The Raptors of the 2017-18 season are different, but also very much the same. It’s what drives some people crazy when they think about the team. How can those nutty Raptors fans give a shit about another year of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas? (With Serge Ibaka and C.J. Miles, true, but still.) Alternatively, how can those same Raptors fans get so invested in Norman Powell, Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl, and OG Anunoby? None appear to be All-Star bound any time soon. What gives?
So far Toronto is 2-0 in this young season after demolishing the hapless Bulls and ineffectual Sixers. Contributions have come from everywhere — DeRozan had 30 points against the 76ers, Powell looked like a world beater against the Bulls, OG may be a 30-year-old in a 20-year-old’s body; you get my point. It’s made for a fascinating team to watch, one that’s taken a few years to arrive at this point. Lowry and DeRozan, for example, continue to refine their best selves, while the new class finally get a chance to explode onto the scene. It makes for thrilling new basketball — even if parts of it are familiar, or at times uneven. I’m fired up.
The Power Ranking Poll returns then to summarize and figure out how the NBA intelligentsia are analyzing the Raptors (while sometimes — most times — poking fun at their assessments). We’ve done it the past few years, and now we’re back again. On to Week 1!
First up, we welcome ESPN, who has opted for a rankings-by-committee approach in the wake of Chief Marc Stein’s ouster. Somewhere Woj is grinning, but we’re left bereft.
2017-18 record: 2-0
Previous ranking: 10
The Raptors won't play another home game until Nov. 5, against the Wizards, as they're about to embark on a six-game road trip against Western Conference opponents. Only two other teams have road trips that long against one conference. The Knicks play six straight games against the West in January, and the Pistons have a stretch of six consecutive games against the West in March.
This paragraph was written by someone named Jose De Leon, and while it is extremely factually correct, it just doesn’t have that same Steiny-Mo joie de vivre. Hopefully we get there eventually on the world wide leader’s site.
But there is more change at hand. The crew over at Sports Illustrated have handed the illustrious Power Rankings reins over to Kenny Ducey to handle this week (or forever?). What’s his take on the Raptors in the season’s opening week?
7. Toronto Raptors (2–0) | Last Week: 7
“We’re going to the Eastern Conference Finals, boys; that’s all I have to say.” — Aubrey Drake Graham, October 21, 2017. Book those hotel rooms in Cleveland.
So there you have it: I did indeed lose my bet with SB Nation’s Mike Prada. I figured we wouldn’t see Drake at all this regular season, and yet there he was on Saturday night to see the Embiid-less Sixers. I have been proven emphatically wrong. (How’s that for a change?) Now, to Drake’s point, is this team going to the Eastern Conference Finals?
Eh, why not???
8. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 8)
Pace: 106.5 (7) OffRtg: 116.9 (1) DefRtg: 89.7 (2) NetRtg:+27.2 (1)
It's nothing new that the Raptors have great bench numbers (they lead the league in aggregate bench NetRtg after Week 1). What is new is that their go-to bench unit doesn't include Cory Joseph (now in Indiana), Patrick Patterson (now in Oklahoma City) or Kyle Lowry. Another big change in Toronto (in addition to more 3-point attempts and better passing) is that coach Dwane Casey isn't staggering the minutes of Lowry and DeMar DeRozan much, instead using a five-man bench unit — C.J. Miles and four guys who had played in no more than 54 games prior to this season -- that is a plus-16 in its first 21 minutes together. After games against the Bulls and Embiid-less Sixers, the schedule gets a little tougher this week.
I’ll tell you what, you won’t find a more succinct summary of the old/new-look Raptors anywhere else. The bench unit has changed, the rotation has changed, but the results continue to be the same. Party on.
And finally, once again we turn to our resident bad boy, Matt Moore of CBS Sports for the week’s final blast. Have at it!
6. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 7)
Here's the reason for hope with the Raptors: They have more continuity than any other team in the East with their key players, a system that's proven to win regular-season games and their young talent has the potential to make leaps and reinvent the team. Toronto is preaching that it's committed to changing the way it plays. If that's the case, people are going to be surprised when the Raptors show up at the top of the standings, again, when they've been pretty easy to spot coming down the street. Turns out dinosaurs are hard to miss.
Say it with me now: dinosaurs for life.
On to the poll!
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in the Week 2 Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, it’s unfair to ding them so much for close losses against great teams
Yes, gotta close games out when you’ve got the chance
No, I’m ready to drive straight into the Pacific Ocean
Yes, because, as always, who the hell knows anything?