Where do we begin this week in our reflection of the Raptors’ power status? Should we start on the absence of DeMar DeRozan or the lack of Patrick Patterson? Maybe we should touch on the slow deterioration of Cory Joseph’s mindstate? How about the overworking of Kyle Lowry? What about the fact that in the four games the Raps played this week they managed a scoring margin of -3?
Or we could just go blunt: the Raptors have slid into fourth place in the East. All of this continues to portend something.... uh, not great.
The Raptors aren’t entirely broken of course. They do still have DeRozan and Lowry on the roster, and the bevy of “shooters” on the squad can’t all conspire to miss a ton of shots forever, and players with injuries — even impossible to define mental implosions — usually (or can) get better, right?
There are a lot of questions in this column already. Maybe it’s time to go to some answers. Here is this week’s Power Rankings summary.
First up, we attempt to seek guidance from the one true oracle of the power rankings, Marc Stein of ESPN.
11. Toronto Raptors
2016-17 record: 31-21
Previous ranking: 10
So many colleagues were quick to chastise me for choosing DeMar DeRozan as an All-Star starter in the East ahead of backcourt mate Kyle Lowry. The following isn't meant to slight Lowry, who just posted his ninth career triple-double in Sunday's much-needed W in Brooklyn and whose contributions at both ends are obviously pivotal. But Toronto's recent 2-8 nosedive includes four losses in which DeRozan was forced to sit out due to an ankle injury. DeRozan, in other words, isn't the only member of this All-Star duo who benefits from his backcourt mate's presence. The bigger question mark, though, is figuring out what Toronto's recent struggles will do to its trade-deadline ambitions. If the Raps were reportedly hesitant to make an all-in attempt to try to pry Paul Millsap out of Atlanta back when Millsap was available and they were right on Cleveland's heels, what happens now that they're mired in a four-way jumble behind the Cavs with the Celtics, Wizards and Hawks?
As always, Stein cuts to the heart of the matter. The Raptors are a two-headed dragon, only able to soar when both of its lead brains are playing well. We know this. What we don’t know is how any trade scenario could, should, or would play out now. It remains a fantastical proposition.
But what of Jeremy Woo of the venerable publication Illustrated Sports?
12. Toronto Raptors (31–21)
Last Week: 9
Net Rating: +5.5
This bubble has burst, as the Raptors are 3-7 in their last 10 and looking like a team that desperately needs the All-Star break to regroup. After hanging around atop the conference, Toronto’s now staring down the possibility of losing homecourt advantage entirely.
Don’t mince words here Jeremy, tell us what you really think.
The Doctor, also known as John Schuhmann of NBA.com, keeps it real, which should increase the cause for concern.
12. Toronto Raptors
Pace: 97.9 (21) OffRtg: 111.2 (2) DefRtg: 105.7 (17) NetRtg: +5.5 (3)
The Raptors' slide (they're 3-8 over the last 2 1/2 weeks) has taken them from second to fourth in the Eastern Conference and has put them in danger of sliding all the way to sixth. In fact, that's where they'd be if Kyle Lowry didn't hit a ridiculously tough game-winner against New Orleans on Tuesday and fool a ref into giving Brook Lopez his third foul (which was followed by a 17-5 Toronto run) in the second quarter on Sunday. Maybe the most surprising thing that has happened is super-sub Cory Joseph (26 percent shooting, minus-51 in his last four games) losing his spot in the rotation (to rookie Fred VanVleet) at a time when the Raptors are missing DeMar DeRozan.
Schuhmann does it all here — watch how he notes the struggles of the past two plus weeks, Lowry’s huge game winner (over a bad team!), and the quiet demolition of whatever is left of Joseph. It’s a masterful paragraph, one that should perhaps leave you in tears.
And finally, Matt Moore of CBS Sports is here with some salt for any and all wounds:
15. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 10)
The city of Toronto should be trying to drop subliminal messages of "Go get a power forward" all over the city in Masai Ujiri's path. It should be on his dry cleaning tag, on billboards, skywriting, everywhere. The Raptors need an upgrade or they are going home early in May.
Look, I’ve done my part (assuming Ujiri reads my Twitter feed, which, I mean, why would he not?). I’ve been trying to get the word out there that a Raps upgrade feels necessary, if not inevitable.
It was one thing two years ago to let the team implode, clear some of the dead weight, and then reload. The Raptors learned some valuable lessons then. But it is entirely another, as Lowry inches closer and closer to decline, to stand pat again. The Raptors can only collect draft picks and search for meaning in the shadow of LeBron for so long. And while I suppose we could say this any time (and all the time), it means a lot to say it now: the next six months could shape the next few years for Toronto.