If the season was to end today, which Toronto Raptors players would win each individual award on offer?
The significance of individual awards in sports vary. Some people believe that individual awards define a player's greatness, while others believe that the only thing that matters is team success. However, it's likely that one often leads to the other - and vice versa. Over the years, the Toronto Raptors haven't been particularly blessed with individual accolades.
However, the Raptors finally have a taste of winning the big one. The last few years have been the best in franchise history, with four 50-plus win seasons leading up to the first-ever title win in Raptors history last season.
While the Raptors didn't have the best regular-season record in the 2018-19 NBA season, nor did they have the MVP -- that accolade deservedly belongs to Giannis Antetokounmpo -- but, finally, the Raptors had a reason to celebrate individual accolades, with Pascal Siakam winning the NBA's Most Improved Player award.
Siakam averaged 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game, shooting 55-percent from the field and 37-percent from three. His rise was one of the stories of the season, and he became the first player in Raptors history to win the award.
Despite missing 11 games this season, Siakam is still mentioned as a potential MIP candidate for the second year in a row and was getting a whiff of MVP buzz early in the year before a slight dip.
Across the board, you could *maybe* make a case for a Raptor to be contending for any award. It's a tough case to make, and probably a stretch, so we won't do that.
Instead, we'll keep everything in-house. Imagine a world where the Toronto Raptors scope all the awards - that's what's happening now. From Rookie of the Year to MVP, let's decide who is deserving of what award at the midway mark of the season.
Rookie of the Year
This one is unanimous.
An undrafted free agent out of Ole Miss, Terence Davis took inspiration from Fred VanVleet and decided to bet on himself. Well, winner, winner, chicken dinner. As of now, Terence Davis remains the only Raptors player to feature in every NBA game so far this season.
That's because he's earned it. You could shoehorn another three or four rookies into the Raptors' rotation and Terence Davis would still likely be the most impressive of the group. His transition into a fully-fledged NBA player has been quick, painless, and so fun to watch.
Through 42 games, he's averaging 7.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game, shooting 46-percent from the field, 40-percent from three, and 93-percent from the free-throw line. For all you fans of TS%, Davis is shooting at a clip of 61-percent - sixth among all rookies who have played 25 games of more this season.
While his minutes have fluctuated at times, sometimes due to Nick Nurse looking for more playmaking, or sometimes even due to him playing bad, Davis has often looked far more composed than most rookies could ever dream of.
He looks like a veteran of eight years with some of his decision-making. That's rare. Some third or fourth-year players can't read the game the way he does.
Line them up and pick them, Davis is obviously the Toronto Raptors Rookie of the Year at the halfway point.
WINNER: TERENCE DAVIS
Most Improved Player
Sheesh, this is a tough one. Even as this is being tabled, I'm still unsure of who to pick for this award for a multitude of reasons. Here's why:
Okay, here's really why:
Last season - as good as the Toronto Raptors collectively were - they were able to lean on the play of the best basketball player on the planet. Leonard was a mythical God amongst mere mortals in most games --, especially in the playoffs. His averages of 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game only furthered the calls that this was one of the greatest playoff runs in NBA history.
When Leonard left the Raptors, they were short of one superstar. An irreplaceable presence on the court. A two-way monster that feared no one and created some of the greatest moments in NBA history.
If the Raptors were to compete this year, their talented squad would need to take the next step to improve. They weren't solely dependant on Leonard, but his play remains the primary reason the Raptors did what they did.
It's not just Leonard the Raptors were replacing. Danny Green, who was also an integral part of the championship-winning roster, departed for the Los Angeles Lakers. Two starting berths were up for grabs. Fred VanVleet took one, while OG Anunoby reprised his role as the teams starting small forward. Oh, and Pascal Siakam became the bonafide star the Raptors needed him to be.
Even Norman Powell has shown real signs of consistency and the Raptors remain among the elite of the NBA. Out of those four players, one of them has to win the Most Improved Player award.
