When the season is fresh and new, and when your best player is on the shelf recovering some surgery, and when your team is young, it’s the small, little improvements you want to see. Like Scottie Barnes getting comfortable calling his own number, or Gary Trent Jr. improving his defense.
Or, like seeing your team rank slightly higher in the ever-important power rankings polls!
Because while in the micro-scale, an incremental improvement may not look like much, over time, those improvements compound, and become highly visible in the macro scale. It’s a long season. Every week-over-week improvement leads to a month-over-month improvement, which eventually means the team that’s playing basketball in April is much better than the team that was playing basketball in March.
Let’s see if the Power Rankings agree!
We’ll start this week with Tim Bontemps at ESPN, who’s keeping it short and sweet:
18. Toronto Raptors (previously: 22)
Toronto is thrilled with what it’s getting from Scottie Barnes. The fourth overall pick in July’s NBA draft is averaging 18.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, shooting 55% from the field and is the early front-runner in the Rookie of the Year race.
I think Tim was referring to the franchise Toronto there, but I’m pretty confident you could say the whole city is thrilled. Toronto has not had a rookie of the year since Vince Carter in 1999. It’s still a bit early but boy, it’s really great to see Scottie Barnes name as the leading candidate.
If we bounce over to John Schuhmann at NBA.com, guess what, he’s talking about Scottie Barnes too! Though Schuhmann was slightly critical of Barnes’ shot selection, the numbers are in Barnes’ favour:
19. Toronto Raptors (previously: 20)
... the rookie has shot a solid 25-for-53 (47%) on those non-restricted-area 2s, adding some pick-and-pop buckets (one, two from the Raptors’ win over Orlando on Friday) to those transition pull-ups. He seems to have a knack for finding the soft spot in the defense and clearly hasn’t been told not to shoot from there. We’ll see if he can sustain that kind of shooting (the league average on non-restricted-area 2s is 40%) as the season goes on.
Schuhmann had similar concerns about Gary Trent Jr.’s shot selection, but Trent is making up for it on the defensive end:
He ranks sixth in the league with 4.3 deflections per game (Fred VanVleet leads the league for the third straight season), up from 2.0 last season. He stripped Jalen Suggs to help the Raptors build a late, 12-point lead against the Magic and, after they blew almost all of that lead, sealed the win by knocking the ball away from Cole Anthony.
He sure did! I have many qualms about Gary’s shot selection, but I absolutely love how much he has bought into the Raptors’ defensive style of play. All those deflections cause is chaos and they take me to the super-fun 2019-20 season.
Finally we visit Zach Harper of The Athletic, and he too is talking about Scottie Barnes:
19. Toronto Raptors (previously: 20)
...the Raptors are all kinds of gritty. In fact, they’re the reason I didn’t feel comfortable saying the Miami Heat will be the best defense in the NBA hands down this season because I love what the Raptors look like on that end of the floor. I almost never concede a rookie actually mattering defensively, but Scottie Barnes is one of the few exceptions to that rule already.
Zach goes on to mention the same chaos I mentioned above, but he’s taking a more cautious approach:
The Raptors rely a little too much on creating turnovers right now, so I’d like to see them a little more sound on that end and limit 3-point accuracy against them...
This is a sound point. Over the past couple of seasons teams have feasted from downtown against the Raptors, and going for steals and strips can leave defenders out of position and create wide-open looks for opponents.
But chaos is more fun!
On to the poll:
Are the incremental power rankings gains enough for the Raptors this week?
This poll is closed
Yes. The opposition was subpar, so a slight gain makes sense.
No. Three wins are three wins! They should be top-15.
Neither. The opposition was so weak they should be dropping.
Don’t know, don’t care. I’m just here ‘cause Gary Trent is fine as hell.