors for 2017-18

How does every NBA player stack up heading into 2017-18, based solely on the level at which we expect them to play during the upcoming season?

That’s the question 16 NBA Math staff members and contributors sought to answer, ranking each and every player in the sport’s premier league on a 1-to-12 scale and then seeing who emerged with the highest averages. The distant past was irrelevant. Long-term potential doesn’t matter. Only what could come to pass in 2017-18 is factored in, assuming health for those currently healthy and full recoveries from those presently injured. For example, Brandon Knight will still be included in this analysis; we just assumed he’d already completed his rehab for the torn ACL and now has that as a prior portion of his overall injury history.

All players were graded on the following scale by each evaluator, and ties between players with identical averages were broken by sorting the 16 scores from best to worst and propping up the men who had the highest mark at any point in the top-down progression:

  1. Shouldn’t Get Minutes
  2. End-of-Bench Pieces
  3. Depth Pieces
  4. High-End Backups
  5. Low-End Starters
  6. Solid Starters
  7. High-End Starters, Non-All-Stars
  8. All-Star Candidates
  9. All-NBA Candidates, Non-MVP Candidates
  10. Lesser MVP Candidates
  11. MVP Frontrunners
  12. Best Player in the League (only one player could earn this grade on each ballot)

Journey with us team by team as we unveil the entirety of these rankings, culminating in a look at every player set to suit up for the 2017-18 campaign.

Today’s featured squad? The Toronto Raptors, who are bringing back many of their key pieces and attempting to remain near the top of the Eastern Conference.

15. Alfonzo McKinnie: 1.13

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 25
  • Position: SF/PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 14.9 points, 9.2 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.5 blocks (for Windy City Bulls)
  • Highest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

The Raptors already know Alfonzo McKinnie can hold his own on the glass while thriving as an athletic defender. That’s what gives him a distinct chance to make the final roster. But if he’s truly going to stick and beat out other forwards for even the tiniest bit of run, he’ll have to showcase some development from the perimeter—not the defensive one, but the one from which he’ll have to shoot and help space out the floor.

This 25-year-old scored 14.9 points per game for the G League’s Windy City Bulls last year, and he did so in fairly efficient fashion. But he won’t get as many easy looks around the tin while playing against legitimate NBA defenders, which means he needs to start hitting jumpers. And that’s what he couldn’t do, knocking down only 30.8 percent of his deep looks while taking 2.7 attempts per game.

Just don’t count out development. McKinnie has already made it to this point after paying his own way to an open tryout for a spot with Windy City, and he quickly developed into a G League All-Star while coming off the bench as an athletic, energetic spark. Who’s to say he can’t just continue on his upward trajectory?

14. Bruno Caboclo: 1.75

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 22
  • Position: SF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 1.6 points, 1.1 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.1 blocks, 0.63 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (Brian Sampson)

When the Raptors made Bruno Caboclo the No. 20 pick of the 2014 NBA draft, he was infamously deemed two years away from being two years away by ESPN.com’s Fran Fraschilla.

*Starts counting on fingers…one year away from being two years away…two years away….*

He’s only one year away now!

Despite the amount of time he’s spent developing with the Raptors’ G League affiliate (and in small doses with the big-league club), Caboclo still isn’t quite ready. And that’s fine. He’s only 22 years old, and he already looks the part of a lanky and athletic wing who can emerge as a plus on the defensive end.

But he’s still too raw to play a big role on a competitive team, and the Raptors have brought in enough competition that he might be doomed to keep toiling away in obscurity. He still hasn’t hit the end of the initial timeframe, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he eventually moves on and showcases further growth in a new location.

13. Fred VanVleet: 2.13

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 23
  • Position: PG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 2.9 points, 1.1 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.1 blocks, minus-18.56 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 4 (Adam Fromal)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Fred VanVleet’s numbers last year might not have been exemplary, though he still passed the eye test with room to spare. Watching him showed a tenacious player willing to sacrifice his body as he darted toward the rim for an interior finish, as well as a contributor unafraid to mix it up defensively and try his darnedest to become a two-way asset.

