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Tank Watch: The Raptors are not quite doing this right

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Toronto appeared to be leaning towards prioritizing their lottery odds, but with two crucial wins last week, the team powered through and changed the script again.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at New York Knicks POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

What a weird week for the Toronto Raptors. Up until recently, they had been losing a lot of games they were trying to win so as to get back into the playoff picture. Fast forward to last week, after the disappointing losses had mounted and the organization had made a couple of personnel moves that were more for the future: the team won a couple of games during a grueling week.

Still, the Raptors’ playoff play-in hopes are fading fast. They are two games behind the Chicago Bulls for the last play-in spot. The problem here is that the Bulls own the tiebreaker (the Raps lost to them last week). As a result, Toronto would need to finish ahead of the Bulls for the 10th seed in the East. That’s going to be tough now with 18 games to go.

Whether intentional or not, the signs are there that the Raptors are not necessarily prioritizing going all-in to make the playoffs. The DNP - Rest calls are being made, there were no big win-now moves at the trade deadline, and the franchise appeared to priortize saving every penny by keeping multiple roster spots for awhile versus getting the team additional health from the free agent market. Heck, when was the last time we saw coach Nick Nurse keep a tight rotation? It makes a person wonder!

The Last Week and the Next Week

The Raptors are a good bad team. I say this with the utmost respect. They’re losing games, but they’re also talented enough to beat any team — particularly other cellar-dwellers — unless outside intervention (i.e. Health & Safety Protocols, Injuries, DNP, B2B games) comes into play. The Raptors’ floor is still higher than those other bottom-ranking teams if their core players are all active. The win against the Washington Wizards is Exhibit A. It only took them one good quarter — including Gary Trent Jr’s game-winner — to take the game away.

Having a Raptor suddenly go off makes it tough for a playoff team to put them away. For example, the Chicago Bulls had to come up big down the stretch to nullify Chris Boucher’s 38-point, 19-rebound performance. A lights-out performance like Gary Trent’s 44 points proved to be too much for a mediocre team like the Cavs. But then, the second game of a back-to-back has become a “schedule loss” for the Raptors this season, as they came up short against the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks as they finished 2-3 last week.

The Raptors play four games this week, and there are a couple that could derail their goal to move further down the standings. With the Raptors starting to get their core players healthy, it will be tough to lose against the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder. The matchup against the Thunder could be pivotal since they are only half a game ahead of them. There’s a chance that the Raptors could go 2-2 this coming week, but playing .500 ball is not conducive for a tanking team.

In the big picture, the Raptors are just a half-game ahead of the Wizards, and they already won their season series against them. The Wizards have a tougher week, where they can go 1-3 or 0-4 this week. The Thunder could go 0-4 or 2-2, depending on much the Raptors and the Pistons want the ping-pong balls. With key players out of the lineup, we can maybe expect the the Cavs to go 0-3 for the week too, so the Raptors must set their priorities.

Suspicious Tank Moves of the Week

DNP - Rest (Tanking)

Even with two wins, it was hard not to raise an eyebrow on a few developments last week. First, the two DNPs. Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby have played the lion’s share of minutes this season, and it hasn’t mattered if it’s the second game of a back-to-back. If coach Nurse smells a chance at winning, he will ride those guys — he’s had little choice.

Just recently, Nurse played Siakam 76 minutes in a back-to-back. That’s a tough task for someone who’s still recovering from his bout with COVID. So, in all, it made sense to give Pascal and OG each a night off, but it also increased the chances the Raptors would lose both games (they split them instead).

OG’s Single-Leg Takedown

Next, we have Anunoby’s single-leg takedown that came out of nowhere. (Before that, we have to call out Dennis Schroeder’s weak takedown defense. He needs to learn how to sprawl to avoid getting flipped like a teapot.) Anunoby’s ejection was enough to deplete the Raptors roster further (DeAndre’ Bembry and Fred VanVleet got a one-game suspension for leaving the bench to admire the takedown), and the events enabled the Lakers to carve out a victory that night.

Now, Anunoby’s action were not planned, but Masai did not look one bit bothered by the ejection. He even gave Anonuby a dap as he exited the court. Suspicious!

Poor Siakam

Where do we start here? Siakam’s horrendous first half against the Knicks firmly supports the #FadeForCade propaganda. While he got his bearings back slightly in the second, he was instrumental in subduing the Raptors’ comeback by throwing cold water on their decisive run. How about this game-losing turnover by Siakam?

The NBA Supports the Tank

Is there a conspiracy involving commissioner Adam Silver that’s trying to ensure the Raptors fold their season early? Or could it be that the NBA’s refs are just sick and tired of the Raptors (coaches and players) complaining about calls? The results from Sunday’s Knicks games provide some evidence in the affirmative for both questions.