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Rip the band-aid off. It's going to Fred VanVleet.
There's the obvious case for Pascal Siakam. His rise from role-player, to secondary scorer, now to superstar is infectious. It's unheard of, and quite frankly, it's one of the best stories to grace the NBA in, sorry for sounding bias, forever.
We're saving him for a different award and applying a caveat. No one player can win multiple awards. Sorry.
That means Fred VanVleet is still a deserving winner. He's fit seamlessly into the starting lineup alongside Kyle Lowry and has taken over and gone it alone when the Raptors have needed a surge of scoring. As the latter half of the playoffs proved, Fred VanVleet is clutch - and more than just a black swan.
In his first full season as a starter, VanVleet is averaging 18.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 6.7 assists per game, shooting 40-percent from the field and 39-percent from three. He's seen his volume and efficiency increase from deep, and become one of the league's premier marksmen in the NBA. In fact, he's one of only 14 players in the NBA shooting over 38-percent from three on more than 6.5 attempts per game.
And, as the secondary ball-handler on the team, Fred VanVleet's 6.7 assists per game rank 13th in the NBA. If that wasn't enough, he has some of the fastest hands in the league on defense and ranks third in the NBA for steals per game.
For those in the know, Fred VanVleet was already a solid role player coming into this season - now, he's leading one of the best teams in the NBA and is contending for his first-ever All-Star appearance.
WINNER: FRED VANVLEET
Defensive Player of the Year
Once again, we've got another pretty close scenario on our hands. That's what happens when you have a team of collectively good defenders on the team, and when you have the second-best defensive rating in the NBA.
Oh, the choices.
The whole starting five of the Toronto Raptors are solid defenders. Even despite their lack of size, Lowry and VanVleet are dogged defenders at the guard positions The wing defenders of Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby are also both superb inside and out, but the award goes to the lynchpin of the Toronto Raptors defense, Marc Gasol.
Gasol has always had a reputation as a staunch defender of the rim, despite never amassing more than 1.9 blocks per game during a single season. Still, he won the Defensive Player of the Year award in the 2012-13 NBA season for a reason.
This season, he's averaging 1.0 block and 0.9 steals per game as he's providing a strong interior presence for the Raptors. That much is evident on a nightly basis, as the Raptors are giving up only 42.7 points in the paint per game, second only to the Milwaukee Bucks -- the same team who have the best defensive rating in the league.
The Raptors force teams into bad shots, funneling them to the rim to face off with Gasol at the rim, or to pull-up from the midrange where he can contest with his length. His movement and communication - even in his age 34 season - are both next level.
Give him his dues, Gasol is still one of the best.
WINNER: MARC GASOL
Most Valuable Player
Like the Rookie of the Year award, this one is not as close as it could be. Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet have both ran Pascal Siakam close this season, but his outstanding play and growth as the face of the Toronto Raptors have ultimately led to this moment.
At the midway point of the season, Pascal Siakam is the MVP of the Toronto Raptors. Since returning from injury, he's still yet to hit the heights of his early-season form, but the signs of progress are there.
Averaging 23.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game shooting 46-percent from the field and 38-percent from three, Siakam has slotted seamlessly into the role of the Raptors primary option. Through 32 games, he's hit 30 points more than nine times and added a 44-point performance against the New Orleans Pelicans.
It's his three-point shooting that has really stood though. His evolution into a volume jump shooter has been nothing short of amazing. Just two seasons ago, Siakam was taking 1.6 three-pointers per game on a 22-percent clip. Now, he's taking 5.9 per game at a 38-percent clip. That's insane.
His defense has been just as solid too, averaging a steal and a block per game, protecting the rim and the perimeter. Siakam is the franchise player the Raptors needed when Kawhi Leonard departed.
WINNER: PASCAL SIAKAM
This year, we could well see Siakam at the All-Star Game too, maybe even as a starter. Either way, he's the MVP of the Toronto Raptors right now.