There’s no way to talk around it: the Raptors limped into the midpoint of the season with a bevy of COVID concerns and two losses in the past week. It’s easy to understand how one follows the other here, the defeats — one crushing, one spirited — coming because of the coronavirus-caused absences. To be clear: we don’t know what the viral circumstances are with the Raptors right now, but the coaching staff has been sidelined and a handful of players are still going through the league’s health and safety protocols. Thank goodness for the break, is all I’ll add here.
As we stand now at the midway mark of the 2020-21 season, the Power Ranking People are taking stock of the league and its teams before we finish up with that aforementioned break. The Raptors are firmly in the middle of the pack, but it is still somewhat difficult to see how this season will shake out for them. Will they avoid the play-in tournament? Will they get much more than a game or two above .500? Is it even remotely possible for this season to end on a positive note? Let’s get to this week’s rankings and figure it out.
First up, as always, one of the big cheeses (cheesi) at ESPN, Tim Bontemps, gives us his initial kick at the can:
16. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 13)
Second-half storyline: What will happen with Kyle Lowry?
The greatest player in the history of the franchise, Lowry will be a free agent at the end of the season. That leaves Toronto with a question: Is Lowry going to be part of its future? And if the answer is not a definitive yes, how should that impact the Raptors’ thought process heading into the trade deadline? Especially in a thin trade market, Lowry will all but certainly be the best player available if Toronto chose to move him somewhere. That would give the Raptors — who have seen four key free agents (Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol) leave without compensation over the past two years — some pieces to continue to build around their core of Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby.
But is making that move worth throwing away a chance at yet another deep playoff run? Does it make a difference that the two most likely teams with the wherewithal to trade for Lowry are the Sixers and Heat — fellow Eastern Conference contenders? None of these questions has a clear answer.
Here’s my take on the idea of the Raptors trading Lowry in the next couple of weeks: why bother? The return the team could get for him is thin (a pick or two, maybe a young player with “upside,” and definitely some massive salary ballast to make the deal work) and the benefit even thinner.
Yes, I get the idea of not wanting to lose Lowry for nothing, and even the idea of business coming before sentimentality. But still: will the Raptors be that much ahead next season if they have, say, Tyrese Maxey on their roster and an extra second round pick to use? Why not just let Lowry play out the string with his squad and then reassess the situation in the off-season — there’s not as much value to acquire here as you think. (This take is null and void if a current All-Star calibre player locked into a longer team contract suddenly becomes available.)
Next up, the megamind at the Athletic, Zach Harper, is here with his insight:
15. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 13)
Previous first-quarter grade/ranking: D+ | Ranked 18th
Updated first-half grade: B
Things improved dramatically for the Toronto Raptors after a rough start. Oddly enough, the Raptors are winning with offense and not so much with defense. Their defense has fallen below league average because they’re a terrible rebounding team and they send their opponents to the free throw line more than anybody in the NBA. The Raptors shoot a ton of 3-pointers, and they make them. They also make their free throws (third). I’m not quite sure where the Raptors go from here the rest of the season. Some people believe Kyle Lowry could be moved before the deadline, but I just don’t see the benefit for Toronto. Unless it wants to punt on trying to avoid the play-in tournament.
Positive spin? OG Anunoby and Norman Powell have been phenomenal on the wings. Both guys are knocking down 3-pointers, and they do a great job of attacking the basket. They’ve helped Pascal Siakam immensely on the wings.
I’ll have my midseason report card on the Raptors out tomorrow, but for now I’ll say: a B-grade is about what I’d give the team after the past 36 games. It has been something of a surprise to see Toronto’s defense falter (though perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised), and it is not surprising to hear more about Lowry getting traded here. Kudos to Harper for understanding what I just expressed above: there’s no actual move to make.
To provide the sober and clear-eyed analysis we need, here’s Dr. John Schuhmann at NBA dot com:
18. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 14)
The Raps were on a run, winning nine of 12, a stretch that included victories over each of the top three teams in the East. But, dealing with both injuries and COVID-related absences, they lost four of their last five games. And with the Celtics completing a season sweep on Thursday (one of Raptors’ worst defensive performances of the season), Toronto became the first team to match its loss total from last season.
Now, we wait to see just who’s available as the Raps begin the second half of the season with three really important games in the standings.
Three numbers to know:
1. The Raptors are one of three teams (Atlanta and Indiana are the others) with a losing record and a positive point differential. They’re 17-19 with the point differential of a team that’s 20-16, having gone 7-13 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.
3. The Raptors have the league’s worst record (1-6) in the second games of back-to-backs. They’re 16-13 with rest.
For 1. This is a telling stat in that it suggests the Raptors are better than their record (which is true). 2. This is a mind-blowingly disappointing number. 3. There are no back-to-backs in the playoffs, phew. And a bonus number four: the Raptors have to improve if only to escape being ranked below the Knicks this season. What a nightmare.
And finally, bringing up the rear, let’s hand it over to good soldier Colin Ward-Henninger of CBS Sports:
16. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 14)
After a rough start to the season, the Raptors looked to be turning things around before coaches and players were struck by COVID-19, leading to four losses in five games heading into the break. The defense was looking a lot better before that, and Fred VanVleet has earned his contract thus far with 20 points and 6.6 assists per game on 38 percent 3-point shooting. Masai Ujiri has a decision to make on Kyle Lowry, who’s having a tremendous season and could be a hot commodity at the trade deadline.
All of this is fair, but again we must ask: setting aside Lowry’s hot commodity status (which is of course true since Lowry is an awesome player who would immediately help a team with its goal of winning a title), which teams could actually offer a compelling offer?
By my count, we’ve got: the Sixers (who could offer Maxey and Matisse Thybulle; but they’d need a third team to make the salaries work or offer Ben Simmons); then there are the Clippers (who desperately need a point guard, and have literally nothing of value to the Raptors); and then maybe the Heat (who would have to toss in someone like Tyler Herro, which I don’t see happening; I think they’d also need a third team). Am I wrong on this, is there some other deal I’m not seeing?
For now, let’s get on with the poll.
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 11 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, these COVID absences are a distraction from the truth!
Yes, right now, the Raptors are a .500 team, but there’s still time
No, I’m absolutely salivating at the misery to be wrought by a Kyle Lowry trade
Yes, and I have a deal to offer for Lowry in the comments section below