It’s Halloween today and the Raptors are doing some scary things. Sure, it’s rare a basketball team will shock you in the "boo!" sense, but there’s been some slight examples of horror so far in TO. Kyle Lowry? Not quite in All-Star form just yet — scary! Jared Sullinger? Out for months after foot surgery — terrifying! And DeMar DeRozan? Well, he’s been enjoying a week of trick-or-treating in his throwback basketball player costume. Boo! Did that scare you?
For a guy who doesn’t take a lot of threes and opts instead to work in the midrange, the post, and the driving lanes, DeRozan has been dominant through two games. Others have contributed for the Raptors of course — namely Jonas Valanciunas, who’s been something of a monster — but it’s been DeRozan’s relentless effort that blew the Pistons away, and kept the team in the game with the Cavaliers (for the most part).
Much like a store-bought Halloween costume, DeRozan’s game may not always be pretty, it may not win any special awards or prizes, but it will get the job done often enough.
In any case, I’ve waited months to finally say these words and now here we are. Deep breath and...
First, we go to our chief ranking specialist, the man who makes it all happen, Marc Stein, forever of ESPN in our hearts:
5. Toronto Raptors
2016-17 record: 1-1
Previous ranking: 6
There were 67 40-point performances last season. Only three -- by Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins and Blake Griffin -- did not include a 3-pointer, but DeMar DeRozan and Anthony Davis have both hit that level already without the benefit of a single trey. A home loss to Cleveland so early is a bit of a downer, especially after Toronto won two of the three regular-season meetings in 2015-16, but the sharpness DeRozan brought back from the Rio Olympics is a handy consolation.
These first two DeRozan games really do dominate the narrative for the Raptors this week. And of course, it continues to be remarkable for DeRozan to do what he’s doing on a daily basis. Odds are he’ll slow down, and then we’ll see what the narrative looks like.
Next up, perennially in second, but deep down tied for first, it’s our guy
Jeremy Woo at Sports Illustrated Kurt Helin at NBC Sports with the rankings scoop:
9. Raptors (1-1, LW 6).
DeMar DeRozan is attacking the rim again with abandon and has 72 points through two games (and he hasn't made a three). We may have penalized the Raptors too much, dropping them this far after a hard-fought loss to Cleveland. If Toronto is who we think it is — and they look it, a good team just like last season — they have four winnable games on the schedule this week that could help them climb the ladder.
Jeremy Woo has disappeared for the afternoon so Helin gets the spot. His ranking of the Raptors is... low. It's early going in the season for all of us.
Not to be outdone — but on-hand to remind you to be cool — our resident purveyor of fine dad jeans, Dr. John Schuhmann of NBA.com, has the right stuff:
5. Toronto Raptors
Last week: 5
Pace: 98.0 (22) OffRtg: 102.7 (15) DefRtg: 93.7 (5) NetRtg: +9.0 (6)
If all the changes that other teams have made has got you out of sorts, just watch the Raptors and turn back the clock to 2015. They can beat up other teams in the East, but can't beat the Cavs. They have a painfully low assist percentage, they've been at their best with Cory Joseph on the floor, and DeMar DeRozan has 72 points (and another early-season Dunk of the Year submission) in two games without a 3-pointer. Jonas Valanciunas' increased usage rate is a little something new. After getting 15 or more shots in just three of his 60 games last season, he got 15 in both games last week.
To which all I can add, again:
And if you felt that sudden blast of heat, you know it’s because we always like to close this thing with the one, the only, Matt Moore of CBS Sports. Hoo boy:
5. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors are just solid everywhere. Even in the loss to the Cavaliers, they hung until the very end and were always within striking distance. That's a very strong sign. DeMar DeRozan has to play at such a high level to counter his game style's inherent inefficiency, though.
That last line is effective as a summary of DeRozan, and the Raptors as a whole. They have to work — and work hard — to get buckets. When it comes together, the team can look quite fearsome. But when it doesn’t, when the jumpers are clanging and the bounces aren’t going their way, the Raptors can struggle. This team can and will win ugly, but gotdamn, it is hard on the heart sometimes.
So enjoy yourselves this Halloween, folks. And remember not to eat too much candy. Now, let’s go to the poll.