The Raptors have just four games remaining and it’s clear the only thing the team is really valuing right now is player development. You’ll notice I didn’t say draft lottery odds because, well, it is very unlikely they’ll get much better than they are now. And while it’s true they could get worse if the Raptors keep winning games, Toronto has already gone out of its way to rest many of its key players, with Pascal Siakam added to that list as of Saturday night. There’s not much more they can do in that regard.
So, yes, player development. In the absence of the core four Raptors — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Siakam — the team is looking closely at rookies Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris while studying the long term viability of Gary Trent Jr. (who Toronto obviously wants to keep) and the likes of Khem Birch (who obviously wants to stay), Freddie Gillespie, and Yuta Watanabe. There are different roles and timelines in play here, but the goal for Toronto is to get these guys on the court in competitive situations and see what happens.
This past week, the Raptors had a game against a very good team (the Clippers) and two meetings against opponents who were still playing hard for play-in positioning (the Wizards and Grizzlies). Yes, Toronto lost those games, but the above-noted players got some reps and the franchise learned some things. Now, in turn, we look to this week’s Power Rankings and decide what we’ve learned as well.
First up, the ESPN machine carries on with Tim Bontemps and his valuable opinions:
24. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 21)
Toronto is playing out the string, spending what (hopefully) will be its final week without being able to play at Scotiabank Arena before heading into the offseason. It’s been a frustrating and disappointing season for the Raptors, who have dealt with myriad injuries in addition to having their season derailed by COVID-19 shortly before the All-Star break. Now they’ll be hoping to find some lottery luck next month.
A note on that “(hopefully)”: As Blake documents, we may not be as free of Tampa yet. While the vaccination rates across the U.S. and Canada suggest that the risk of, say, the entire core of the Raptors and their coaching staff getting COVID at the same time will be much lower in October 2021, it does not confirm that international travel will be possible. I hate to be the bearer of bad news in this regard, but here’s — ah yes — hoping.
Over at The Athletic, you better believe Zach Harper is ready with some zingers (and some facts too, sure):
24. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 22)
Where they started the season: 11th
Was the prediction correct? Not even close. I predicted newly acquired Toronto Raptors big man Aron Baynes would knock down 100 3-pointers in the shortened season. As of publishing these Power Rankings, he’s made 22 3-pointers in 50 games. Twenty-two. The Baynes signing hasn’t really worked out, but not much for the Raptors has worked out this season so I’m not sure how much we should hammer Baynes for that. He didn’t shoot the ball nearly as well and prolifically as we saw last season with Phoenix. I think we’ll see him bounce back next season. I’m just not sure where he’ll be.
What changed from preseason assessment? Everything went terribly wrong for the Raptors. They had to spend their home time in Tampa Bay. Guys were in and out of the lineup with injuries and protocol for healthy and safety. Some players went through massive swoons. This just wasn’t really a fair season for the Raptors to endure, in a time in which not much fairness seems to be available in general. The interesting thing moving forward will be seeing just how much this season affects their plans for the future. Will they trust Pascal Siakam as the top guy? Will Kyle Lowry look for a new team? Is Masai Ujiri going to be there long-term? If they bring back the core, they’ll be back to their winning ways next season.
Why are they ranked here? Another bad week for the Raptors. They drop a couple of spots because of it.
We can say with certainty that Baynes will not be in Toronto next season, so that’s one question answered. As for the rest, Harper doesn’t mention that the team wasn’t just bouncing back from health and safety protocols but the coronavirus itself, which really didn’t help matters. He’s right to highlight something else though: questions that were likely settled before are now more up in the air — Siakam as a no. 1 is, in my mind, mostly answered, but who knows what happens to Lowry and Masai for 2021-22. Mystery!
Does Dr. John Schuhmann of NBA dot com have more answers? He might!
23. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 21)
The door to the Play-In was slightly ajar for the Raptors, but they cared not to walk through, sitting Kyle Lowry (coming off a huge performance against the Lakers) for all three of their games last week. The skeleton crew kept it competitive against the Clippers, Wizards and Grizzlies, because they have to maintain that positive point differential (currently +13 for the season). As they stand, the Raptors have the lowest winning percentage in NBA history for a team that has outscored its opponents over the course of the season. To keep that distinction, they can’t win more than two of their four remaining games (or else they’d pass the 34-48, 1976-77 Suns) and can’t get outscored by more than 12 points over the next seven days. If any team can thread that needle, it’s this one.
With neither Lowry nor team president Masai Ujiri under contract beyond this season, it could be a pivotal summer for the Raptors. No matter what happens, they have three critical and experienced pieces — OG Anunoby (24 in July), Pascal Siakam (27) and Fred VanVleet (27) — under contract long-term. That group, no matter who it’s surrounded by, is one of the best defensive trios in the league (with significant skill on offense too) and will continue to keep the Raptors competitive to a certain degree. So bringing Lowry back for another season or two is far from a preposterous proposition.
We’ve talked the latter paragraph to death, so we’ll leave that alone. The top paragraph, however, is amazing. This year’s Raptors essentially have the chance of going down in NBA history as the best worst team of all time. That’s the important lesson to take away from this: Toronto is still number one at something!
Now to get serious for a moment — just kidding, here comes Colin Ward-Henninger at CBS Sports!
24. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 23)
The Raptors lost to the Clippers, Wizards and Grizzlies this week to effectively end any hopes of a play-in spot, which they seem to be OK with given their pattern of resting good players. Pascal Siakam, one of the few Raptor regulars to play all three games this week, averaged 28.7 points and seven rebounds, while Fred VanVleet added 24.5 points and nine assists per game.
Facts only. And on that brief note, we’ll keep it moving. Just four games to go!
Now, onto the poll.
Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 20 of the Power Rankings?
This poll is closed
No, but my resolve has been tested
Yes, fair’s fair.
No, [Tom Petty’s "Free Fallin’" blares from unseen speakers]
Yes, and I look forward to the finale next week — you’re on the hook!