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The Raptors’ league-leading road record is more than noise — it’s a signal

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Toronto is currently the best road team in the league by a wide margin. And there’s reason to believe it indicates the team is ready for greatness no matter who — or where — they play.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In the Masai Ujiri era, the Raptors have continuously gotten off to good-to-great starts on the season. This year is no different. If you haven’t noticed, Toronto leads the league with a 23-7 record, and are currently the only team to have amassed 20 wins early on.

While the Milwaukee Bucks have handed Toronto two of its seven losses — causing worry among the fan base that is somewhat warranted — there is a silver lining to the Bucks’ second place seeding, just 3.5 games behind the Raptors for tops in the conference. They can’t get the job done away from home.

While the majority of teams currently seeded in the top eight of each conference have a road-record that evens out to about .500, the Raptors stand tall above them at 12-3.

If you math it correctly, it means they’re a game better on the road this season than at home. Normally, that would be cause for concern, but in this case, it’s a single game we’re talking about, so we’ll call it moot.

But back to the point — the Bucks may be in second place, but history shows that teams that cannot win consistently on the road are not ready to be called contenders. Of the other six teams in the East’s top eight, the Boston Celtics have the best road-record — coming in at 9-7.

Not Up to Snuff

Milwaukee (5-6), Philadelphia (5-8), Indiana (8-6) and Boston (9-7) are all considered to be a tier under the Raptors in the East a quarter of the way through the year. Boston is, of course, on the rise now that they’ve gotten their offensive troubles figured out — so it seems — and they have only played 11 of their 27 games at home, so they’ll likely rise back up to second place where many predicted all along.

The Bucks — a team everyone is fawning over following two critical wins against the Raptors — have had a home-heavy schedule to start the year. Their test is coming, just as this current four-game road trip (amidst a group of ten games in which eight are against teams above .500) is a major test for Toronto.

But Toronto is proving they can win wherever they land. And historically, teams who can win anywhere, have a better chance to win everything.

NBA Finals matchups of the last 11 years showcase the road records of each conference champion is in most cases, above-average. At the bottom is the cumulative winning percentage of the league’s champions over the 11 seasons provided.
Joel Stephens

It’s still early, and we’ve yet to see any single team hit the proverbial stride. And yet, there are some positive cues to take from this small sample set.

Keyword: Consistency

Toronto plays perfectly consistent (by the numbers) on offense wherever they play.

Keyword: Consistency
Basketball-Reference

This image shows us the Raptors’ offense by both their home and away games, on an average basis. As you can see, there is no major deviation in any area. Toronto has a game plan that they stick to, no matter who or where they play.

They’ve been rock solid on the offensive end — credit going to Nick Nurse for getting these guys to advance what was already an efficient offense into an actual machine this season.

When examining the defensive side of things, we’ll notice a couple differences:

Defensive Intensity

Basketball-Reference

This is an extension of the graphic above, cut for sizing purposes. The top line is the Raptors’ overall average, and the next two lines mirror the above image: Top being home, bottom being away.

The first thing that should jump out at you is the defense! The Raptors are actually playing better defensively on the road, giving up fewer three-pointers, and forcing more turnovers. That’s not the biggest difference either.

Check out the offensive rebounding numbers particularly — at home, the Raptors are allowing 13.8 offensive rebounds a game, and these almost always lead to second chance points. We watch the games, we know how critical those second chance points can be — especially in close contests. While the Raptors don’t take advantage of offensive rebounds themselves on the road, the key is they take them away from the opposing team — who just so happens to be at home.

The difference in defensive intensity on the road is why this year’s team is different than past rosters. They play with consistency on offense no matter the circumstance, and when they do change their style, it’s for the better (see: defensive intensity, road games).

Whether it’s the steady hand of Kawhi Leonard making a back-breaking shot, or the intense, vocal leadership of Kyle Lowry, this team and its deep bench has a real shot at something special this season.

The numbers this year just so happen to back that up.