If we’re being honest with ourselves, the hopes of this Raptors’ season were hitched to perhaps one too many ifs. The past week saw them go 2-1, which looks good when framed that way — but less so when we remember that Toronto is still 4-8, and their last two losses came on rough one-point losses. Those were, as you’ll recall, the types of wins this team was able to gut out last year. Now? Not so much.
But also what of those ifs? Well, we said if Pascal Siakam can regain his pre-Bubble form, if Norman Powell can play as consistently as he did for most of 2019-20, if OG Anunoby can develop more of his dribble-drive game, if Aron Baynes and Alex Len can give Toronto 60 percent of what Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka gave, if Matt Thomas can grow into his role, if DeAndre’ Bembry can indeed turn into found money, if Chris Boucher can become an actual rotation player — if, if, if. That last one turned out to be true. The rest? The jury has been in, out, at recess, and given over to intense deliberation during the past month.
The Power Ranking People once again tell the story. Let’s review the week’s assessment and see what exactly they’re saying this time around. First up, Tim Bontemps of ESPN continues his mission to rip and run:
19. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 20)
Toronto finally got itself headed in the right direction with a pair of nail-biting victories over the Hornets this week. If the Raptors had been able to do anything short of disaster in close games over the first few weeks of the season, they’d likely be .500 or better. Still, Toronto is going to need to get more from centers not named Chris Boucher moving forward. Aron Baynes, in particular (4.3 points per game on 37.5% shooting), has been a disappointment thus far.
A slight uptick this week from the Big Red Machine on the current state of the Raptors, which is a fair conclusion to draw. Seeing Baynes’ numbers written out like that though really drives home how bad he’s been. I don’t know who or what is to blame — is Baynes not used to catching passes from his point guard in the pick-and-roll? Is it a matter of a lack of conditioning, thanks to COVID-19 (which is no joke)? Is it just age and bodily deterioration? Whatever the case, Baynes being this bad for Toronto has really hurt them in their mission to remain somewhat comparable to last year.
Prayers up to Zach Harper of the Athletic who’s got a more upbeat look this time around:
16. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 24)
What do we like moving forward? They’re winning again, and I think it’s here to stay. Facing the Western Conference hasn’t been kind to the Raptors this season, but we’ve seen the Raptors look immensely better over the last week and a half. They barely lost to Portland, and they barely lost to the Clippers [sic; Harper means the Warriors]. During these last five games (3-2), Pascal Siakam has looked great with his all-around game. Chris Boucher has been one of the most productive players in the NBA. The team is shooting the ball great from 3-point range (41.6 percent). Raptors may have finally steadied themselves in a season without a home.
Why are they here? Yes, half of their wins this season have come against Charlotte, but I’m impressed with how much better they’ve looked recently. I think the Raptors are trending upward long-term.
An upward trend! It’s true! If nothing else, I can appreciate Harper’s clear-eyed assessment here. I don’t know if everything the Raptors are doing right now is sustainable, but I do agree that they’re better than they were at the very start of this season.
Fortunately for me, Dr. John Schuhmann of the NBA mothership seems to agree with my note of concern:
17. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 24)
In their two-game series against the Hornets, the Raptors were outscored, 90-56, in the paint. But they’ve really been chuckin’ ’em from deep, taking more than half of their shots from 3-point range and making at least 40% of their 3-pointers in each of their last three games. Even before those three games, they led the league in the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range. Now (at 49.3%) they’re seemingly on the path to being the first team outside of Houston to take more than half its shots from beyond the arc over a full season.
Chris Boucher (15-for-26 from deep over the last six games) has been one of the Raptors lighting it up. Doing a lot more than shooting 3-pointers, he leads the league in effective field goal percentage (minimum 100 field goal attempts) and is looking like a real Sixth Man of the Year candidate thanks to the token minutes that coach Nick Nurse has been giving his starting center (Alex Len or Aron Baynes). The Raptors have outscored their opponents by 6.9 points per 100 possessions with Boucher on the floor and by 17.0 per 100 in 75 total minutes with Pascal Siakam at the five.
The defensive numbers with Siakam at center are particularly good, but the overall defense (more than 110 points allowed per 100 possessions in seven of their last eight games) still isn’t where it needs to be as the Raptors take their first winning streak into a 10-day stretch — six games against the Mavs, Heat (x2), Pacers (x2) and Bucks — that could really make or break their season.
The blurb above is long again — the doctor does what he wants! — and there’s not much more to add. Boucher has been better than expected this year, but we have to see how he’ll hold up — both as the team’s main centre now, and as a player being asked to take on a much bigger role than he’s ever had before. (Maybe Baynes and Len will be able to pick up some of that slack in the fullness of time, which is of course another thing to keep an eye on.) Schuhmann is absolutely right that games against the Heat, Pacers, and Bucks — the meat of the East — will teach us a lot about where the Raptors are now, and where they might be going.
Finally, to wrap things up here, we go to Colin Ward-Henninger from CBS Sports:
17. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 24)
Toronto dropped a close one to the Blazers, then got two tight, but much-needed “home” wins over the Hornets in Tampa to close out the week. The defense is still struggling, but the offense did enough to win as the Raptors made a combined 41 3-pointers in the two wins against Charlotte. Chris Boucher has continued to be a revelation off the bench, averaging 21.7 points, nine rebounds and 2.3 blocks this week, while Norman Powell tied a career high with six 3-pointers on Saturday.
It really is worth noting again that the Raptors are not playing at home right now — even with a suite of “home” games shown on the schedule. But it should also be said that the Raptors are relying on Boucher and Powell, as noted above, to carry the team’s offense from time to time, and that is a risky proposition for a full 72-game season. Norm was good against Charlotte, and it would be huge if he too could regain his near-Sixth Man of the Year form. Let’s see how he and Boucher in particular play over the next seven days and then reconvene.
Now, onto the poll.
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 4 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, two wins in a row could easily become three
Yes, two wins in a row is only so good
No, two wins in a row against the Hornets is by no means an accurate assessment of quality
Yes, there’s a Hornets team in Charlotte again? How long have I been asleep?