If your mind stretches back to before the NBA’s All-Star Weekend, you’ll remember that the Raptors are actually in the midst of a seven-game winning streak. They’ve been crushing teams by many points, barely playing their starters in the fourth, and generally looking good while doing so. It’s been beautiful to watch.
Now we’re post-All-Star and into the final stretch of the season. These next 25 games will determine where exactly Toronto is seeded for their playoff drive, and unlike in years past: it feels like the one-seed is theirs to lose. Exciting times. Of course, this time also means we’re starting to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the team through the prism of the future playoff picture. It’s stressful, but necessary work.
So, what are this week’s (truncated) NBA Power Rankings saying about our favourite team? Let’s see.
First up, they gave the whole column over to Kevin Arnovitz at ESPN (we’ll send a search party out for Jose De Leon). What does the big man have to say?
3. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)
With the exception of a 3-point win over Miami last Tuesday -- a game Toronto led by 16 inside of five minutes -- the closest margin of victory on the Raptors’ current seven-game winning streak is 15. The starters clock in with a net rating of 12.0, and the bench unit is swamping the league to the tune of a plus-31.1 in its 172 minutes together. When trying to glean whether a team’s regular-season dominance is real, these are the kinds of numbers to make note of.
Remember what I was saying about killing teams? Sure, the majority of games in that seven game win streak involved teams well below .500 (e.g. Memphis, New York, Charlotte), but there were also solid wins against the Blazers and Celtics — remember them? It’s been heartening to see. This is the most inspiring ESPN has been in awhile, shouts to Big Arn.
Next up, we’re going to put Sports Illustrated aside — since their staff definitely took Monday off to recover from the post-ASG hangover — and move right on to Dr. John Schuhmann at NBA dot com. You know he kept his eyes on the prize. Here we go:
2. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 3)
Pace: 100.5 (9) OffRtg: 110.7 (4) DefRtg: 102.6 (4) NetRtg:+8.1 (3)
DeMar DeRozan’s assist rate (18.1 per 100 possessions used) is the highest of his career by wide margin, but it has dropped precipitously with each subsequent quarter, from 25.1 in the first quarter to 6.8 in the fourth. So there’s still a question of if the ball can continue to move late in games, but we haven’t seen much of DeRozan late in games, because the Toronto bench has been putting opponents away early. The Raptors have won seven straight games, with DeRozan and Kyle Lowry only needing to play in the fourth quarter of one of the seven (their win over Miami on Tuesday, because every Heat game is a close game). The five-man bench unit is now a plus-92 in 80 minutes over the course of the winning streak and ranks as the league’s best lineup (plus-31 points per 100 possessions) of the 52 that have played at least 150 minutes together.
Naturally, there’s a lot to unpack here.
I admit, I am a bit concerned about DeRozan’s assist rate in crunch time. On the one hand, I get it: DeRozan wants the ball in his hands, and he wants to take the winning shots. For a player who has worked his way into being one of the finest shot makers in the league, it makes sense. But of course, on the other hand, other teams know all of this too. When the Raptors have caught teams by surprise in close wins, it’s been because the ball moved somewhere unexpected and created an easier shot for someone else (or DeRozan himself; it’s true!).
The second bit of information there regarding the Raps’ bench unit continues to be delicious gravy. It remains to be seen if Toronto will trot out the all-bench lineup in the playoffs — especially if/when other teams lean on their bench units less in the post-season — but it is an awesome weapon to have. It’s not often a bench unit can surprise, overwhelm, and steamroll teams like the Raptors five-some has been, so I say: enjoy it.
Now, onto the poll (because who knows what the CBS Sports staff is up to right now).
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 18 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, we will never stop agitating for #1
Yes, we will never stop being reasonable about it
No, we will never stop being depressed
Yes, but wait, what was the question again?