Now, after a stellar summer, he’s poised to earn even more minutes with the Raptors.

“There’s another reason to trust VanVleet with more minutes, and it’s how careful and precise a player he can be. Chalk it up to going undrafted, or that he’s considered nearly ancient by rookie standards, but his maturity and unflappability on court make him a solid presence and could transform him into a steady and even-handed playmaker,” Katie Heindl wrote in a fantastic player preview for Raptors Republic. “Even when he’s driving, he doesn’t rush, and he seems to have a knack for knowing when to pull back that even Lowry doesn’t always have a handle on.”

12. K.J. McDaniels: 2.31

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 24
  • Position: SG/SF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 4.2 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.4 blocks, minus-43.35 TPA (for Houston Rockets and Brooklyn Nets)
  • Highest Grade: 3 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Regression on the defensive end has made it hard for K.J. McDaniels to carve out a consistent role. Since his initial breakout with the Philadelphia 76ers, for whom he served as a weak-side help defender who could provide non-traditional rim protection, he’s bounced to the Houston Rockets and Brooklyn Nets. Now, he’s trying to make the Raptors by showing that he won’t be as much of an offensive liability while continuing to provide athletic defense.

And that’s a tough sell.

If he can become even a competent shooter, he’ll validate the seven panelists who viewed him as a depth piece. But doing so is easier said than done, especially for a player who could score no more than an inefficient 15.5 points per 36 minutes for a Brooklyn squad looking for offensive production from any possible source throughout the 2016-17 campaign.

11. OG Anunoby: 2.50

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 20
  • Position: SF/PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 11.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.3 blocks, 70.55 TPA (for Indiana Hoosiers)
  • Highest Grade: 4 (Adam Fromal)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)

Apparently, OG Anunoby’s skill set includes Wolverine-like healing powers, since he got back onto the court for preseason action just eight months after tearing his ACL and prematurely ending his collegiate career with the Indiana Hoosiers. But the Raptors are presumably hoping he doesn’t have to put that ability on display again, since they’d rather he stay healthy and continue unveiling the full extent of his multi-faceted toolbox.

A limited shooter who struggles to create his own offense on the perimeter, Anunoby is a pogo stick closer to the basket. He’s capable of racking up steals and blocks while contesting shots at the rim, scoring as a cutter and interior finisher, rebounding with aplomb and showing off switchability against screeners. Everything points toward the former Hoosier becoming a two-way player, but his upside might not be fully realized unless he can prevent defenders from sagging off him with even the threat of a working jumper.

Fortunately, while the offense might not come for a while, the defensive profile is ready for the rigors of the NBA. So long as his knee is in working order, he should immediately make an impact as an athletic stopper off the pine. And again, that’s his floor.

10. Pascal Siakam: 2.75

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 23
  • Position: PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 4.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks, minus-20.33 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 4 (Tim Stubbs)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (Brian Sampson)

Pascal Siakam’s limited shooting range eventually proved his downfall as a rookie. Without the ability to space the floor for his teammates’ drives and mid-range attempts, he ceded late-season minutes to new arrivals (P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka) before playing 10 total minutes during the playoffs. Just don’t let that convince you he’s devoid of value going forward.

The No. 27 pick of last year’s draft, Siakam showed his skills rather nicely on the defensive end, where he thrived against spot-up shooters and remained disciplined in off-ball scenarios—a rarity for a first-year big, even if this power forward was older than most rookies. Unless opponents managed to force a switch that saw him guarding a speedy backcourt player and subsequently attacked him in isolation, he was a positive presence, best when protecting the rim and showing off his hops. That’s not going to change going forward, and his physicality allows him to stick with many different types of foes.

With a year of experience under his belt and (hopefully) a better understanding of offensive positioning, Siakam should see an uptick in playing time. His ceiling will just be determined by the growth of his shooting stroke, since remaining limited to finishes around the basket and hoping for alley-oop feeds forces the Raptors to make up for his flaws elsewhere.

