This is a very funny column from Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail. Go ahead, take a gander. I'm actually surprised it didn't start some sort of riot -- of violence or laughs -- down at the ACC, or, more broadly, in the streets of Toronto. Did you know the Raptors are allowing teams to shoot in and around (and sometimes even, gasp, above) 45 percent in a handful of recent games? Quelle horreur! I wonder if Kelly realizes every team in the league allows opponents to shoot somewhere in the range of 42.5 to 47.4 percent. That's it, that's the entire range. And the Raptors are currently sixth best at 43.8 percent after 44 games.
Of course what Kelly totally sidesteps here are a lot of other metrics that suggest Toronto is, at minimum, a solid defensive team. Not the best, surely, but not a team made up of turnstyles and jelly doughnuts. The strongest indicator of this, stats-wise, is the Raptors' ranking of tenth in Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions). The team was ranked 23rd last year. Is this an accident? A stroke of luck? Or could it be that introducing a handful of smart defensive players, adjusting your system to better fit your personnel, and just general all-around improvement (particularly from your two stars), can actually make you a better team overall? Is that possible?
According to Kelly, the Raptors "are winning, but they aren't winning well." Good luck unpacking that one. He compares them to the run-and-gun Suns, you know, that lovely team of players who really enjoyed each other's company. He's right when he says this is Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan's team, but he's forgetting something very crucial here in his assessment: Have you seen these guys play lately?
We're going to fly over the word count here so let's just get to the rankings before I start to rant.
First up, Marc Stein of ESPN, who's got nothing but love for Toronto, is up:
Last Week: 5
|The latest statistical case to support the notion that Toronto is the biggest threat in the East to LeBron's Cavs comes via Twitter from enterprising rankings fan @lgDoucet, who notes that the Raptors' average point margin from their season series with Golden State is a mere minus-4.0 ... compared to Cleveland's dreadful minus-20.0 and Chicago's minus-21.5. Who's buyin' that rationale?|
This is kind of an incoherent point, but an exciting one nonetheless. Yes, the Raptors lost to the Warriors better than most teams (save for the ones that have beaten them). Let's hold our applause.
Our man Jeremy Woo from SI.com weighs in (with the right set of rankings from the jump this time):
4) TORONTO RAPTORS
LAST WEEK: 6
RECORD: 29-15 (4-0)
No, they haven't even made it out of the first round since 2001, but after eight wins in a row and with the rest of the conference sorting itself out, the Raptors' time might be now. The Raptors could be a team to watch as trade season nears and they make their best possible case for DeMar DeRozan to stick around.
Look at Woo bringing up all this historical context. Yes, we know the Raptors haven't made noise in the playoffs in some time. Can we just enjoy the eight game win streak please?
Moving on. It wouldn't be a ranking summary without John Schuhmann of NBA.com and his wise words:
4) Toronto (29-15)
Last week: 6
Pace: 95.6 (26) OffRtg: 105.2 (6) DefRtg: 100.9 (10) NetRtg: +4.3 (6)
If DeMar DeRozan is going to shoot and make threes (he was 6-for-7 against the Heat and Clippers over the weekend), the Raptors are definitely the second best team in the East. Having won eight straight games, they're making an argument that they're right there with the Cavs, who they won't play again until after the All-Star break. Their lineup of Kyle Lowry and four reserves is a plus-37 in 69 minutes during the streak.
Honestly, I can't get enough of those offensive and defensive ratings. I appreciate it every time Schuhmann brings it up. And his pro-bench accounting there is also a nice thing to mention. Plus, eight games! Eight games! Eight games!
And finally, blast off with Matt Moore of CBS Sports. He is on it:
5) Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 5)
Man, I almost put Toronto over Cleveland. I was very close to it. I'm not ready to say they'll actually threaten the Cavs, but I will say they are the most consistent Eastern Conference team by far; they don't play up or down to the competition. They bring it every night, and they're rolling.
Look, Moore is right to keep Cleveland ahead of the Raptors, even with all the David Blatt drama. The Cavaliers are still the better team because they have LeBron James, simple as that. Even good ol'Cathal Kelly is right about that one: Beyond all the numbers, the Raptors still have to prove it.
Let's go to the poll.