For most of this week, the Raptors were missing four key players. Then, on the last day of the week, they received word that exactly 50 percent of those players — that’s two, if you’re struggling with the math — would return to the court. The pair: Norman Powell and Pascal Siakam, both absent since December 18th’s cursed game against the Detroit Pistons. If nothing else, it meant the Raptors were on the road to recovery and, ideally, winning.
Naturally, Toronto went out and lost its next contest.
Sunday night’s defeat at the hands of the Spurs was the second loss the Raptors endured this past week, and it was delivered in much the same way as the first. In both games, San Antonio and the Portland Trail Blazers played from behind in Toronto and were eventually able to comeback via some elite shot-making and a certain deflation amongst the Raptors reserves. It’s the kind of problem Toronto shouldn’t have once all of their players return to full health — which is clearly not just yet.
As a result, we can expect a note of concern in this week’s Power Rankings. But don’t take my word for it, let’s find out what they have to say.
First up, ESPN’s Andre’ Snellings is not one to shy away from his commentary:
9. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 7)
The Raptors are 25-14 through their first 39 games this season, only two games off last year’s 27-12 pace, despite losing Kawhi Leonard to free agency and suffering massive numbers of player-games lost due to injury. They have good news on the horizon, as Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell returned to action Sunday against the Spurs with Marc Gasol expected to return this week.
See? That’s some glass half-full work from Snellings right there. The Raptors are still keeping the pace against both their past selves and the other teams of the conference. They’ve played from behind the eightball all year, and now all that hard work is about to pay off. Or so we hope.
Maybe Zach Harper of the Athletic will provide us with some more demonstrative commentary, as is his wont:
8. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 7)
Positive Takeaway: The ascension of Pascal Siakam was the talk of the first quarter of the season. But as this team has endured injury after injury, it looks like the player development and manufactured depth of the Raptors is what we should be writing home about. We’ve seen the Raptors endure a bunch of injuries this season. Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol, Norman Powell and others have missed time with maladies. We’ve seen Terence Davis, Chris Boucher, Matt Thomas, Patrick McCaw and OG Anunoby step up in their respective roles to keep this thing going. That kind of depth doesn’t just happen. The Raptors are good at turning role players into guys able to accept bigger opportunities in the short and long-term.
Negative question: Is the offense going to bounce back? Prior to the second quarter of the season, I was wondering if they could sustain their offensive excellence. A ton of mitigating factors have caused them to drop off during this stretch, but now I’m curious if they can find that groove again. The first quarter of the season had the Raptors fifth in the NBA (111.2 per 100) in offensive rating, and they were fourth in true shooting percentage (58.2). Since Dec. 2, the Raptors have fallen to 22nd in offensive rating (106.9) and 23rd in true shooting (54.0). The Raptors are still a great story this season as they attempt to defend their title. But they need that offense to bounce back when they get healthier in order to return to being a dominant team.
No comment on the Positive Takeaway there, that’s all true. On the negative side of the ledger, there is no doubt that the Raptors’ offense has looked pretty rough for the past few weeks. When they were hitting 3s at a seemingly historic rate, there were no problems. But since then Toronto has missed both Siakam, their most dangerous offensive weapon, and the team-wide shooting that came in support of their scoring leader. These two things are somewhat connected.
With Pascal back on the court, ideally this could re-open some shots that were not there before due to the attention Siakam attracts. Ditto the return of Marc Gasol, whose presence should help Toronto bust the next zone defense applied to them, and who is a plus shooter himself.
Is Dr. John Schuhmann of NBA dot com about the throw cold water on all of this? Let’s see.
12. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 10)
The Raptors blew double-digit leads in all three of their games last week, shooting 36% and attempting just five total free throws (and making just one of those) over the three fourth quarters. They somehow survived a 1-for-20 stretch to win in Charlotte (in overtime) on Wednesday, but losses to the Blazers and Spurs were their first defeats at the hands of any of the 17 teams currently under .500.
They’ve dropped six of their last 10 overall and four of their last five at home, with several more trips through customs remaining in their funky January schedule (five single-game homestands). More important is that they got Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell back from 11-game absences on Sunday, with the one of the two (Powell 20 points, 4-for-7 from 3-point range) showing a little less rust than the other. Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet remain on the shelf.
Props to the doctor for not sugar-coating things here. Those losses — and even that goofy win in Charlotte — certainly were maddening enough to watch. We can hope for better though, we have to. In Toronto’s favour is perhaps the same math that sunk them into this whole in the first place. They have good shooters, they have good players, and they were once one of the better offenses in the league. That stuff doesn’t just go away for good, not for a team as composed as these Raptors.
Last but not least is Colin Ward-Henninger of CBS Sports. No jokes here:
10. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 8)
The bad news is the Raptors lost to the Blazers and Spurs at home during a 1-2 week. The good news is, Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell returned to the lineup in Sunday’s loss to San Antonio. Both losses were one-possession games, so no reason to panic here. With Marc Gasol nearing a return, that just leaves Fred VanVleet as the biggest piece they’re missing. It’s going to look strange if the Raptors ever get their full roster active for the same game.
I do hope you’ll enjoy my upcoming book No Reason to Panic: The Story of the 2019-20 Toronto Raptors.
Now, onto the poll.
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 13 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, we know they’re better than this
Yes, but we also know they’re better than this
No, and this kind of ideological symmetry is troubling
Yes, you want to talk symmetry now? Buddy, what have we been doing all these years here?