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Power Ranking Poll Week 14: Where do the Raptors go next?

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After a chart-topping week, the Raptors have to figure out how to continue playing to their strengths. The Power Rankings are here to help explain what that means.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

As per usual in Raptor-land, there has been a lot of hand-wringing this week about Toronto’s basketball team. By this point you should know the drill. Is Kawhi Leonard resting too much? Not enough? How worried should we be about Kyle Lowry’s back? What’s there to say about the team’s second frustrating loss in Boston at the hands of the Kyrie Irving? Are we troubled by the bench’s collective performance? Is there enough shooting? These are all valid questions.

Unfortunately, they are also all largely unanswerable. What’s up with Kawhi? Who knows! How’s Lowry’s body? I dare you to ask him! Why don’t the Raptors win every game? It’s impossible! There are indeed arguments to be made about shoring up the bench somehow, but it’s just as easily possible to suggest the opposite. Likewise the shooting. I mean, maybe that’s just the law of averages at work? This puts us in a frustrating bind.

The Raptors want to be taken seriously, and now they are — the only answer to that is to go out and play the best you can play and hope for the best. Do the Power Rankings reflect that? Hmm, let’s see.

For Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN the solution may be pretty simple as to what could help the Raptors:

3. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 1)

The last time Kawhi Leonard played in a game and did not lead the Raptors in scoring was Nov. 27. Yet the Raptors continued their no-Kawhi, no-problem routine this week as Leonard sat for consecutive games in wins over Phoenix and Memphis, bringing their record to 10-2 without Leonard. Though let’s not kid ourselves: This speaks more to the Raptors’ depth than anything, and Toronto is still three points per 100 possessions better when Leonard is on the floor.

The takeaway here is this: the Raptors play with a higher ceiling when Kawhi is working at his maximum level. But they also have a nice high floor when they run with Lowry and his teammate-expanding powers. The key for the Raptors, as it has been all season (with injuries consistently getting in the way), is to blend those two concepts together. They need Kawhi at max, and Lowry bringing the best out of everyone. They’re 35-13, which suggests something is working in any case.

Naturally, some notes of concern do indeed creep into the week’s sentiments. Take Khadrice Rollins at Sports Illustrated, for example:

3. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 1)

It’s not a big red flag for the Raptors that they’re 1-2 against the Celtics so far this season, but it certainly has to be annoying at the least. Toronto is going to keep finding ways to win games even when short handed, but it’s only 6-5 against the other top five teams in the East. It’s not bad, but you’d like a little better record considering everyone is looking for a reason to doubt the Raptors come April.

This is a tough perception to overcome, and it is indeed at the forefront of our minds whenever the Raptors drop a high-pressure game (e.g. vs. the Spurs, vs. the Celtics). But there’s a flip-side to that equation that includes all the times the Raptors systematically bested a team (the Bucks and Pacers back-to-back, let’s say) in similar situations. Yes, you’d like the Raptors to be able to prove themselves all day, every day — but that’s also exhausting to do over a six-month regular season. Let people think what they want... for now.

Does Dr. John Schuhmann have some data to provide here? Of course he does, NBA dot com styles:

3. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 1)

The Raptors’ bench has been without Jonas Valanciunas for more than a month, but we may have reached the point where concern with the second unit leads to a trade between now and Feb. 7. Their game in Boston on Wednesday was tied with less than three minutes left, but may have been lost when the Raptors scored just six points in the first 8:34 of the second quarter. Only the Suns (minus-68), Bulls (minus-64) and Thunder (minus-59) have been outscored by more points in the first three minutes of the second period than the Raptors (minus-47), who have generally had both Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard off the floor in those minutes. Coach Nick Nurse will likely stagger the minutes of Lowry and Leonard in the playoffs, but some better shooting off the bench (the Raptors’ six main reserves have combined to shoot just 33.5 percent from 3-point range) would allow for more lineup versatility.

Do I think the doctor is right here and that the Raptors will make a trade? No, I do not. I think the lineups will be balanced come the playoffs, and that the Raptors have a core of seven guys (with some useful eight, nine, ten and 11-men combinations lurking just in case). That’s all I’ll say about that for now.

As for CBS Sports, they got a holiday, so we’ll just leave it at a perfect 3-for-3 from three.

Now, onto the poll.

Poll

Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 14 of the Power Rankings?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    No, and I’m cheesed off that CBS Sports somehow escaped my ire this week
    (46 votes)
  • 47%
    Yes, I grow weary
    (108 votes)
  • 7%
    No, hey that guy stole my line up there!
    (17 votes)
  • 24%
    (Left blank intentionally to maintain the three-three-three-three symmetry for the week)
    (56 votes)
227 votes total Vote Now