It almost feels like we need one of those websites, like IsAbeVigoda.com or some such thing, to confirm the binary on where we stand with the Raptors. I haven’t looked into it, but if the URL “AreTheRaptorsGood.com” is available, someone should snap it up and answer the question day by day. Right now, on the day of the third week of Power Rankings, the answer is, unfortunately: no, no the Raptors are not good.
The Raptors are improving though, which is a slim distinction, true, but not an altogether uncomforting one. As it stands, through almost one-tenth of the season, Toronto is now 2-7, which puts them in 13th place in the Eastern Conference. That’s the bad news, a position we Raptors fans haven’t been in since late 2013. The good news? This wonky season — which may or may not have at least one COVID-infested team roving the countryside like a pack of zombies — has the Raptors a mere 2.5 games out of sixth. That sixth-played team: the New York Knicks. Strange days indeed.
To help us make sense of what’s been going on, we turn as per usual to this week’s Power Rankings. Up first, the monster man of ESPN, here’s Tim Bontemps with his take:
20. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 18)
Toronto’s bizarre start to the season continued: A nice win in Sacramento on Friday was followed up with a clunker at Golden State on Sunday, where the Raptors came back from a big deficit to take a late lead, only to foul Damion Lee in the final seconds and lose by a point. Still, the Raptors have to be encouraged by the recent improved play of Pascal Siakam, who averaged 24 points, almost nine rebounds and over five assists while shooting over 50% from the field and hitting 40% of his 3s in four games last week. If Toronto wants to dig out of this hole, Siakam continuing to play like that is a good start.
I feel like we’ve talked about Pascal enough, so there’s not a lot more to add here. Still, I must give kudos to Bontemps for his use of the descriptor “bizarre,” It truly is weird to watch the up-and-down nature of Toronto right now. Did you know they signed two centres in the off-season and have now discovered their best big man is Chris Boucher, who was thought to be a power forward as recently as just a few months ago? Bizarre!
For our next take-smith, we turn to Zach Harper of the Athletic Dynasty to provide some insight:
24. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 23)
The bad news is the Toronto Raptors still struggle to win these games right now. They beat an awful Sacramento team this week, but they couldn’t quite get the job done against Boston, Phoenix or Golden State. Those are bad losses individually on the surface, but string them together in one week, and it just compounds the issues the Raptors have had to start the season. But if we’re looking for a silver lining here, Pascal Siakam is starting to get it going. Over the four games this week, Siakam averaged 24.0 points on 51.1 percent from the field and 40.0 percent from deep. He also grabbed 8.8 rebounds and dished out 5.3 assists each game. If you’re going to see losses right now, you at least want to see Siakam finding a groove as the No. 1 guy. Baby steps?
More on Pascal! Let’s touch on a couple other items: Did you know the Raptors beat the Kings — a bad team, it’s true — without Kyle Lowry? That they’re fielding a team with a bunch of undrafted players, like Fred VanVleet, Yuta Watanabe, and, yes, Terence Davis? (They have Matt Thomas too, who has apparently fallen off the face of the Earth.) While I don’t care for Harper’s smug tone here, he’s generally correct — even if we’d rather talk about how coach Nick Nurse should never play Davis and Norman Powell together, or something like that.
Next up, the doctor is in! Here’s Dr. John Schuhmann at NBA dot com with his careful considerations:
24. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 21)
In December, the Raptors ranked 30th offensively and third defensively, combining with their opponents to score just 99 points per 100 possessions over four games. In January, they rank first offensively and 29th defensively, having combined with their opponents to score 119 points per 100 possessions over five games. On the bright side, they’ve been able to get buckets. Fred VanVleet (averaging 22.1, 5.0 and 5.8) just keeps getting better and Pascal Siakam has had four straight not-bad offensive performances, with a career-high 12 assists in their win in Sacramento on Friday. That was the most efficient performance (144 points on 100 possessions) for any team in a game this season.
On the down side, the defense has obviously not been to their standards. It has allowed at least 120 points per possessions more times in January (4) than it did all of last season (3). Chris Boucher seems to be the only center that Nick Nurse is willing to play, but the Raps have been killed on the glass (grabbing just 65.4% of available defensive rebounds) in his minutes on the floor.
Bottom line: The Raptors are 2-7, but with the East’s ninth-best point differential (-1.4 points per game). Their loss to the Warriors on Sunday dropped them to 0-4 (the 0-1 Bucks are the only other team without a win) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.
The above is a long blurb so I’ll just add: boy howdy, look at all those bizarre and ungainly numbers. Maybe there really just is too much small-sample noise to the Raptors so far. Maybe!
Finally, we turn to Colin Ward-Henninger of CBS Sports to round out the week:
24. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 20)
Three more losses for the Raptors this week brings their record to 2-7, one of the bigger surprises in the NBA. The offense has broken out a bit, led by Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam, but they continue to struggle defensively, allowing 118.6 points per 100 possessions in four games this week. They appear to be missing Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, as their defense at the rim has slipped considerably. Coach Nick Nurse started Pascal Siakam at center in Sunday’s loss to the Warriors, and said he’ll keep tweaking different parts of the game plan until Toronto hits its stride.
Ah, we almost got through this post without mentioning the departed Gasol and Ibaka. I must eat some crow here. Not long ago I declared that while Gasol and Ibaka were obviously part of Toronto’s recent success, it struck me that they couldn’t have been that responsible — given that both missed time last season and sometimes appeared in limited roles. This seems like a false statement now. It is indeed clear that the Raptors miss that veteran swagger and know-how that their two former big men provided. When the team was listing, it was often Gasol or Ibaka who could help organize things, or grab a big board, or just play with a calming confidence. Toronto misses that energy quite a bit — even with Lowry still doing what he can to help produce for this squad.
Now, onto the poll.
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 3 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, [feral noises]
Yes, [calm sigh]
No, [deathly silence]
Yes, [footsteps, a door opening, the crunch of gravel, the caw of a bird, nature’s great profundity stretching out within the mind’s eye making a noise beyond hearing]