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Raptors Power Ranking Poll Week 1: Who watches the champions?

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The Raptors take the court tomorrow, but the Power Ranking takes are in today (and in some cases, even earlier than that). Let’s get down to it in the first Poll of the 2019-20 season.

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

It’s possible to think on the Raptors as they are right now and decide that we’ve seen the best it will ever get. I’m not saying I subscribe to this idea, just that it’s possible. At the start of a new NBA season, every team’s goal is to win a championship. For some, this is a hopeless dream, a concept in need of an appended “some day”; for others it’s a journey in progress with an end perhaps right around the corner; and for still others, like these Raptors, it is a thing done, a finished task, a perfect memory.

Nevertheless, while Toronto and the Raptors are different now, the goal somehow remains the same: win a championship. What has most changed is the sense of urgency, the idea that if it doesn’t happen soon it will never happen. The Raptors are the current champs. It happened. Even as time stretches on before us, for however long it lasts, the past will remain as such. But as the line goes, nothing ever ends. And so we carry on in yet another search. Fruitless? Maybe. But let’s watch anyway.

Now on to this week’s baseline set of Power Rankings — with a few changes of their own.

For ESPN’s take, we go back to prior to training camp (Oct. 7), when many elements of every team, including the Raptors, were known, but we knew not how they would look on the court. Take it away, Tim Bontemps:

12. Toronto Raptors (Previous Rank: 10)

2020 title odds: +5000

Breakout candidate: OG Anunoby

The combination of personal issues and injuries turned 2018-19 into a lost season for Anunoby -- something that wound up not mattering for Toronto, as Kawhi Leonard led the Raptors to their first championship. But now that Anunoby has had a whole summer to get his body right, and with both Leonard and Danny Green leaving via free agency, Toronto really needs Anunoby to become the player it appeared he could be after his impressive rookie year. If that happens, the Raptors will be sitting pretty with Anunoby and Pascal Siakam to build around in the years to come.

The conceit here is that each team has a player set to breakout in some way. Barring another rise from Siakam — which likely won’t feel as big as last season’s — it’s safe to say many eyes will indeed be on OG. His chance to be the next success story in Toronto is right there.

Next up — [glass breaks] — good god, that’s The Athletic’s music! Indeed. Owing to Sports Illustrated sad decay, I’m not sure we’ll get much in the way of thoughtful Power Ranking analysis (such as it is) from that outlet anymore. In their stead, we’ll turn it over to Zach Harper’s wild views which come to us from Oct. 7:

11. Toronto Raptors (Previous Rank: 13)

Who is going to help Pascal Siakam score?

The Raptors should have an elite defense. A defense featuring Siakam, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, OG Anunoby, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson and even Kyle Lowry should be clamping down on everybody. Assuming this team is healthy, I would be shocked if they finished outside the top 5 in defensive rating this season. But the help Siakam will need on offense isn’t easy to just pinpoint as we project their season. Is Kyle Lowry willing to go back to more of a scorer’s mentality than he flashed last season? Is Fred VanVleet’s late playoff run emblematic of what we can expect from him this season? Will Gasol and Ibaka be reliable scorers in the frontcourt?

Siakam has a bit of a rude awakening coming for him on offense. Yes, the Raptors more than survived when Kawhi Leonard load managed his work last season. They went 17-5 and Siakam played great. But there’s a difference between the few and far between games and having to do it with a target on your back all season. The Raptors don’t plan on just rolling over and not trying to defend their championship now that Leonard is in Los Angeles. They just may need to ugly up all of these games moving forward. Maintaining that top 5 offense — or anything close to it — will take some true brilliance from Nick Nurse and his players.

Speaking of Siakam, Harper is correct here. There’s no doubt Pascal will have a productive season, we know what he’s capable of on both offense and defense. The question is whether or not he can be the guy the Raptors call on to win them games all by himself. It truly is the skill that separates players like Siakam from players like, ah yes, Kawhi Leonard.

Next up is our rock, who joins us today with a new Power Rankings tank, piping hot and ready to go. Dr. John Schuhmann of NBA dot com, thanks:

8. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 10)

The contract extensions for Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam were both a little surprising, though neither necessarily affects the next six months of basketball, because Siakam wasn’t going anywhere anyway and Lowry’s one-year extension doesn’t necessarily mean that he can’t (or won’t) be traded before the Feb. 6 deadline. But the Raptors looked pretty darn good (draining 24 3-pointers and assisting on 31 of their 44 buckets) in the one preseason game (Friday in Brooklyn) in which Lowry played, with Fred VanVleet starting at the other guard spot. It might be tough to start two 6-foot guys against the Celtics (who start 6-foot-7 Jaylen Brown at the two) on Friday, though coach Nick Nurse doesn’t lack the requisite swag.

John, John, John, they both aren’t going anywhere! And just watch for how effective a backcourt of Fred VanVleet and Lowry actually will be. They may both look small (at a listed 6-feet — hah), but much like a hydrogen atom — they still contain a great deal of power. (I spent five minutes trying to come up with some sort of atom splitting joke here; sorry, folks.)

And finally, though we lost Reid Forgrave to the wilderness of Minnesota, we still have CBS Sports to bring in the final take of the week. Here’s Colin Ward-Henninger on time and on target:

13. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 14)

Kyle Lowry got on the floor for the team’s last preseason game, so it looks like he’ll be good to go for opening night. Toronto has sped up its pace considerably from last year -- which makes sense with Kawhi Leonard’s iso-heavy offense now in Los Angeles. The Raptors locked up Pascal Siakam with an extension, and he’ll lead the next wave for the defending champs.

Raptors playing to their strengths, love to see it. Not to take an uncompromising turn here, but it will be fun to watch Lowry go full Rorshach this season while calmly explaining: “You’re locked in here with me.”

Now, onto the poll.

Poll

Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 1 of the Power Rankings?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    No, the champs should be #1, I am Rorshach
    (68 votes)
  • 34%
    Yes, they’ve taken a step back minus their Dr. Manhattan
    (72 votes)
  • 19%
    No, and I just woke up from a Nite Owl-esque depression nap
    (41 votes)
  • 12%
    Yes, but I’m already thinking about 2021 like Ozymandias
    (27 votes)
208 votes total Vote Now