Four and 19.
No matter how you look at, the Raptors disappointing 34-48 season turned on the club’s first 23 games and their inability to win more than four of them.
But there are other numbers as well.
Start with 18-17. That’s the club’s record since they acquired Rudy Gay on January 30.
How about 19.5 points and 6.4 rebounds a game. Those are Gay’s numbers as a Raptor.
There are more. Amir Johnson’s career best 10 points and 7.5 rebounds a game.
Career highs for 23-year-old DeMar DeRozan of 18.1 points and 3.9 rebounds a game.
Jonas Valanciunas’ rookie season totals of 8.9 points and six rebounds per contest.
Don’t forget five straight wins to end the season.
Sift through the disappointing results of a losing season and you will find reasons for hope.
With the tandem of DeRozan and Gay, the Raptors should pack enough offence.
“DeMar now has the luxury of not having to always face a team’s primary defender,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. “If teams switch off and put their top defender on DeMar, then Rudy has more options.”
The rapid development of Valanciunas means the club can go inside and then out as the six-foot-11 Lithuanian continues to add polish to his game.
The Raptors struggled defensively and finished 17th overall in points allowed. A lack of cohesion often undermined the club’s defensive game.
“Nothing good happens unless you’ve been through something and we’ve been through something,” said Casey. “It’s been an evolution, a growth process. I’ve learned lot and I think the team has learned a lot. Good things are ahead for this group.”
“We never gave up,” Gay said. “That’s one thing I learned about this group through all the adversity and all that’s been going on this season, no one threw in the towel.”
Like every team, the Raptors battled injuries. Andrea Bargnani, a career 15.2 point per game producer, played only 35 games and turned in only 12.7 points per contest. Kyle Lowry missed 14 games with injuries and a succession of physical problems kept Landry Fields out of 31 games.
“There are excuses but you don’t want to bring them up,” said Johnson, who should garner plenty of consideration for the league’s Most Improved Player award. “You just have to take it as a development season and get ready for next year.”
“That we started out 4-19 and yet in the middle of the season we had a shot of making the eighth spot shows a lot.” DeRozan said. “We still stuck with it and that shows a lot.”
In his fourth season, DeRozan steadily improved and has developed both an NBA body and an NBA body of work.
DeRozan said he will spend his off-season working on hitting from distance.
“Another thing I want to get down and really be obsessed with is working on screening. Pick and roll. Creating off the screen,” he said.
DeRozan said he is settling into more of a leadership role.
“The older guys helped me understand that a voice in the dressing room is as important as a voice on the court.”
Questions abound going into next season. Can the Raptors return the defensive tenacity that distinguished Caseys’ first year with the club? After a good finish and more responsibility in play-calling, has Lowry hit his stride? The veteran guard, for one, sees plenty of room for improvement.
“Too many ups and downs for me,” he said. “Injuries set me back a lot, being injured in training camp set me back. I’m very disappointed for myself because I know I’m a much better player than what I’ve shown this year.”
Can Johnson continue to establish himself as a front-line NBA defender and contributor?
“His scoring has been something that was never expected,” said Casey. “That three-point shot is new but his hustle, his heart, he is the spirit of our team.”
The most pleasant conjecture, of course, centres on Valanciunas. A 20-year-old rookie, Valanciunas has shrugged off hand and neck injuries to post a compelling season and Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honours in March.
“This year I got a lot of experience, I learned a lot of new things,” said Valanciunas. “It was tough actually but it was a great year for me.”