Credit due to illustrious tweeter Gourmet Spud for making the point this way first, it's clear the Raptors have something special in Norman Powell. In case you hadn't noticed, we've been going rather wild about him as of late -- ever since Powell put up a stretch of six games (and counting) in which he scored in double digits and almost never looked like he didn't belong. For a franchise that routinely misses out on second round picks (quick, name one that worked out) and has a history of borking first round picks one way or the other, the rise of Powell feels of a piece for Toronto's rise this season.
Obviously, talent is king in the NBA. Hit on a couple of star players -- via the draft, trade or free agency -- and you can build yourself a quality team. This goes without saying (though yes, I just said it). But, if you find yourself short a Steph Curry or LeBron James as most teams do, grabbing players like Powell (or, as is becoming apparent in fits and starts, Delon Wright) makes a difference. Whatever happens in the playoffs, the Raptors have to look out on their roster, and the intriguing pieces and talent they have, and feel pretty good. (Not good enough to accept a first round defeat, but let's set that particular fear aside.)
Such optimism! Let's now get to the rankings and see where the Raptors stand with a mere six games left.
Up first, you know him and love him, it's Marc Stein of ESPN. What's he got?
Last Week: 5
|The Raps needed 21 seasons to finally post a 50-win campaign; only five of the other 29 teams out there took longer. The Clippers needed 43 seasons, three teams (Warriors, Pistons and Nets) needed 26 and the Knicks needed 23. Now for a compliment: Toronto has posted a winning record on the road for three successive seasons ... after accomplishing that feat zero times in the club's first 19 seasons of existence.|
Well, it's nice to know there are teams out there that took the long way around to a 50-win season. The Raptors can indeed cross that off the ol'bucket list. And kudos to Stein to mentioning Toronto's road warrior status. Good teams win on the road, so that feels like a positive. I'm in a good enough mood I won't even question the six spot ranking here.
Our pal over at Sports Illustrated, Jeremy Woo, also shares his power ranking thoughts:
5) TORONTO RAPTORS
LAST WEEK: 5
RECORD: 51-25 (2-2)
Second-round rookie Norman Powell has been a revelation since joining the starting lineup March 15, averaging 11.4 points and shooting 45% from three while bridging the gap to DeMarre Carroll's still-pending return. For now, Toronto's privileged enough to keep waiting.
Hey, another Powell shout out! Looks like he made it.
What do they have for us over at NBA.com? John Schuhmann does not mince words:
5) Toronto Raptors (51-25)
Last week: 5
Pace: 95.4 (29) OffRtg: 107.0 (5) DefRtg: 102.9 (11) NetRtg: +4.1 (7)
Is it time for Raptors fans to start worrying? Kyle Lowry, who was banged up last Spring and struggled in the playoffs, had his elbow drained after Monday's loss to the Thunder and has shot 27 percent over his last five games. Back-up Cory Joseph, meanwhile, has been one of the league's worst shooters since March 1. Dwane Casey pulled a Popovich against the Spurs, resting both Lowry and DeMar DeRozan on Saturday.
Gotdamn, we almost made it through without a depressing dose of reality. Schuhmann, I know you gotta keep it real, but can't you just give Toronto a break one time?
Moving on, here is Matt Moore, Toronto's favourite, with his thoughts on the Raptors:
6) Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 4)
Fifty wins for the first time in franchise history is a mark worth celebrating. If they don't manage to escape the first round, however, it's going to be a bigger disaster than, you know, the last two times that happened.
50 wins. The spectre of playoff defeat. It's all there. I wonder how Norman Powell feels about all of this. He seems pretty cool.
Let's go to the poll.