The Raptors have just one game left in the regular season, and it is mercifully free from any supercharged over-arching narrative. A Tuesday night game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, one of the bottom ten most boring teams in the league, doesn’t move the needle much for anyone — especially not now that Maple Jordan himself, Andrew Wiggins, has turned into something of a pumpkin.
Yes, there was once a time, six years ago, when logic dictated the Raptors should tank, destroy the whole team, scorch the earth, and try again. They would start by getting so bad they’d have the best chance in the world of drafting the next Canadian NBA superstar, Wiggins. Except, ah yes, Toronto didn’t get bad, didn’t get to pick number one, and five years after that Wiggins has turned into perhaps the leading “good stats, bad team” guy in the league. (And, in truth, that’s only Wiggins’ traditional counting stats — advanced stats suggest he is... quite bad.)
But before we look ahead to that game, the finale of the Raptors’ fascinating 2018-19 season, and get ourselves worked up for the playoffs, we have to assess the last full week of Toronto’s regular season, a week in which they went 3-1 and solidified themselves as one of the very best teams in the league. Was that a long sentence? Much like the regular season, yes it was.
So now let’s see what the Power Rankers had to say, one more time, before once again closing the book on this year’s run of Polls. To paraphrase the fictional mountebank J. Peterman, it’s been if not a job well done, then a job... done.
For the last encore, ESPN was sure to bring out their lead guitarist, Kevin “The Shredder” Arnovitz to bring the house down. Let’s listen in:
4. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 4)
The Raptors await the outcome of the battle royale being waged among the Eastern Conference second division, all the while finding more reps for their projected playoff starting lineup. The 5-man unit of Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol has logged 161 minutes in 14 games together and rates a plus-12.2 points per 100 possessions. The only projected playoff starting lineup that has been better belongs to the Sixers.
There are doubts about the Raptors, for sure. For example, many of those 161 minutes feel like they happened against cataclysmically bad teams; and meanwhile Toronto’s bench players beyond Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet give little cause for optimism. But then again, Toronto has never felt more poised and in control than it has right now. The narrative isn’t “How Will the Raptors Screw This Up?” but a far less illusory “Can The Raptors Go All the Way?”
For proof: see yesterday’s OT period versus the Heat. Were you at any moment actually concerned? No way.
To keep that good vibe going, we check in for one final time with SI’s poet-in-residence Khadrice Rollins who has looked backward and into the future for his last power ranking post of the season:
4. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 7)
Worst Rank: 8
Best Rank: 1
Best Case: Putting faith in Kawhi Leonard and Nick Nurse pays off and the Raptors take advantage of having a former Finals MVP on the roster and take the title allowing, Drake to actually enter the winning-team’s locker room this time around.
Worst Case: The Pistons slide up to seven and show that the regular-season sweep wasn’t a fluke. Dwane Casey gets his revenge and the Raptors are never taken seriously again.
Prediction: They take the Bucks to seven in the Eastern Conference Finals but playing on the road ends up being too much to deal with.
That Toronto finds itself right in the middle of Rollin’s year-long rolling assessment feels appropriate. The Raptors never quite looked their best, due to absence and roster turnover, for most of the season, but they were never truly out of the top ten either. As expected, I like the Best Case there, hate the Worst Case, and am already shielding myself emotionally for the prediction.
Ever the scientist, let’s see what the Vulcan-like Dr. John Schuhmann has to say on the NBA’s home page:
4. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 4)
The Raptors have been playing their full rotation, with home-court advantage in a possible Finals series against the Warriors still in the air. And some of the teams that have been fighting for the last few playoff spots in the East have paid the price, with Toronto going 3-1 against the Magic, Nets, Hornets and Heat last week. They’re now 10-4 with Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol, and they’ve outscored their opponents by almost 15 points per 100 possessions in 215 minutes with all three on the floor. They still have questions regarding their bench, though. Since Fred VanVleet’s return from a thumb injury, they’ve been outscored by 3.1 points per 100 possessions with VanVleet, Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka on the floor together. But with one more game to play, they’re in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency for the second straight season.
As I mentioned before, the Raptors’ bench is indeed still a question. Our guy Hackett tried to solve the issue by spreading around the bench minutes and relying on a few starters at all times, but it was not exactly easy. As the doctor highlights above though, the Raptors’ starters are and continue to be quite good. I think Toronto is ready to go to war on their behalf.
Finally, while he doesn’t bring the ruckus like Matt Moore once did, a hat tip to CBS Sports’ Reid Forgrave, who has a much cooler name. We’ll have to wait to see what his take on the Raptors is since CBS has declined to promptly post their final run of Power Rankings this afternoon, but we’ll assume the best: a fourth place finish and some end-of-the-year symmetry.
Thanks again for reading.
And now, onto the poll.
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 25 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, but you know what: I’m tired of fighting!
Yes, let’s get to the playoffs
No, all this toil, and for what?
Yes, I just appreciate that this poll option continues to exist in these trying times