9. Jakob Poeltl: 2.81

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 22
  • Position: C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 3.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 0.2 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.4 blocks, minus-7.41 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 2 (multiple voters)

“Jakob Poeltl wasn’t the most eye-popping selection for the Raptors at nine last June,” Sean Woodley wrote for Raptors HQ while reflecting on the big man’s rookie season. “He didn’t possess the shooting and ball skills that might portend a big man’s future stardom. Shot-swatting, terrorizing rim protection was never part of his repertoire in college. He was a high-floor, safe selection that seemed to frustrate fans hoping for a prospect with star potential burgeoning within.”

That may be reflected in his grades. Even though he’s a 22-year-old entering his sophomore season with top-10 pedigree, not a single voter was willing to call him anything more than a high-end backup. Then again, his floor still sees panelists giving him end-of-bench grades, which means even the most pessimistic among us at least view him as something.

Cutting back on fouls and showing an ability to even attempt shots from outside the paint—makes can come later—could help elevate the Utah product’s ceiling. He functioned as a cerebral defender during his rookie season and provided small chunks of offense on put-back attempts and savvy rolls to the hoop, but expanding his game is now a must.

8. Delon Wright: 2.81

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 25
  • Position: PG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 5.6 points, 1.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks, 9.68 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (Nick Birdsong)

Watch Delon Wright for short spurts, and you might not be convinced of his upside. But keep evaluating him, and you eventually see plenty of potential on both ends of the floor. At 6’5″ with long arms and some bounce in his step, he has the athletic tools necessary to thrive as a drive-and-kick point guard who plays physical defense on the other end. There’s skill and anticipation as well, given the occasional come-from-behind blocks and Euro-stepping flair while attacking the hoop.

Now, Wright needs to stay healthy. Various maladies, including arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, have hindered him during his first two professional seasons, preventing him from showing much growth as a shooter or functioning as a consistent facilitator for the rest of the Raptors.

But the all-around tools are still there, just waiting to be tapped into. He put defensive development on display throughout the 2016-17 season, even finishing behind just seven other floor generals in ESPN.com’s defensive real plus/minus. Is showcasing a reliable shooting stroke and growing as a spot-up option next?

7. Lucas Nogueira: 3.38

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 25
  • Position: C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 4.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.6 blocks, 118.06 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 5 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 1 (multiple voters)

Lucas Nogueira’s TPA certainly oversells him. He finished behind only 34 players during the 2016-17 campaign, but that’s largely because he was uber-efficient in his limited run, rarely missing shots as he only took easy attempts around the rim, posting solid rebounding totals and taking advantage of second units on the defensive end.

Obviously, Nogueira isn’t a top-40 player.

But he could at least develop into a stronger backup or low-end starter for Toronto if he starts producing while facing off against opposing standouts and accumulating his stats in non-garbage-time scenarios. The skills are there, whether we’re referring to his work as a pick-and-roll finisher (89.4 percentile) or his ability to limit the opposition to 47.6 percent shooting against him while stationed at the tin.

Even if he remains limited to interior defense and rim-running offense, that lets him maintain value. Toronto’s roster construction just might make it tougher for him to show out, since he could continue ceding minutes behind Jonas Valanciunas to a quicker-growing Jakob Poeltl.

6. C.J. Miles: 4.56

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 30
  • Position: SF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 10.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.3 blocks, minus-21.29 TPA (for Indiana Pacers)
  • Highest Grade: 6 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 3 (Louie Vicchiollo)

Maybe C.J. Miles will continue to show off passing limitations that see him struggle to average more assists than turnovers. Perhaps he’ll continue regressing on the defensive end, coming off a year with the Indiana Pacers in which he posted the second-worst defensive box plus/minus of his career. He might even remain a limited offensive player who doesn’t spend much time attacking the hoop and finishing plays in the painted area.

And so long as he keeps knocking down jumpers, that’ll be fine.

