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Raptors Power Ranking Poll: We’re doing this basketball thing now

Forget the days of the week, or even the time of the year, we’re getting set for basketball games with stakes starting this weekend. As always, we have to ask: are the Raptors being ranked fairly?

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Portland Trail Blazers v Toronto Raptors Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

There’s no NBA basketball without NBA Power Rankings. There’s just no way to even consider it. For those keeping track, the season restarts on July 30, with the Raptors set to retake the court on August 1 (and defend their 2019 championship by the way). With that in mind, we just had to bring back the Power Rankings Poll to properly assess how Toronto was being considered. As per usual, Monday afternoons are our special time.

Since this is an unprecedented (and morally compromised time, sorry), we’re jumping all over the place for our rankings this week. Two of our usual sources are ahead of things here with assessments from today, while two others are relying on takes from weeks past. I’ll let you guess which is which before reading on. It’s all good, really, since we’ve been given little chance to recalibrate our expectations for this season, save for a few scrimmages.

With that in mind, let’s see where the Raptors are at this moment, less than a week removed from their first competitive contest since March 12 — a century ago.

From ESPN this morning, let’s get into a good time with Tim Bontemps and his best case/worst case analysis of the Raptors:

4. Toronto Raptors (Last Time: 4)

Best-case scenario: When Kawhi Leonard left in free agency, the Raptors were left without the reigning Finals MVP. The defending champions came back with a deep roster full of tough, smart players. Toronto has the chance to not only surprise the Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals for a second straight year, but to shock the world and win a second title.

Worst-case scenario: It took four bounces off the friendly rims inside Scotiabank Arena for the Raptors to escape the second round last season. But without home-court advantage, and with a difficult opponent in either the Celtics or Sixers, Toronto isn’t so lucky this time around.

This accurately summarizes the situation with the Raptors, a team that is, in a sense, staring down a 50/50 proposition for the season. Yes, the odds aren’t that even for Toronto, but it often feels that way. They could surprise the world and return to the Finals, stronger and smarter than every other squad (and with a better coach to boot). But they could just as easily lose too. Thems, and I can’t stress this enough, the breaks.

Up next, we go back to June 30, when the Athletic’s Zach Harper last had a rankings take:

4. Toronto Raptors (Last Time: 4)

What to focus on: If the Bucks are still taking it seriously by the time we get to that back-to-back, the Toronto Raptors could have one of the tougher schedules coming back. They hold a three-game lead on Boston for the 2-seed, so they should be fine in eight games coming back. That showdown with Boston in the fourth game of the return will probably determine just how seriously the Raptors have to take the second half of this. Maybe the biggest thing to focus on is whether or not skinny Marc Gasol can still hold his own against Joel Embiid.

Why didn’t the Raptors move at all? They seem healthy, and I’m very impressed by how these guys respond to the creativity of Nick Nurse. I am talking myself into a Raptors Finals appearance more and more each day, but I’m still not sold on them being in the top 3 here.

First of all, skinny or not, Gasol is still going to handle Embiid, don’t you worry about that. Second of all, where Harper ends up is my stance too. Watching the Raptors play in their first two scrimmages was instructive as to just how well-managed this squad is. Yes, there is a talent gap at the top — LeBron, Giannis, Kawhi, and AD are better than Toronto’s best players — but the Raptors have a resiliency that is tough to match.

Now then, beloved figure Dr. John Schuhmann of NBA dot com is behind the curve too right now, promising rankings next week. As such, here’s where he left things on June 8th:

4. Toronto Raptors (Last Time: 4)

Defense wins championships, and the Raptors are a better defensive team than they were last season... when they won a championship. And that’s with their former Kia Defensive Player of the Year having missed 28 of the team’s 64 games.

Their closer left, but all three Raptors who have attempted at least 25 clutch shots — Pascal Siakam (53.1%), Kyle Lowry (60.4%) and Fred VanVleet (55.6%) — have a better effective field goal percentage in the clutch than Kawhi Leonard does this season (40.0%) or did last year, regular season (52.8%) or playoffs (46.3%).

Of course, the Raptors are back to being that team that’s better at taking care of business against lesser opponents than knocking off the good ones. Only the Magic and Thunder have a bigger differential between their winning percentage against the 17 teams with losing records (35-4, .897) and their winning percentage against the top 13 (11-14, .440). They’re 1-6 within the top four in the East, likely to play at least two more within the group before the playoffs begin.

Leave it to the doctor to give the truest — but also vaguest — diagnosis. The truth is, the Raptors’ 1-6 record against good teams is a concern. But many of those games (no, I’m not looking this up) occurred with the roster in some sort of flux. This has to count for something. Having a healthy team is surely better than... not, right? All we can suggest here is that the Raptors of today are more complete than the squad of a few months ago. And that team was already pretty dang good!

Finally, our benign nemesis Colin Ward-Henninger, who, really, has never thought about us here once, is on time with his latest set of rankings for CBS Sports:

3. Toronto Raptors (Last Time: 5)

The remainder of the NBA season could end up being a war of attrition, and at this point the Raptors have one of the deepest arsenals at their disposal with a full, healthy roster. For that reason, they get a little bump in the rankings heading into the seeding games. This is a veteran group with championship experience, which could be a huge advantage in the unfamiliar bubble setting.

Deepest. Fullest. Healthiest? Kudos to Colin for taking the plunge with us in Toronto. We like the Raptors’ chances too!

Now, onto the poll.

Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    No, the defending champs should be number 1!
    (16 votes)
  • 66%
    Yes, the Raptors are good, but have to worry about the presence of some other top level talent
    (91 votes)
  • 6%
    No, playing during a global pandemic? This is my time to shine (e.g. be extra gloomy)
    (9 votes)
  • 15%
    Yes, though really: nothing about any of this makes sense — which feels worth mentioning again
    (21 votes)
137 votes total Vote Now