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Tank Watch: Are the Raptors trying to win or lose?

With the Raptors still at a crossroads, we’ll be looking at the past week and the week ahead for the team as they try to get into the playoffs — or improve their lottery odds.

Denver Nuggets v Toronto Raptors Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

As the season winds down, with just 22 games to go, the Toronto Raptors have a tough decision to make. After two wins in April (more than they got in all of March), the Raptors are just one game out of 10th place, which would slot them into the play-in tournament and a chance for the playoffs. Of course, they’re also only five games out of last place in the Eastern Conference, with a 6.7 percent chance at the NBA Draft’s top pick and a virtual lock for a top 10 pick — their first in five years.

So then, do the Raptors want to fully tank or make a push for the playoffs?

As part of a recurring series on HQ, we’ll attempt to answer that question based on what the Raptors are doing, how they’re doing, and other random odds and ends about the end of the season and eventual NBA Draft Lottery. Welcome to the Raptors HQ version of Tank Watch.

Toronto’s Current Injury Situation

While not actually trained medical professionals, the Fantasy Doctors Podcast gave their take on the injuries sustained by Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet.

We don’t know exactly what kind of toenail infection Lowry’s got — and, gross, would prefer not to know — but the Fantasy Doctors offered this: the most common toenail infection comes from an ingrown toenail. According to them, toenail infections from an ingrown toenail should be manageable. However, they can get worse to the point of requiring surgery. While this is all speculation, the Fantasy Doctors’ other theory is that it could be Cellulitis, which can be treated in 7-14 days.

Another episode touched upon VanVleet’s hip flexor injury (they covered this before the medical update came out). The Fantasy Doctors theorized that it’s possibly a Grade 1 injury, which could keep Fred out on a day-to-day basis for perhaps up to a week. As reported by The Athletic’s Blake Murphy, VanVleet is day-to-day.

The Raptors are also missing Rodney Hood, who had showed some utility off the bench, along with Paul Watson, who also looked to finally be coming into his own as a rotation player. (Patrick McCaw and Jalen Harris are also out right now, but their impact on the Raptors’ season has been invisible.)

The Last Week and the Next Week

The Raptors hit a couple of lows last week, getting punked by Dwane Casey’s Detroit Pistons and losing to an already obviously tanking Oklahoma City Thunder (/Blue squad). The Thunder game shook up the Tankathon as it flipped the Raptors and the Thunder on the standings, moving the Raptors closer to the #LosingaForKuminga range. Of course, that flipped again after the Raptors trashed the Golden State (Santa Cruz) Warriors.

The Raptors play five games this week, which includes two sets of back-to-backs. The Raptors haven’t played well in those, as signs of fatigue creep out early for the key players, but they’ve already won their first game of the week last night behind Malachi Flynn’s continued breakout and Gary Trent Jr’s game winning buzzer beater. The five games are a season-high for most games in a week, and injuries, conditioning, and lack of depth could see the Raptors go either 1-4 or 2-3 during this stretch.

That said: tonight it’s the LeBron-and-AD’s Lakers, and the next three nights are against, let’s call them inconsistent teams in Chicago, Cleveland, and New York. Winnable games for the Raptors, if that is indeed what they’re trying to do.

Possible Tank Move?

Flash back to March 31 in Oklahoma City. The Raptors were down 104-96 with five minutes left in the game after the Thunder started the quarter with a 17-7 run. During that time, the Raptors were struggling to put the ball in the hoop and were beginning to lose the battle of the boards too. Coach Nick Nurse clearly felt the team needed to add more size to deal with the pesky Thunder bigs, so he inserted Aron Baynes for Malachi Flynn.

The Raptors would go on to get out-rebounded 10-2 during Baynes’ stint, while functionally executing their offense four-vs-five. Setting aside last night’s bounce-back against Washington, rebounds have been hard to come by for Baynes. In fact, it’s gotten to the point when it deserves to be highlighted when he makes a play on the glass.

