Is it too early to sweat the coming Raptors season? I submit: no, it is not. And according to ESPN and their resident math mad scientist Kevin Pelton, we have plenty to worry about already.
Early this morning (apologies for not catching it then, but this thing was originally posted at 7am and I was asleep and missed it), Pelton dropped a round of RPM-based win projections for the entire NBA. As per usual, there are ineffable caveats to consider in these sorts of things — how can one man predict the future, after all — but it still paints a picture, albeit for Toronto a despairing one.
Here’s Pelton on the Raptors’ fortunes for 2017-18:
6. Toronto Raptors
Projected wins: 43.4
Perhaps the most surprising projection in the league, the Raptors suffer because of the loss of Patterson. RPM rates him as a more valuable contributor while on the court than starting power forward Serge Ibaka. RPM projects Toronto to drop to 12th in both offense and defense after ranking in the top 10 in both categories last season.
Most surprising indeed.
Now, it’s not unfair to suggest the Raptors will be worse next season. Their three best players are a bit older, and maybe a step slower; they look to be relying on some largely unproven young talent in key roles; and they lost a cadre of veterans who could presumably help them maintain their 50-win status in the league. Roster turnover suggests some form of instability will rear its ugly head, which could indicate fewer wins. We know this, and are prepared to sweat a little about it.
But setting aside the absence of DeMarre Carroll and P.J. Tucker, is it fair to put a potential tumble down the standings entirely on the missing shoulders of Patrick Patterson? Is that where we are right now?
There’s no doubt that Patterson had a hand in holding various Raptors lineups together. He could guard different types of players, he could shoot the 3, and his basketball intelligence was never in question — even as his confidence constantly was. But as (the great) Will Lou derisively pointed out on Twitter earlier today, this is still a dude who was averaging a mere eight points and five rebounds; this is production that can be replaced, even if Patterson’s glue guy plus/minus status continues to be elite. (And the Raptors have, in a sense, already replaced it with C.J. Miles.) Patterson’s value was always hard to define exactly, but it seems like a bit of a stretch to assign eight wins — the drop from last season’s 51 — to it.
As always when trying to predict the future, there’s a lot of uncertainty to consider here. We don’t exactly know how the Raptors’ rotation will work next year; we don’t know if Norman Powell and Delon Wright will improve based on what they showed last season; we don’t know what the team has yet with lone power forward Pascal Siakam (or, to a certain extent, Jakob Poeltl, though he feels like a slightly more finished product). And this is to say nothing of what OG Anunoby could be once he returns from his injury.
My point here is, I’m not ready to look at the Raptors a team sliding back towards the .500 barrier. At least not yet. This core has proven it can compete at a fairly high level — not the highest perhaps, but still, pretty high. And while there has been a level of consistency across the roster over the years, inevitable changes to the team have been integrated well. (Surviving last season’s lab experiment frontcourt is testament to that.) Losing Patterson stings (more or less than the amount of shots he missed in the playoffs, who can say?), but it shouldn’t suggest a complete collapse in Toronto.
So while we can sweat it out and worry about the Raptors, as always, we can also take a modest bit of heart — especially if we consider Hackett’s projections here too. The talent is still there to suggest some positive outcomes. Now, let’s wait and see.