clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Power Ranking Poll Week 14: What is this Raptors team, really?

Is the current iteration of the Raptors built well enough to make postseason waves?

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

[Editor’s note: This column, and the Power Rankings it’s based on, were completed before Monday’s Raptors loss to Miami.]

What to make of last week? It was a wild one for the Toronto Raptors, as they dropped a hard-fought game to the league-best Phoenix Suns, perhaps their best loss of the season (if there is such a thing); got embarrassed by Dwane Casey’s Detroit Pistons yet again, perhaps their worst loss of the season; and then beat the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, in Milwaukee, perhaps their best win of the season.

Sandwiched by two well-played games against really good teams, and buoyed by the recent six-game win streak, one has to feel like Friday’s loss was the aberration, not the other way around. As such, one would hope that the Power Rankers of the world don’t take it out too harshly on the Raptors!

Either way it seems like we’re starting to learn who this team really is: One that’s capable of hanging with any team, but at the same time, one whose floor is actually quite low. When they fire on all cylinders, they’re really good! But they don’t have the depth to make up for an “off night,” and it can real ugly, real fast.

With three weeks to go before the trade deadline, Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster have some decisions to make. They either need to get this team some depth — they seem poised to at least make the play-in, but what’s the point if Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam are carrying dead legs into the playoffs from playing 40 minutes a night? Or, they need to do what they did last year, and start shutting guys down and playing for the lottery.

I for one hope it’s the former.

Anyway, let’s find out what our ranking-minded friends have to say, starting with Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

14. Toronto Raptors (previously: 14)

Fred VanVleet should be headed to his first All-Star Game next month. VanVleet has fully stepped into the role vacated by Kyle Lowry as Toronto’s undisputed leader. He is playing the most minutes per game of any player in the league while averaging 21.9 points and 6.7 assists and shooting over 40% from 3-point range.

Standing pat, eh Tim? OK! That’s a pretty brief summary of VanVleet’s All-Star case, but I like the “undisputed leader” bit. There was so much talk around Pascal Siakam and his “being the guy” quotes last summer, but Fred just quietly went and did his thing, and the team has molded itself to his identity. This is not a knock against Siakam in any way, but Fred has that “natural leader” quality that so few individuals possess. Without Lowry in front of him, it’s pretty cool to see Freddy step into it.

At The Athletic, Zach Harper is giving out midseason grades, and he’s got the Raptors with a B (after giving them a C at the quarter mark. Seems pretty fair to me! He’s also dropped the Raptors back into his “play-in gives them life” tier, after moving them up into his “playoff hopeful” tier last week.

16. Toronto Raptors (previously: 14)

This is more of the Toronto Raptors teams we were hoping to see this season. They’ve gone through plenty of player unavailability, just like every other team. But the Raptors are once again disrupted with their home. They get to stay in Toronto, but fans are no longer allowed for the time being and even the mascots have to be carefully placed in the arena. The Raptors have won seven of their last nine, and Fred VanVleet is playing like an All-Star. Pascal Siakam has been great during this stretch. OG Anunoby is back and playing really good basketball. The Raptors look like they’ve gotten through the worst of it, and they’re headed toward being major problems in the Play-In Tournament.

I suppose being the team no one wants to play in the play-in tournament isn’t a terrible thing... but I’d still rather be the sixth seed! I’m also glad to see Zach acknowledging the additional hardship the Raptors have face, playing with no fans; yeah, they played a bunch of undermanned teams, but they’re the only team facing such arena restrictions right now.

Zach also gives us an update on his pre-season prediction that the Raptors would be a top-10 defense:

It hasn’t been very good all season long, but the Raptors — now healthy — do look like they’re in a good position to climb up those defensive rating rankings. They currently sit at 17th in the NBA in defense. They’re 10th in the NBA during this really good nine-game stretch for them. The Raptors are currently 1.5 points per 100 possessions behind the 10th place Memphis Grizzlies to get into the top 10. That’s asking a lot, but it’s doable.

Personally, I don’t think this is doable, not without a trade. Tired legs will always impact the defense, and without help, Siakam, VanVleet, Anunoby and Scottie Barnes just won’t have the energy to keep the D playing a high enough level to creep into the top 10.

Let’s move on now to John Schuhmann at NBA.com; John talks about the Detroit loss, which we won’t get into, but then he does get into defensive rebounding, and yeah, we need to talk about that:

14. Toronto Raptors (previously: 12)

... the Raptors rank 28th in defensive rebounding percentage. Three nights before the Detroit loss, Devin Booker put the Suns ahead for good on what was Phoenix’s fourth shot on a possession with a little more than a minute to go. The Raptors rank last in clutch defensive rebounding percentage, having grabbed just 57% of available defensive rebounds with the score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime.

If you’d asked me to do an eye test on that, I definitely would have said the Raptors were last in clutch defensive rebounding, so it’s nice (and horrible) that the stats back it up. Whether or not the Raptors get into the top 10 on defense, as Zach predicted above, what does it matter if they can’t finish possessions? This has been a problem for years now, and is only exacerbated by their lack of a centre.

The offensive boards, though, are a nice counter:

The Raptors’ offense has cooled off after scoring 119 points per 100 possessions over their six-game winning streak, but they continue to grab a ton of offensive boards themselves, and Saturday was the sixth time in their last nine games that they’ve registered 20 or more second-chance points. VanVleet leads the league this season with 25 second-chance 3-pointers and he had an audacious one in Detroit.

Perhaps a more balanced rebounding approach is a goal for the team in the second half of the season.

For now, though, let’s go to the polls:

Poll

The Raptors are back in the middle of the pack this week. Fair or no?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    Fair. It was a 1-2 week.
    (53 votes)
  • 6%
    Not fair. Look how well they played against the Suns and Bucks!
    (6 votes)
  • 6%
    Losses are losses, hopefully Masai and co. are thinking lottery.
    (6 votes)
  • 25%
    Playing the Heat this week reminds me: Why TF didn’t we get a draft pick as compensation for the Lowry tampering? You screwed us again, Silver!
    (22 votes)
87 votes total Vote Now