The Raptors are 1-4 and and of course we as a fanbase are Not OK. There are many reasons for this, but I’d like to weave through two of them here as we look at this week’s Power Rankings. Believe me, I understand there are more issues to take here with Toronto’s start, but I don’t want to get carried away — yet.
First, I think it is worth noting that it is still early in this unduly strange season. We’ve become so accustomed to the idea of the Raptors and success — in just a few short years we entirely expect it — that to see the team flailing comes as something of a shock. It makes watching the team lose a few winnable games in a row especially hard to stomach. As recently as just a few months ago, the Raptors had their hard-earned identity and could grind out wins against anyone. Now? We’re not so sure.
The challenge then is part two of this equation: finding our enjoyment in these Raptors as they continue on in 2021. So far in the early going, this joy has been harder to come by. Maybe it’s because the team isn’t actually in Toronto; maybe it’s because Pascal Siakam, once filled with grinning excitement, looks miserable; maybe it’s something else. If we’re overly concerned right now with the Raps, it may largely be because the team itself looks concerned — as if they’re all asking themselves: well, what do we do now?
As an answer to that last question, I propose we look at this week’s Power Rankings and decide if they (and we) are being wholly fair to the team. First up, as per usual, we cede the floor to ESPN and their grinning man, Tim Bontemps:
18. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 15)
Toronto could reasonably be 5-0. Instead, the Raptors are 1-4 after losing another close game in New Orleans on Saturday night. The poise and veteran know-how that came to define the Raptors the past couple of seasons is nowhere to be seen, and Pascal Siakam’s substandard play in the bubble has returned at the start of this season. Toronto has played a difficult schedule, and presumably will get itself righted, but it has been a troubling start. Monday’s game against Boston will be critical.
While I think even the most optimistic Raptors fans wouldn’t have put the team at 5-0 to start the season, it’s fair to say they’ve had at least a chance to win the games they’ve played this season. Fairer still to note that they’ve just, well, blown it. In this it’s hard not to blame Siakam, as much as we should be rooting for him to succeed (because he seems like such a nice guy and because the Raptors have clearly invested in him to be good). We can bring up all the other reasons too, but the bottom line here is inescapable: for now, Siakam is Toronto’s number one guy and as such everyone will be looking to him to deliver the Ws.
Up next in our journey, our customary check-in with the man out west, Zach Harper of the Athletic:
23. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 22)
Poise or Panic? Panic. It’s not like this season is a lost cause for the Raptors, but fans have to be concerned with the start of this season. As the No. 1 guy, Pascal Siakam trended in the wrong direction last season. He was a disaster in the bubble before the Raptors got knocked out of the playoffs. The wear-and-tear and attention of being the top guy every night is a lot. I don’t doubt Siakam can figure it out, but his start to this season is rough. Nick Nurse needs to figure out how to get him some easy buckets. Once he starts scoring, one of the worst offenses in the league will get a big boost.
Why rank them here? One win over the Knicks won’t save their power rankings positioning. They’re ranked behind that Knicks team because they haven’t found success in any other game this season. The Raptors can’t score right now, and they simply don’t have the comfort of real home games this season.
As per Harper’s usual method, there’s a binary to consider here; this time it’s the alliterative poise or panic question posed above. I think it he’s right to tilt things a bit towards panic — the Raptors just have not looked like themselves over the first five games and it’s getting harder to wave away concerns about Siakam. I wish this were not so (but I still would never rank them below the dang Knicks).
At NBA HQ, meanwhile, Dr. John Schuhmann continues to work away on his formulae:
21. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 17)
The Pascal Siakam Struggle Story now includes a team suspension for disciplinary reasons, presumably because he went straight to the locker room after fouling out on Tuesday. Beyond the 8-for-28 from 3-point range, Siakam’s shooting numbers from any particular area aren’t that bad. But only 17% (11/66) of his shots have come in the restricted area. That rate is down from 34% last season and 49% through his first three years. With that, his free throw rate is down from 27.4 attempts per 100 shots from the field last season to just 12.1 per 100 this season. His name isn’t Curry or Redick; He needs layups and free throws.
Despite Siakam’s struggles and though depth remains a serious issue, the Raptors aren’t that far away from where they want to be. They’ve led all five of their games by double-digits. Their defense is there, though its proclivity for swarming to the ball gave up huge 3s in Philadelphia on Tuesday (when Fred VanVleet left Seth Curry to help on a Joel Embiid drive) and in New Orleans on Saturday (when they doubled Brandon Ingram 22 feet from the basket).
One last note on Siakam: I do wish he could find a way to get that free throw rate back up. I don’t know if it’s down because Pascal has gotten more comfortable with his jumper (which doesn’t seem true), or if it’s just tough to have to keep driving into a thicket of bodies play after play after play, or if it’s something else. In lieu of a tightened handle and fearsome midrange game, Siakam has to at least try to play through — and welcome — contact. We’ll leave it at that.
Finally, we get to our old friend Colin Ward-Henninger at CBS Sports, whom I just can’t stay mad at (though, yes, I’ve never met or interacted with him in any way):
20. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 21)
Toronto picked up its first win of the season over the Knicks, a game in which it benched Pascal Siakam for disciplinary reasons. The Raptors bookended that with losses to the 76ers and Pelicans as the slow start continues for Nick Nurse’s bunch. The Raptors are dead-last in transition offense, according to Synergy, after finishing third in that department last season, so there’s reason to believe things will deviate to the mean pretty soon to help bolster the struggling offense. Norman Powell broke out of his slump in the final two games of the week, hitting 4-of-6 3-pointers in the loss to the Pelicans, which could be a sign of better things ahead.
God bless you, CBS Sports. The Raptors won one (1) game and that earned them a tick up in the Rankings. Credit to Toronto’s squad, credit to Colin, and, sure, credit to all of us reading this right now for making it to 2021. That is no small feat given our current situation.
Now, onto the poll.
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 2 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, these rankings are hitting like a gauge to the ribcage
Yes, and I should know: I’ve got more soul than a sock with a hole
Yes, and I could have got away with it if it was not for them meddling kids