With the NBA season kicking off tomorrow, and the Raptors' first game being in just two short days, I felt it only appropriate to pick some players for awards usually given out at the end of the season to players throughout the league; for the purposes of this piece, these awards will be given solely to Toronto Raptors' players. No coach or executive awards will be awarded.
Most Valuable Player, Most Improved Player, 6th Man of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and Rookie of the Year will all be awarded to one Raptors player, with honourable mentions covering players who almost, but didn't quite, get chosen as the award winner. Additionally, no player will be selected for more than one category.
Raptors' Rookie of the Year
Greg Monroe with the Pistons (h/t Basketball Buzz)
Seeing as the Raptors don't actually have any rookies on their team, the Raptors' ROY award goes to the best newcomer on the team.
This award could go to any number of the Raptors' new additions, but I think Greg Monroe is the way to go.
Monroe, while likely playing rather limited minutes this season, being behind Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka on the depth chart, is not expected by many to be anything more than a relief-provider for the two guys in front of him.
I, however, see him as a key contributor coming off the bench, averaging around 15 minutes a night, and being a constant double-double threat in that restricted time period.
Danny Green will also compete for this award with his deadly three-point stroke, but the Raptors have another guy who can catch-and-shoot like that in CJ Miles. Monroe provides a toughness around the rim that the Raptors had been lacking in previous years.
Honourable Mentions: Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard.
Raptors' Defensive Player of the Year
OG Anunoby in his rookie season. (h/t Raptors HQ)
Seeing as the Raptors have one of, if not the, best defensive team in the league, the DPOY award could go to pretty much anyone.
Having had to choose just one player for the award, I went with OG Anunoby. OG drew the toughest assignment pretty much every game, the top opposing scorer, and, more often than not, limited them to below their season averages. Most notably, in November 2017, he locked up the Rockets' James Harden (2017-'18 NBA MVP) and Eric Gordon (2016-'17 Sixth Man of the Year) to the tune of a combined 12 turnovers.
Anunoby even had the distinct displeasure of guarding LeBron James in a playoff series. He did about as well as anyone could have.
Expect OG to have another impressive season, particularly on the defensive end, where he can utilize his 6'8", 230lb frame, to the fullest extent.
Honourable Mentions: Delon Wright, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam.
Raptors' Sixth Man of the Year
Pascal Siakam throwing it down. (h/t Raptors HQ)
We already know that Nick Nurse is going to be making very fluid starting lineups, meaning the starting unit could be completely different game-to-game, based on match-ups and who's got the hot hand.
Because of this, we don't really know who will be regularly starting and who won't be. This naturally excludes expected-regular starters like OG Anunoby, Danny Green, Jonas Valanciunas, Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard, and Serge Ibaka from consideration.
Pascal Siakam may draw a start or two, whether due to injury or matchup-based reasons, but likely won't start any more than 15 games or so, making him eligible for the award.
At the power forward position, Siakam dominated over other benches' post guys in the 2017-'18 season, and will likely do so again, using his god-given length and athleticism to give Nick Nurse a spark off the bench.
Fred VanVleet was also in consideration for this award, (he was even considered for NBA Sixth Man of the Year last season) but due to Siakam's greater natural ability and defensive ability, he was the eventual choice.
Honourable Mentions: Fred VanVleet, CJ Miles.
Raptors' Most Improved Player
Norman Powell, 2015 second-round pick (h/t BasketSession.com)
It's no secret that Norman Powell had a tough 2017-'18 campaign. His production dropped, and his minutes followed. After averaging 18.0 minutes per game in 2016-'17, he averaged just 15.2 last season. Worse still, he averaged 25.2 minutes per game in the 2017 playoffs, a number which dropped to 6.7 in 2018.
His three-point percentage dropped from 40.4% in 2015-'16 to 28.5% in 2017-'18, and he averaged more fouls (1.6) than he did assists (1.3).
Honestly, it felt like Powell could be seen more in the GoDaddy.com website builder commercials than actually on the court.
He fell all the way out of former head coach, Dwane Casey's, rotation, and now, with coach Nurse at the helm, has the chance to work his way back in.
After seeing Powell shine in both pre-season action and, more importantly in pickup runs at UCLA, playing with and against MVP-level players, (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden) Raptors fans have been instilled with a regained confidence in Powell.
There's a large belief that maybe he can go back to being the guy who put the exclamation mark on the 17-point 2015 playoff comeback against the Indiana Pacers.
Honourable Mentions: Serge Ibaka, CJ Miles.
Raptors' Most Valuable Player
Kawhi Leonard during the pre-season. (h/t Daily Express)
This was a no-brainer. Kawhi Leonard was an actual candidate for the MVP of the National Basketball Association. He is heads-and-shoulders above any other player on this team.
Now, I understand that some people have concerns about Kawhi's ability to rebound from the knee injury that prevented him playing all but nine games last season.
I also understand that some people have concerns about his desire to play in Toronto; will he be able to put out a full effort for a team he doesn't want to be with?
While those concerns are noted, they are not concerns that I share.
Kawhi was incredibly efficient in short minutes during the course of the preseason. He looked excellent, not at all favouring his knee.
Whether he wants to be here or not, (I'm honestly not sure which it is, despite his attempts to quell our worries on Media Day) the bottom-line is that Kawhi Leonard is here. He can't do a thing about that one simple fact, unless he wants to lose a great deal of money and respect. I believe Kawhi is the kind of man who competes for the team whose jersey he's wearing.
If he can return to the player he was in his last full season, 2016-'17, (25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.8 steals per game) he could be the MVP of the league. This was an easy choice.
Honourable Mentions: Kyle Lowry.
*all stats courtesy of espn.com