I don’t want to bag on my guy Kevin Pelton (who is not really my guy) too much. In his defense, it is hard to predict the future. Impossible even. Nevertheless, KP endeavours to try each and every NBA season by projecting the win totals for, yep, each and every NBA team. This, naturally, includes the Toronto Raptors — who just happen to be my favourite team. (What were the odds of that?)
After all the brouhaha of the offseason, Pelton is back with his first cut of 2018-19 win projections. As is always the case, it includes all 30 teams, from the high (58.5 wins for the Warriors) to the low (25.4 wins for the Kings). Before we get to Pelton’s Raptors assessment though, let’s remember where we’ve come from.
As you’ll no doubt recall, the Raptors of 2017-18 were projected to win 44.7 games last season, good for a sixth place finish in the Eastern Conference. This is, in retrospect, a comical prediction. In fact, many believed that to be the case even in the very moment it was announced. The Raptors win 44.7 games? With the team they had? Surely you must be joking.
They were not joking. And so the Fun and Good Raptors proceeded to make ESPN look a tad foolish. Toronto’s squad would go on to win 59 games and smash their way to the top of the conference. (We don’t need to rehash what happened next, that’s not part of this assignment.) The jump for the Raps was so sizable, Pelton was forced to note the “unusually large errors” in his RPM-based methods and actually make changes to his process (which is not always to be trusted).
The result? This year’s projections have the Raptors in at... [adjusts glasses] ...ah yes, first place in the East with 55 wins, second overall in the league. Here’s the excerpt:
1. Toronto Raptors
Projected wins: 55.1
The Raptors have a history of outperforming their RPM projections, including last season, when they were pegged sixth in the East with an expected 44.7 wins. This season’s forecast will be much tougher to beat. With Kawhi Leonard penciled in for 65 games, the Raptors project as the East’s best team -- and the second-best overall -- because of the upgrade from DeMar DeRozan on the wing.
With a new coach, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, and continued growth from their younger players, this feels correct — even with the pronounced absence of DeMar DeRozan. It may even be something of an understatement. There’s no reason not to believe the Raptors could go off for 59 again, maybe even touch 60.
I’m not ready to count the Raptors out, even if KP’s much-vaulted, and apparently highly flexible RPM projection, has them at a mere 55. It’s been wrong before.