From out of nowhere, the refs wiped a crucial three-pointer by Malachi Flynn in the fourth quarter against the Knicks. It verymuch affected the game’s outcome — and seems impossibly cruel in retrospect. Not that this corner of the web is complaining about the call, but I’m pretty sure Papa Flynn isn’t happy about it.

Draft Tidbits

Current Lottery Odds heading into Monday, April 12, 2021 courtesy of Tankathon

The two wins last week bumped the Raptors from the 7th spot to the 8th lottery spot. That may not look significant enough, but that drop to the 8th spot meant a decrease from 32 percent to 26.3 percent odds of landing a top-four pick.

However, it doesn’t mean the Raptors are screwed out of top talent. They just have to pray harder for the ping pong balls to go their way. As we saw last week when charting the 8th-best lottery odds over the previous 20 years, at least that pick only moved down to the 9th spot twice. Further on the plus side, the eighth-best odds have moved up six times over that period, compared to four times for the 7th lottery spot. That’s progress!

The only concern here is that historically, the 8th overall pick hasn’t panned out well over the last 20 years, with arguably Rudy Gay, Terrence Ross, and Collin Sexton as the best picks at this position (yikes). Here’s hoping that this draft year’s talent is better and that the Raptors’ scouting team do their jobs. Toronto does not want to end up with another Rafael Araujo, whom they picked 8th back in 2004.

8th best lottery odds over the last 20 years

Draft Year Team Changes Selection
Draft Year Team Changes Selection
2001 Los Angeles Clippers Moved up to 2nd Tyson Chandler
2002 Atlanta Hawks No Change Chris Wilcox
2003 Atlanta Hawks No Change TJ Ford
2004 SMH No Change Rafael Araujo
2005 New York Knicks No Change Channing Frye
2006 Houston Rockets No Change Rudy Gay
2007 Charlotte Bobcats No Change Brandan Wright
2008 Charlotte Bobcats Moved down to 9th DJ Augustin
2009 New York Knicks No Change Jordan Hill
2010 Los Angeles Clippers No Change Al-Farouq Aminu
2011 Los Angeles Clippers Moved up to 1st Kyrie Irving
2012 Toronto Raptors No Change Terrence Ross
2013 Washington Wizards Moved up to 3rd Otto Porter
2014 Detroit Pistons Moved down to 9th Noah Vonleh
2015 Detroit Pistons No Change Stanley Johnson
2016 Sacramento Kings No Change Marquese Chriss
2017 Sacramento Kings Moved up to 3rd Jayson Tatum
2018 Brooklyn Nets No Change Collin Sexton
2019 Memphis Grizzlies Moved up to 2nd Ja Morant
2020 Charlotte Hornets Moved up to 3rd Lamelo Ball
Draft History for the 8th best lottery odds for the last 20 years

Luckily for the Raptors, this coming draft might be deep enough to make it worthwhile if they end up between the 7th-10th lottery range. There’s a good chance that players with upside like Scottie Barnes, Jalen Johnson, and Keon Johnson could still be available in this range.

Mock Draft Selections

Draft site Pick Prospect Age Height Position
Draft site Pick Prospect Age Height Position
CBS 7 James Bouknight 20 6'5" G
NBA Draft Room 7 Keon Johnson 18 6'5" G/F
SB Nation 7 Keon Johnson 18 6'5" G/F
NBADraft.Net 7 Moses Moody 18 6'6" G/F
ESPN 11 Isaiah Jackson 19 6'10" C
Tankathon 8 Corey Kispert 22 6'7" G/F
Bleacher Report 7 Scottie Barnes 19 6'9" F

Big Board/Mock Draft Matrix

Prospect Bleacher Report Tankathon ND.Net ESPN Athletic Ringer BasketballNews SB Nation NBA Draft Room CBS
Prospect Bleacher Report Tankathon ND.Net ESPN Athletic Ringer BasketballNews SB Nation NBA Draft Room CBS
Moses Moody 9 12 7 21 7 10 14 6 10 11
Scottie Barnes 7 7 6 10 6 11 6 8 5 10
Jalen Johnson 8 6 23 8 20 12 7 10 9 19
Corey Kispert 13 8 9 12 9 7 11 18 19 20
Keon Johnson 6 11 8 6 10 6 9 7 7 9
Kai Jones 12 18 10 16 8 8 13 11 18 8
Isaiah Jackson 19 14 32 11 19 N/A 20 21 20 18
James Bouknight 16 13 13 17 12 13 8 14 8 7
Comparison on what the popular outlets have the Raptors picking at 7th/8th, cross-referenced with each other.