We’ve made this point before: is playing Baynes now something of a stealth tank move or is it truly because there are no better options? The Wizards game last night is a case in point. Baynes played fairly well while battling his former backup Alex Len and Nurse didn’t have much other choice because Chris Boucher was having an off-night. But with the game on the line: the Raptors went with a small-lineup and away from Baynes.

In all, it’s fair to note when and how Baynes gets used these days for the Raptors.

NBA Draft Tidbits

If the season ended today, the Raptors would be picking 7th, with a 6.7 percent chance of landing the top overall pick (as of this writing, the Raptors are tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder at the 7th spot). That doesn’t sound too reassuring because, as with any draft, a team wants to at least get into the top five. Remember though, the three worst teams only get a 14 percent chance to win the lottery, which adds in some volatility. Consider this:

In 2019:

  • The Memphis Grizzlies had the 8th best odds and wound up picking second overall. That pick became Ja Morant;
  • The Los Angeles Lakers had the 11th best odds and moved up to the 4th spot (the pick was traded to New Orleans); and
  • The New Orleans Pelicans had the 7th best odds, and their luck got them the 2019 top prize in Zion Williamson.

In 2020:

  • The Chicago Bulls moved up from the 7th spot to the 4th overall pick that became Patrick Williams;
  • The Charlotte Hornets had the 8th best odds and landed LaMelo Ball with the 3rd overall pick.

7th best lottery odds over the last 20 years

Draft Year Team Changes Selection
Draft Year Team Changes Selection
2001 Cleveland Cavaliers Moved Down to 8th DeSagana Diop
2002 New York Knicks No Change Nene
2003 Chicago Bulls No Change Kirk Hinrich
2004 Phoenix Suns No Change Luol Deng
2005 Toronto Raptors No Change Charlie Villanueva
2006 Boston Celtics No Change Randy Foye
2007 Portland Trail Blazers Moved Up to 1st Greg Oden
2008 Milwaukee Bucks Moved Down to 8th Joe Alexander
2009 Golden State Warriors No Change Steph Curry
2010 Detroit Pistons No Change Greg Monroe
2011 Detroit Pistons Moved Down to 8th Brandon Knight
2012 Golden State Warriors No Change Harrison Barnes
2013 Detroit Pistons Moved Down to 8th Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
2014 Sacramento Kings Moved Down to 8th Nik Stauskas
2015 Denver Nuggets No Change Emmanuel Mudiay
2016 New York Knicks No Change Jamal Murray
2017 New York Knicks Moved Down to 8th Frank Ntilikina
2018 Sacramento Kings Moved Up to 2nd Marvin Bagley III
2019 New Orleans Pelicans Moved Up to 1st Zion Williamson
2020 Chicago Bulls Moved up to 4th Patrick Williams
Draft History for the 7th best lottery odds for the last 20 years

We charted the lottery movement for the seventh best lottery odds over the last 20 years and compared them with their actual draft position.

Before the “flattening of the odds” in 2019, the chances of moving higher if a team doesn’t have a top five pick is slim. Consider the Raptors’ appoximate position right now: seventh. Pre-2019, the team with the 7th best odds only moved up twice since 2001. Yet five moved down, and eleven iterations of the 7th best odds stayed put.

Since 2019 though, the team with the seventh best odds moved up 100 percent.

Big Boards/Mock Draft Matrix

Prospect Bleacher Report Tankathon ND.Net ESPN Athletic Ringer BasketballNews
Prospect Bleacher Report Tankathon ND.Net ESPN Athletic Ringer BasketballNews
Moses Moody 9 12 7 21 7 10 9
Scottie Barnes 7 7 6 9 6 11 6
Jalen Johnson 8 6 23 7 20 12 7
Corey Kispert 13 8 9 10 9 7 14
Comparison on what the popular outlets have at the 7th pick, cross-referenced with each other.

The popular draft sites have started updating their mock drafts/big boards based on what they’ve seen so far in this year’s March Madness. Scottie Barnes and Jalen Johnson are both within the range where the Raptors might be picking this July.

We will try to update this matrix every week as we get to see more boards and the odds get updated.