Miles wasn’t just good as a spot-up shooter last year; he was downright excellent. Scoring 1.34 points per possession in that scenario for Indiana, he finished in the 97.9 percentile and helped improve the team’s offensive rating from 107.9 to 109.9 when he was on the floor. Few players were better at working their way into the corners and then successfully converting their opportunities, and that’s not likely to change as the 30-year-old switches locations.

Even if he regresses to his 2015-16 form (76.3 percentile as a spot-up marksman), that shooting ability will keep opening up opportunities for Toronto’s starting backcourt.

5. Norman Powell: 4.63

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 25
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 8.4 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks, minus-43.19 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 6 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)

The breakout is coming.

Even if you’re unimpressed with Norman Powell’s stifling defense as he uses his athleticism and length to hinder driving attempts of both backcourt players and wings, you can’t help but note the growth he’s shown with the ball in his hands. Though driving under control will be a priority during his junior season, the combination of quick-twitch bursts to the hoop and shooting ability—he’ll likely settle in somewhere between his 40.4 percent three-point percentage as a rookie and the 32.4 percent clip from the follow-up campaign—makes him a deadly and well-rounded offensive force.

Now, imagine what could happen when he learns to keep his eyes up in search of teammates while working in the pick-and-roll. He’s now coming off a season in which he added 21.68 more points than an average player would’ve in the same possessions as a PnR ball-handling scorer, per NBA Math’s Play-Type Profiles. That left him trailing only 31 players—not bad for a shooting guard coming off the bench and logging zero minutes at the point. With more opportunities should come more comfort, and more comfort should yield even better results.

Maybe the consistency isn’t quite there at this young stage of Powell’s professional career. But two voters already viewed him as a solid starter, and that’s a designation by no means out of the question.

4. Jonas Valanciunas: 4.94

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 25
  • Position: C
  • 2016-17 Stats: 12.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks, minus-24.46 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 6 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 4 (multiple voters)

Though the 25-year-old Jonas Valanciunas hasn’t progressed like the Raptors may have hoped, he’s still working with a solid foundation.

His ability to score efficiently around the hoop, knock down the occasional mid-range jumper and hold his own on the defensive interior makes him a valuable presence at the 5, even if he’s not going to morph into a star. Maybe that’s disappointing after the organization used the No. 5 pick of the 2011 NBA draft on him and then watched as he initially looked like he was bubbling with top-tier potential, but far worse things have happened to top-five selections.

And yet, upside may still remain. Valanciunas has spent the summer working to get quicker, and that should help him immensely in pick-and-roll coverage. He’s also taken on a new role during training camp and preseason action, setting up at the top of the key and helping to initiate some offense. Though he’s never shown much as a facilitator, increased vision could go a long way in making him a more well-rounded big.

3. Serge Ibaka: 6.06

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 28
  • Position: PF
  • 2016-17 Stats: 14.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.6 blocks, minus-19.42 TPA (for Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors)
  • Highest Grade: 7 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 5 (multiple voters)

Flash back to the 2011-12 campaign, when Serge Ibaka helped the Oklahoma City Thunder advance to the NBA Finals while leading the league in blocks per game (3.7) and doing almost all his damage on the defensive end. Even though the team subsequently chose him over James Harden, ostensibly because of his two-way potential and the eventual possibility of some floor-spacing out of the frontcourt, it couldn’t possibly have imagined the power forward he’d turn into.

Go ahead and throw out his numbers with the Orlando Magic. He wasn’t motivated while playing for a bottom-feeding team with a glut of bigs, and his statistics suffered accordingly. The best indication of Ibaka’s future came in a much smaller sample: the playoffs, after he was traded to Toronto and developed whatever chemistry he could throughout the second half of the season. His shot wasn’t quite there during the postseason run, but he morphed back into a game-changing defender who allowed opponents to shoot just 40 percent on eight attempts per game while he was protecting the basket.

