Just past the midway point of the season, the Toronto Raptors are back at .500 and facing a veritable crossroads. They’re good, but not good enough. They have some great pieces, but are missing parts of the puzzle.
With the trade deadline approaching, Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster must decide whether to buy or sell. Does buying a scoring wing or a traditional big man vault the team into the top six and give them the “no one wants to play them in the playoffs” tag? Or does selling off Gary Trent Jr. or (brace yourselves) Pascal Siakam put the team in the lottery, and secure a more cohesive long-term plan?
Standing pat is of course an option, especially if the right deals don’t materialize. But after a lost season in Tampa, Raptors fans are clearly clamouring for something.
In the meantime, though, we have Power Rankings to analyze. Let’s start with John Schuhmann from NBA.com, our resident numbers guru, and...
[looks at numbers]
... you know what, those numbers are terrifying, let’s save them to the end.
So let’s see what Zach Harper of The Athletic has to say! This week Zach is talking about lineups, and it’s a bit of a surprise to see what he thinks are Toronto’s most promising and most questionable lineups.
First, the promising one:
17. Toronto Raptors (previously: 16)
Fred VanVleet | Scottie Barnes | OG Anunoby | Pascal Siakam | Chris Boucher | 26 minutes | -2.0 net rating
I know this is a negative net rating lineup for the Toronto Raptors, but it’s the one I want to highlight as promising. It’s barely played together this season because of injuries. It’s been getting better this week, and they’ve gone from a -5.6 net rating a couple of games ago to -2.0 after this week. I feel like this is going to be their best and most versatile lineup over the course of the rest of the regular season. VanVleet continues to play like an All-Star. Barnes isn’t doing what he did at the beginning of the season, but that’s because this lineup is crowded with playmakers now. If Boucher and Siakam can stay healthy and on the floor together, this will be the best unit for the Raptors.
As a Raptors fan it is definitely shocking to see Chris Boucher in a lineup that’s promising. But he’s been fantastic of late, perhaps their most consistent player after Fred and Pascal, and as Zach says, the numbers are trending upwards.
Now the questionable:
Fred VanVleet | Gary Trent Jr. | Scottie Barnes | OG Anunoby | Pascal Siakam | 122 minutes | -6.4 net rating
Even with the interior issues the Raptors could have with this lineup, I don’t think they should be this bad. And it’s been trending worse this week going from essentially a coin flip to getting pretty thoroughly dominated. This lineup really struggles to rebound on defense and can’t end possessions. The lineup’s defensive rebounding rate is below 70 percent. To put that into context, they’d be the worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA if this was all the time. The Clippers are 30th at 70.1 percent. The offense for this lineup hasn’t clicked either, and with this much firepower out there, they should be able to spread the floor better and create some havoc in the middle of the half court.
Uh... that’s our starting unit! Yikes. Zach lays out precisely the problems this group faces. If it’s not dominating on offense — which it should be, but clearly isn't — then it’s going to get beat up on defense, because they can’t finish possessions and can’t attack in transition and then it just becomes a vicious circle. And the horrendous starts the past two games certainly bear that out.
Does ESPN’s Tim Bontemps have more upbeat thoughts to share? Let’s see:
14. Toronto Raptors (previously: 14)
After an up-and-down road trip that saw Toronto go 2-3, the Raptors returned home and got smacked by the Trail Blazers on Sunday. Still, after all of the injuries they have suffered this season, the Raptors have to feel pretty good about sitting at .500 with a couple of weeks to go before the trade deadline.
ESPN’s had the Raps at 14 for three straight weeks now. I appreciate them not letting the six-game win streak or the losing 5-of-7 slump get them too high or too low! But as much as I would like to, I don’t know if I can agree with Tim’s thesis statement here. Sure, the Raps have had injuries and a COVID outbreak, but so have many (most!) NBA teams. The Raps haven’t weathered the storm in any particularly meaningful way.
All right, let’s hunker down and look at these numbers from Schuhmann at NBA.com...
17. Toronto Raptors (previously: 16)
The Raptors’ shot profile has completely changed this season. Last season, they ranked fifth in the percentage of their shots (74%) that came from the restricted area or 3-point range. This season, they rank 26th (65%), having seen the league’s fifth-biggest drop in restricted-area rate and its biggest drop in 3-point rate. Taking less efficient shots and having shot worse than they did last season both inside and outside the arc, the Raptors rank 27th in effective field goal percentage (50.1%), with only the Thunder, Pistons and Magic having shot less effectively.
I may not be much of a numbers guy myself, but I know one thing: You do not want to be in the same statistical profile as the Thunder, Pistons, and Magic. Big nope.
as the Raps have lost five of their last seven games (following a promising, six-game winning streak), they’ve been the least effective shooting team in the league (46.8%). Fred VanVleet (44.2% over those seven games) hit the go-ahead 3 in Washington on Friday, but has otherwise struggled, especially inside the arc.
Fred’s shooting 34% on 13 three-point attempts per game over the last seven games. Not great, Bob!
So, the Raptors are stuck at .500 and they can’t shoot. Buy or sell?
Should the Raptors buy or sell at the trade deadline?
This poll is closed
Buy! The core is there. Fill in some effective role players and the team is set.
Sell! This is as good as this team gets, and that’s not good enough, so blow it up.
Stand pat. Let’s see what this team can do when healthy, and make moves in the summer.
Who cares? Adam Silver will find a way to F us over either way.