Throughout the season, I'll be dropping by with these "Views From The 6" posts with random thoughts on the Raptors and other things, but mostly about this team. You can find the entire archive here (bookmark the link to catch up on future posts in this series!).
The Raptors are 4-1, but I'm not sure if they've played one completely great game yet. The optimist would say it's nice to have a winning record and see so much room for improvement. On the other hand, it's also very possible the bad habits developed early in the season will catch up to the team.
Things are different this year in Toronto, at least in terms of the expectations we've placed on this team. The second half of last season, when we were on a 50-plus win pace, was awesome. Sure, I think if we stopped to pick apart the team from game to game during that stretch, we would've found some concerns too. But when you're a team that comes out of nowhere and surprises, the wins and losses are kind of the most important thing.
Not anymore. This year's team isn't about wins and losses -- well, all teams are, but, okay, let me stop talking in a circle -- but about whether they're developing to join the conversation as a contender in the Eastern Conference. Whether that means competing for a spot in the second round, or more, or less, that's still up for debate. It's early, we're 4-1, but here's a look at some early season trends.
The good? How about this:
Kyle Lowry still has just 2 turnovers in 170 minutes this year, by the way.— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) November 6, 2014
The low turnover and high free throw rate have helped alleviate the concern for certain stretches on the offensive end where things have gone very cold, especially when Casey's gone with the all second unit squad. Sometimes Lowry will just be really, really good, like he was last night in Boston. When he's on, and DeRozan is getting to the free throw line and being efficient from the field (aka. making more ridiculously tough shots than missing them), the Raptors can compete with anybody.
Long term, are the low turnover rate and the free throws we're attempting per game sustainable? I'm skeptical.
With the caveat -- and it holds for almost everything in this piece -- that it's early, the Raptors are allowing 105.3 points per 100 possessions, which currently places them in the bottom third of the league. Early numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt, but just by the eye test, games like the first half about Oklahoma City and the entire game against Miami (save for a bit of the fourth) where guys were just getting to the basket at will is concerning.
The lack of effort thing is another eye test measurement, but in the last three games, the Raptors have trailed 31-26, 30-23 and 35-23. This team is talented enough to fight back from these deficits, but it's almost as if they know that, and succeeding from coming back to win (which they did against the Thunder, and last night against the Celtics) is a type of positive reinforcement for them. These poor starts will eventually catch up to them, and they're not going to get away with that against better teams.
It should be pointed out we've been working with a patchwork front court last few games, and the presence of Amir Johnson on both ends of the floor and how he solidifies the rotation has played a role in the inconsistent play. Casey should eventually figure out how to maximize his bench and the best five-man lineups to put out there in terms of mixing and matching all the pieces he has.
Listen, 4-1 is better than the alternative. But the Raptors need to get better soon. They can get away with a lot of these things in November, because the schedule is very much in their favor. But if they want to eally legitmize themselves in the East, they'll been to be more consistent with their effort. The upcoming game against the Wizards will be an interesting test, though I am of the believe this team might be one of those plays to the potential of their opponents teams, which means they're fine in big games, but not so unreliable everywhere else.
It's early, and I'm happy to be wrong.