Oh no! The Raptors lost three games in a row last week. How will the team recover after dropping all the way to... [checks standings] first overall in the NBA!?
Before sounding the alarm, let’s remember a few things about this team. Toronto is one of only four teams (along with Milwaukee, Portland, and Denver) that rank in the top 10 in both Offensive Rating (3rd) and Defensive Rating (9th). Long gone are the days of stagnant, half-court offense, as the Raptors rank fifth in points in the paint and third in fastbreak points.
It literally took the Raptors being short 5 players and a perfect, career game from Kyrie for Boston to win at home in OT. I'm not exactly floored by this loss.— Mike Dickson (@Dicksani) November 17, 2018
In terms of individual play, Toronto still has two of the most efficient scorers in the league — Pascal Siakam and Kawhi Leonard — in terms of points per possession. Kyle Lowry continues to lead the league in assists (10.5) by a comfortable margin (Jrue Holiday has 9.3; John Wall has 8.2). Jonas Valanciunas continues his pursuit of the record books; he currently averages 12.9 points and 7.9 rebounds in only 19.4 minutes per game. When playing 20 minutes or less per game, the highest average in NBA history for scoring is 13.4 (Quintin Dailey in ‘87-’88; no, I don’t know who that is either) and for rebounding is 8.3 (Gene Conley in ‘59-’60; shrug emoji). Danny Green, the same player who was added into the Kawhi-DeMar trade to make the salaries work, is leading the entire NBA in Offensive Rating.
When looking at True Shooting Percentage, 60% is considered the benchmark as very solid. For perspective, only 13 players in NBA history have a career TS% over 60% while averaging 30 minutes per game. The Raptors currently have six (!) players averaging at least 60% TS%: Siakam, Serge Ibaka, JV, Green, Norman Powell, and Lowry. Notice how that doesn’t include Leonard, whose career .597% ranks 15th all-time!
Here's an updated look at the most efficient offensive players in the #NBA so far this season. pic.twitter.com/DdZS5uxwtl— Synergy Basketball (@SynergySST) November 13, 2018
Are we cool now? Can we stop worrying and enjoy the remaining 80% of regular season games? There’s a very manageable schedule on the docket and the Raptors are capable of winning each of them.
November 20 @ Orlando Magic
Orlando appears to be over-achieving and proving that some of the pre-season sleeper hype was warranted. The Magic are within arm’s reach for the division lead and rank eighth in opponent points per game. The starting frontcourt is healthy (knock on wood) and putting up solid numbers. Nikola Vucevic is putting up All-Star calibre numbers, 18.8 points and 10.8 rebounds, while Aaron Gordon is stat-stuffing with 16.5 points and 8.1 rebounds — both are also averaging one steal, one block, and one three. Raptor alum, Terrence Ross, chipping in with 13.9 points off the bench, closing out games, and even hitting the occasional game-winner.
However, Toronto has won the last four meetings and are primed to finish up this road swing on a positive note. The Gordon-Siakam matchup should be fascinating to watch.
A case can be made that Orlando could pull off an upset over a slumping Toronto squad that’s not 100% healthy. However, the Magic do not fit the profile of any the opponents who have managed to defeat the Raptors. Orlando is 22nd in pace (Pelicans, Pistons, Bucks are all top-10), and 16th in defensive rating (Celtics, Bucks, Pistons are all top-10). Toronto begins the Southeast swing on a positive note by making the Magic disappear, 110 - 99.
November 21 @ Atlanta Hawks
How old is Vince Carter? Carter’s so old, when he played his first NBA game, current teammate, Trae Young was five months old. Carter’s so old, he has as much NBA experience as the next three most tenured teammates (Jeremy Lin, Miles Plumlee, and Kent Bazemore)... combined! Carter’s so old, if you removed him from the Hawks lineup, their average age moves from 11th-youngest to 4th-youngest in the NBA. Carter’s so old, when he entered the NBA, MySpace and Napster had yet to be created.
Carter’s so old, he won’t remember the time he was chilling in the waiting area at Leoni’s restaurant in downtown Toronto, when a charming, starry-eyed, Filipino teenager asked for an autograph... only to be shut down, mid-request, without even sharing a millisecond of eye contact. What... me? Bitter?
Atlanta plays at the quickest pace in the league. That pace has contributed to the league’s worst defense, in terms of points allowed, and the worst offense, in terms of Offensive Rating. The Raptors rank third in fastbreak points scored per game, while the Atlanta allows the fourth most fastbreak points per game. This should be another easy victory for the Raptors, as they soar past the Hawks, 128 - 112.
November 23 vs. Washington Wizards
What a difference a month makes. When these two rivals last met on October 20, Washington was without their big off-season acquisition, Dwight Howard, and still brimming with confidence over the upcoming season. Toronto was on a SEGABABA, after defeating Boston in an early-season statement game. The Raptors were also without Leonard (KAREBABA) and Delon Wright, and, if you can believe this, played Siakam off the bench.
Fast-forward to present day. Washington is 2-6 on the road, own the second-worst defense (points allowed and defensive rating), and Howard is still not fully recovered from his buttocks muscle injury. Also different from last month, Toronto is now coming off a loss to the Celtics, but should have a healthy Leonard in the lineup, as well as reigning Player of the Week, Siakam, alongside as a starter.
Let’s face it, folks: the Raptors are simply the better team. Toronto has won 12 of the last 15 meetings with the Wizards, will not have to worry as much about minutes distribution (Washington plays at home to the Pelicans the following night), and gets to do what they couldn’t last month — unleash Kawhi on Beal. Last November, the Wizards came into town and upset a Raptors team that had just returned from a 6-game Western road trip. But this season is different. Toronto is a legit Finals contender, while Washington is one of the league’s most dysfunctional teams. The Raptors put a spell on the Wizards and prevail 115 - 104.
The Washington Wizards are fine. pic.twitter.com/DfAQkULPOm— SB Nation (@SBNation) November 19, 2018
November 25 vs. Miami Heat
I have to admit, the Heat annoyed me more than any team last season — even the Cavaliers. The only game I attended in person was when Wayne Ellington laid in a buzzer-beater. On the final day of the regular season, Toronto visited Miami with a chance to extend their franchise record for wins to a nice round 60. Former coach Dwane Casey, despite Toronto having already clinched the no. 1 seed and knowing nothing was more important than health, did not rest anyone! Not only did the Raptors lose but, more importantly, Sixth Man of the Year finalist and captain of the league’s best bench, Fred VanVleet, injured his shoulder, missed most of the first round, and was never the same during the Cavs sweep.
Until the threes start falling at a consistent pace, the Raptors’ ceiling will remain untapped. Where Toronto thrives offensively (3rd in the league in 2P%), Miami excels defensively (4th in the league in opponents 2P%; 3rd in blocks). Where Miami is vulnerable (28th in opponents 3P%), Toronto is unable to capitalize (18th in 3P%). The Heat may finally be healthy by the time this game rolls around, plus they’ve already had impressive wins over Portland, Detroit, and San Antonio. I’ll probably end up being very wrong on this prediction, but I say the Heat extinguish the Raptors 104 - 103.