Should he pair that skill with his 39.8 percent shooting from beyond the arc during 23 regular-season appearances with the Raptors, he’ll become the rim-protecting stretch big every team covets in the modern NBA. He doesn’t have All-NBA upside without takeover scoring ability, but he could become the perfect complementary piece for a squad with plenty of point production emerging from the starting backcourt.

2. DeMar DeRozan: 7.69

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 28
  • Position: SG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 27.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks, 46.52 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 9 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 6 (multiple voters)

Honestly, just go read Tony East’s thorough breakdown of DeMar DeRozan’s game for NBA Math. That’ll tell you just about everything you need to know about the good and bad that have forced a schism in the basketball-watching world. Here’s one poignant excerpt:

The last criticism of DDR is more complex and longstanding. His teams appear to play better with him on the bench. Last season, with DeRozan on the court, the Raptors had a net rating of just 3.3. When he sat, that number jumped up to 8.3. That five-point gap is the difference between the Houston Rockets and Charlotte Hornets.

You can view this however you want: small-sample theater (though it has happened for five consecutive seasons), a testament to how good Kyle Lowry is at carrying a bench unit, proof that DeRozan plays against starters and his sub doesn’t, etc. But this years-long trend gives many people pause about DeRozan’s true value. If his statistical impact cannot exceed that of Tucker, Terrence Ross, Norman Powell or whoever else spells him, is he really that good?

That question is difficult to answer.  DeMar DeRozan is obviously a good basketball player.  Wing-sized guards who score 27 points every night and turn the ball over on fewer than 10 percent of their touches don’t grow on trees.

In fact, they hardly exist at all.  DeRozan was the only guard to do that this past season, and thoughout history, only four other guys have joined the club. Their names? George Gervin, Vince Carter and two no-name guys: Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.  The Raptors 2-guard has many flaws, some of which are glaring, but he is an offensive force night in and night out during the regular season. If he can continue to improve in non-shooting areas like he has over the last five years, while also continuing to dominate the court 16 feet and in, his stock will only climb.

Ultimately, the raging DeRozan debate boils down to this: He’s not as good as his points-per-game average might indicate, but he’s also better than those who only want to look at the advanced numbers might think. Filling a No. 1 role for a highly competitive team takes plenty of talent, and he’s capably served in such capacity for a number of years now.

Oh, and if he decides to exert more energy on defense or begins knocking down triples, he’ll effectively end the discussion and leave no doubt he’s an All-NBA talent.

1. Kyle Lowry: 8.63

  • Age at start of 2017-18: 31
  • Position: PG
  • 2016-17 Stats: 22.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.3 blocks, 292.19 TPA
  • Highest Grade: 9 (multiple voters)
  • Lowest Grade: 8 (multiple voters)

Kyle Lowry may be teetering toward the age that sees so many point guards decline, but he’s shown no signs of upcoming regression.

Instead, he’s continued to prove himself one of the league’s deadliest perimeter shooters, now coming off a year in which he took a career-high 7.8 triples per game and still connected at a 41.2 percent clip—numbers only Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Ray Allen have matched throughout all of NBA history. Better still, he required assists on only 52.3 percent of the successful conversions.

Yes, Lowry’s defense showed signs of wear and tear throughout the regular season. Yes, he floundered in the playoffs yet again, though he began to bounce back nicely after a horrid first game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Yes, he’s 31 years old.

But this floor general is still a two-way asset who can break down a defense with his physical drives to the hoop, premier court vision and historic marksmanship. He remains one of the true elites at his position, as well as the clear-cut best player north of Niagara Falls.

Who’s rated too high? Who are we selling short? Join the conversation using #CrystalBasketball on Twitter.

Follow NBA Math on Twitter @NBA_Math and on Facebook.

Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are from NBA Math or NBA.com.

Many thanks to our entire panel of voters: Andrew BaileyArjun BaradwajNick BirdsongMichael BrockTony EastDan FavaleAdam FromalRyan JarvisJordan McGillisTom RendeBrian SampsonAdam SpinellaEric SpyropolousTim StubbsFrank UrbinaLouis Vicchiollo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *