Which Atlantic Division team is best suited to be the Toronto Raptors' rival next season?
I posed this question to our SB Nation Atlantic Division bloggers and received answers like these:
From Celticsblog: "Wait, you are in our division? Sorry, didn't notice."
From Liberty Ballers: "We are better at being bad then you. Does that make us rivals?"
The point being, it's indeed hard to say that the Toronto Raptors have much going for them in terms of establishing a real NBA rival. Try as our man Zach Salzmann did, we all know that as of now, the Dinos are rival-less, especially within their own division.
But that doesn't mean we should ignore ye old Atlantic.
As I was reading Zach's article, it occurred to me that Toronto's performance against their divisional foes was of utmost importance in terms of deciding the Raps' fate next year. After all, the Raptors have 16 games scheduled against Atlantic Division foes, meaning nearly 20 per cent of their final record will be decided by these matches.
And considering the Raptors are either a step away from the playoffs, or a step away from the NBA's draft lottery depending on who you talk to, the outcome of those Atlantic matches will likely decide Toronto's final spot in the standings.
Take the lottery for instance. If Masai Ujiri decides to send his team down to the depths of Andrew Wiggins lotterydom, then Toronto will need to lose the bulk of these 16 games, especially those against the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, two clubs who as of now also looked primed for Mr. Wiggins. Even an extra win here or there could result in missing out on one of the 2014 draft's bigger fish, something we've seen occur with this club in the past few years. (Terrence Ross vs Harrison Barnes, DeMar DeRozan vs Steph Curry etc.)
Now obviously an extra win here or there against any team, be it within the Atlantic or outside, could mean a lot in terms of the lottery. But considering that two of the teams most experts are picking to dwell in the NBA's cellar reside in this division, and the Raptors play them eight times, that's a good start if you're hoping to "tank."
And the opposite is true as well.
If the Masai Ujiri and the Raptors' braintrust decide that it's playoffs or bust, not only will the Dinos have to sweep matches against the Sixers and Celtics, but they'll need to put up a good fight against the Knicks and Nets, two clubs that many are projecting to be amongst the East's elite. (Although I'm personally not sold on the Knicks.)
Either way, that 16 game slate of matches against Atlantic Division foes could in fact represent a microcosm of the Raptors' season.
Last year the Raps went 6 and 12 by my count against the ATL DIV, good for a .38 win percentage. Overall, Toronto had a slightly better winning percentage on the season (.415), but it's in the ballpark for sure.
And during the 2010-11 NBA season, the Dinos went 5 and 11 against the ATL DIV, good for a .31 win percentage, nearly matching Toronto's .268 mark on the season.
Again, it's not perfect, but it's pretty close.
The one outlier in the past three years is the lockout season of 2011-12. Toronto's mark that year against the Atlantic Division was nearly .500, and obviously the club, even in the shortened season, didn't come close to hitting that score overall.
But I think you get the point here.
Toronto may not have a marquee opponent to lock horns with in its own division, but the team's results against the entire Atlantic Division likely determine if the club makes its first playoff appearance in six seasons, or ends up driving a tank in hot pursuit of the ballyhooed 2014 draft class.