The Raptors continue to be the toast of the (non-Cavaliers) Eastern Conference, after submitting another 3-1 week, which included two blowouts in their favour and a mere four point loss to the Hawks. Sure the defense may be cause for concern (how you gonna let Philly put up 114 points?) but Toronto has secured the title of (second) best in the Conference. It’s something, guys.
The Power Rankings, as we’ve come to expect, have generally reflected this good fortune. Which is why we’ve all gotten a little complacent in our Raptors takes. A good team with no visible drama makes for a fairly boring subject. (The only two semi-controversial opinions I can really grapple with are: the Raptors should start Patrick Patterson, and please play Norman Powell more.) Maybe we should just relish this relative calmness and competitive success, yes?
Before we do that, let’s get to this week’s rankings — featuring a surprise at the end.
First up, Grand Moff Marc Stein of ESPN gets into it with his assessment of the Raptors fortunes:
5. Toronto Raptors
2016-17 record: 19-8
If November belonged to DeMar DeRozan, December has been Kyle Lowry's time. DeRozan's backcourt buddy is not just averaging 23.6 points per game this month -- he's shooting a crazy 55.8 percent from the field ... along with 58.7 percent from deep. The Raptors, meanwhile, find themselves at 0-6 against Cleveland, Golden State and (curiously) Sacramento, but a robust 19-2 against the rest of the league, despite Friday night's home loss to the Hawks. A big test is coming, though, with Toronto soon to begin a six-game road trip against Western Conference teams, starting with a rough opener at Utah. The Raptors are a very passable 11-9 on the road against the West since the start of the 2015-16 season to go with a 22-11 road mark against the East in that same span.
That near-60 percent shooting from deep is peak Kyle Lowry, his sudden rise in efficiency coming on strong and precisely when needed most. Stein is right to highlight the general effectiveness of the Raptors; there is no controversy here. Let’s move on.
We turn now to young Jeremy Woo of SI who states some numbers that are high:
3. Toronto Raptors (19–8)
Last Week: 3
Net Rating: +10.5
Toronto has put up triple-digit points in 14 straight games and leads the league in offensive rating (121.1) True Shooting Percentage (61.4%) and three-point percentage (45%) in that span.
The Raptors are mathematical darlings! You can’t argue with those numbers. Hoo boy.
Now to a man who never intellectually lets anyone off the hook, our man Dr. John Schuhmann of NBA.com with the deep cuts:
5. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 4)
Pace: 97.3 (23) OffRtg: 115.4 (1) DefRtg: 104.9 (18) NetRtg: +10.5 (2)
The Raptors jumped over the Warriors in offensive efficiency after Monday's win over Milwaukee, and apparently, that wasn't just a one-or-two-day, completely-unsustainable-with-their-low-assist-numbers-and-their-mid-range-shooting circumstance. They've scored better than 110 points per 100 possessions in 13 of their last 14 games, almost lapping the field in offensive efficiency over that stretch. It's surely driving Dwane Casey crazy that the defense hasn't been reliable (see Friday's loss to Atlanta), but they now have two lineups (Patrick Patterson with the starters and Kyle Lowry with the bench) that have been better than the Warriors' Death Lineup in at least 100 minutes.
It is legitimately wild to consider not one but two Raptors lineups to be among the most powerful in the league. We’ll just tiptoe away from the defensive concerns, which are a, uh, concern.
And finally, Matt Moore of CBS Sports. What’s even left to say?
5. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 5)
I'm going to let the loss to Atlanta slide because it was so out of character for the Raptors. Now they've got a four-game road trip with games against the Blazers, Jazz and Warriors, so it's time for a check-up on just how good this team is.
You know what guys, he’s not wrong. The Christmas west coast trip has long been a trying time for the Raptors. If they come out strong (let’s say 2-1), I think we’re really on to something.
Now we get to the—
Actually, no we don’t. Owing to the new backend system for SB Nation, polls are no longer a fact of life here (for now). I’m assured that one day they shall return. In the mean team, you’ll just have to imagine that I’ve posted another four options here with linguistically similar — yet discrete — choices.