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Are we looking at the 2017-18 Raptors all over again?

A 60 win pace? No true superstar? We’ve seen this movie before in Toronto. Can it have a different ending?

NBA Trade Deadline Wrap-up: Are we looking at the 2017-2018 Toronto Raptors all over again? Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Being a Raptors fan means always having to look over your shoulder, waiting for the boogey-man to jump.

Sometimes he’s got the smiling visage of Paul Pierce. Other times he wears a LeBron James mask. Once he dressed up as Kawhi Leonard’s quads and mental state — thankfully for our sanity, that was a lousy costume, and ultimately didn’t scare anyone.

The point is, when you’re a team that has gone most of it’s existence without a bonafide All-NBA player, you’ve got reason to believe there is disaster around the corner — especially when every talking head tells you there is.

Think back to 2017-18. That year the Raps romped to a 59 win season. Expectations were high. This was the team that could finally leverage a deep and balanced roster to “2004 Detroit Pistons” its way past any foe — no matter what Hall of Famer(s) might be lurking on the other side. Or at least, it would go down swinging.

And why not believe? Those Raptors profiled as a true championship contender — they finished in the top five on both offensive and defensive rating — the first time in franchise history they’d accomplished that feat, and a historical bellwether for title-level teams.

Sadly, we all remember how it ended — with the worst playoff loss in franchise history. A four game sweep at the hands of a Cavaliers team that had barely escaped a round one upset at the hands of a mediocre Indiana Pacers team.

We wailed, we gnashed our teeth, He Who Wanted To Stay was traded, a Coach Of the Year was fired.

It didn’t come out of the blue though, no matter what the fans wanted to think. Before the playoffs began there were warning signs that 59 wins wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. To start with, those Raps were 35-2 against sub .500 teams , and just 24-21 against teams with a winning record.

Even more frightening was how the Raptors defense cratered when they played good offenses. According to, the Raps held the worst 20 offenses to 99.5 PPG: the second best number in the league. But the top 10 offenses scored a whopping 115.4 PPG: the 29th best mark. That 16-point swing was also the biggest in the league.

It was a clear weakness that we either didn’t look for, or wanted to ignore, and it was exploited in the playoffs as both the Wizards and the Cavs put up big numbers against the hometown Dinos.

This year, Toronto is 29-2 against sub .500 teams, with a worrisome 8-12 against teams with a winning record.

Still, unlike two years ago, this Raptors team is loaded with good defensive wings; has a former All-Defensive player Marc Gasol in the middle; and features two of the grittiest (if undersized) guard defenders in Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet.

This can’t be a defensive problem, right?

And yet... didn’t Indiana put up 42 in a quarter last night?

D holding in O.K.

Def Rating Vs. +500 Difference Vs. Top 10 Difference
Def Rating Vs. +500 Difference Vs. Top 10 Difference
104.6 107.3 2.7 106.5 1.9

Well look at that. The Raptors are worse against the best teams, but slightly less-so against the top 10 offenses. (Note: Because the Raps haven’t played Denver I substituted in the game against the #11 offense, Utah. Utah with the 11th best offense? That felt weird to type).

Both ways the decline is modest. Toronto’s overall 104.6 defensive rating is #2 in the league — but unlike two years ago, Toronto only slides to the equivalent of the #9 defense in the NBA against .500 or better teams, and is actually about the sixth best defense against those top 10 offenses.

Whew, fun thought exercise, Conor, but we’re alright!

Not so fast. It’s the other side of the ball Rap’s fans need to worry about.

Less Against the Best

Off Rating Vs. +.500 Difference Vs. Top 10 Difference
Off Rating Vs. +.500 Difference Vs. Top 10 Difference
111.2 105.9 -5.3 106.6 -4.6

All-in, Toronto runs the 12th best offense right now. When they play good teams, that plummets to between the 25th ranked Charlotte Hornets and the tied for 24th Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves.

That slight bump against the top 10 defenses is a bit misleading, for a couple of reasons: (A) it only moves them bast Cleveland and Minny, and (B) stripping out Denver, and the Raps themselves, you add Chicago and Brooklyn who both benefit from the relatively under-powered Eastern offenses (six of the worst eight offenses are in the East).

Some of this is definitely due to the Raps losing so many of their key offensive contributors to injury for stretches this year. Any team that’s lost as many minutes from guys like Serge Ibaka, Lowry, Gasol, Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell as the Raptors have is bound to struggle with scoring.

Some of it comes from the fact that the Raps played six of their over-.500 foes when Powell, Gasol and Siakam were gone and the Raps had the least varied ways to attack those strong opponents.

Some of it, though, comes down to the fact that after a hot opening couple of weeks Pascal Siakam has been... just a guy.

Medium-spicy P

Split Pts Sht % 3P % FT % TS % Reb % Ast % Def Rtg
Split Pts Sht % 3P % FT % TS % Reb % Ast % Def Rtg
Oct 28.0 51.0% 44.0% 96.3% 62.6% 12.8% 19.8% 99.2
Nov-Now 23.1 45.2% 35.4% 78.3% 54.7% 10.1% 15.7% 104.3

Alright, that’s not quite fair. Siakam has been a good player all season long, but there’s a case to be made we ran off with that early October sample and got carried away.

Remember “back-to-back MIP Siakam”? Heck, what about “MVP Siakam”?

Siakam, as it turns out, is struggling with becoming “the Man”. That 54.7 percent true shooting percentage would be the worst since his rookie year, as is his post October defensive rating. The rebound rate would be the lowest in his career (even with October, it already is).

Point being Siakam has been, at least partially, overwhelmed. This isn’t to say this is disappointing, or worrisome; given his lack of basketball experience, the injuries that have eaten into offensive continuity, and the fact that being “the Man” is really, really hard, we can cut him some slack.

All this makes the next chunk of the Raptors schedule very telling. After fattening up on the league’s weaklings (during their current 12-game winning streak Toronto has faced two above .500 teams) the Raps now face a, basically, league average schedule (17th), with 16 of their next 25 games against teams in playoff positions, 14 of them against teams over .500.

The wins and losses in this next month are going to be very important, for playoff seeding, and for making Toronto and it’s fans feel good about their ability to compete against the top half of the NBA. But even if that W-L record swings around to the positive side of the ledger, keep an eye on how the Raptors offense is fairing. If they still remain mired in the bottom third of the league against good defenses it’ll be an unfortunate, but clarion sign that what’s old might just be new again.