The Raptors are still not NBA title favourites. We know this and we also know why it is so. They lost a top-3 talent and are stocked with far less known quantities. That’s life in the NBA sometimes. Nothing can take away the 2019 championship, so there’s solace in that — even if many can perhaps talk themselves into the idea of Toronto Raptors, repeat champions.
I admit, I’m not high on the idea. The Raptors as currently constructed are definitely a good regular season team. The numbers support the idea that they are both offensively and defensively solid; they have enough veteran know-how and discipline to keep their collective floor up; and they have a budding star in Pascal Siakam (his presence in particular means something in the NBA). But in the pressure cooker of the postseason, it’s possible to see the Raptors’ weakpoints, and the talent gap that has them a notch or two below the truly elite teams in the league.
Still, some prognosticators — we don’t have to name names — did not have Toronto being this good. And most of us didn’t think they’d survive any injury to their main engine, Kyle Lowry (to say nothing of Serge Ibaka, and even Patrick McCaw). And yet here they are, 11-4 and playing great, looking for all the world like a team that’s straight up thriving.
Who would have thought that? Let’s get to this week’s Power Rankings and see what’s being said.
We turn first to ESPN’s greatest use of the apostrophe, Andre’ Snellings, and his usual contribution to the roundup:
11. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 9)
The Raptors have been consistently strong all season, with all four of their losses competitive road affairs against teams a combined 28 games over .500. They continue to have contributors step up around Pascal Siakam, who is in the midst of an MVP-level campaign. During the past four games, Norman Powell has chipped in 19.5 points per game on 54.4% shooting from the field to provide a stable scoring option on the wing and help keep the offense humming even with Kyle Lowry’s (thumb) continued injury absence.
Here’s me reading this blurb: Good. Great. Fantastic! Where could this team go wrong?! All this without their captain??? Tell me more!
Here’s me double-checking the ranking: Ah, a drop of two spots. I don’t know what we’re even talking about here, man.
On to the zany Zach Harper and his read on The Athletic:
5. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 5)
The most impressive aspect of the Raptor’s start has been their offensive firepower. Going into this season, everybody was in on the Raptors being a top defensive team. In fact, even with the injuries to a couple of key players, it’s fair to wonder whether the Raptors have actually underperformed defensively. They rank seventh in defensive rating. But offensively, the Raptors have been able to shine, hoisting themselves to 10th after the first 15 games of the season. The reason this team is so good on offense? It knocks down its 3-point shots.
Losing Leonard and Danny Green didn’t slow down their shooting. Losing Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry to various injuries didn’t slow down their 3-point shooting. The Raptors rank first in the league with 39.8 percent accuracy from downtown. They also still shoot a ton of 3-pointers under Nick Nurse, putting up the sixth-highest 3-point rate in the league with just over 40 percent of their field goal attempts coming from deep. With their top eight 3-point attempt players, only Norman Powell (33.3 percent) is under 37.0 percent on the season. OG Anunoby is hitting 50 percent. They make you pay for every help and slightly slow recovery.
Now, there’s an obvious question here: is the Raptors’ long distance shooting sustainable? It feels fair to contend that the core players — namely Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, and Pascal Siakam — can keep shooting it from deep as they have. (Even with Pascal’s new mix of threes from all over.) But it stands to reason that Toronto can’t necessarily rely on OG Anunoby, Norman Powell, Chris Boucher, and Terence Davis. (We’ll leave Matt Thomas out of this — we know what he can do!)
If asked point blank, I’d have to confirm that some of this shooting will take a dip. It feels very unlikely that OG and Davis, for example, will both be shooting over 50 percent from three by the end of the season. Still, the sentiment is a strong one: the Raptors’ offense is sound.
We need some stability here too: enter the big man, Dr. John Schuhmann at NBA dot com.
8. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 9)
The Raptors have two of the eight league-wide lineups (their starters with and without Kyle Lowry) that have played at least 100 minutes and outscored their opponents by more than 10 points per 100 possessions. And their bench (the guys that Nick Nurse had a tough time trusting early in the season) continues to show improvement. Terence Davis totaled 35 points (shooting 7-for-10 from 3-point range) in wins over Charlotte and Orlando last week, Chris Boucher has averaged a double-double in less than 18 minutes over their three-game winning streak, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson ranks in the top 10 in offensive rebounding percentage and in the top 20 in deflections per 36 minutes. According to aggregate (estimated) NetRtg, only the Mavs’ bench has been better than that of the champs, which should get Serge Ibaka (who has missed the last seven games with an ankle injury) back this week as the schedule gets a little tougher. The Raptors host the Sixers on Monday and after facing the Knicks and Magic, they’ll play four straight games against teams that currently have winning records.
When the 2019-20 season is said and done, regardless of the final outcome for the Raptors, my favourite narrative will definitely be that Toronto entered with almost a totally absent bench and then discovered ways to make each and every guy on it (except Stanley Johnson) a useful rotation player. I mean, that is just an astounding story to me, personally.
Finally, bringing up the rear as always, it’s the CBS Sports man of the hour, Colin Ward-Henninger, whose name I will eventually spell correctly without having to check it three times.
7. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 10)
Toronto just keeps rolling along despite the absence of Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka behind outstanding play from Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, supported by a cast of excellent, experienced role players. Nick Nurse deserves a ton of credit for keeping his team clicking despite the major injuries, and in the age of load management he’s not afraid to ride Siakam and VanVleet for huge minutes. So far it’s been successful, and the Raptors aren’t going away any time soon.
Things have gotten so good on the Raptors’ bench that they were just described as “excellent, experienced role players”! What a turn of events for a group of players that now includes Chris Boucher, Terence Davis, and Matt Thomas, who, previous to this season, had appeared in a combined 29 games.
Now, onto the poll.
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 6 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, they just dropped a 1.000 week
Yes, a light schedule makes for light work
No, they can’t win a title so why bother?
Yes, but mostly I’m just glad to be back in the 4th slot here. What a time!