Finally! That’s the word that’s surely been used the most around the Toronto Raptors in the past week. Finally the COVID outbreak is behind them. Finally they can field a real NBA team. Finally Scottie Barnes came back. And finally... the Raptors had a fully healthy roster!
In some ways, it feels like we've been waiting for that since... I don’t know, the 2019 NBA Finals? Heck, even then, OG Anunoby was hurt. The team deftly handled the long-term absences of Norman Powell, Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet in 2019-20 (along with dozens of minor injuries), then fell victim to COVID last season.
Now they’re finally healthy, from 1 through 12 pretty much, and I... well, I’m gonna stop writing about it for fear of jinxing it.
Along with health has come a couple of wins (against shorthanded teams, sure, but we’ll take ‘em). Let’s see if the Lords of the Power Rankings found the Raptors worthy this week!
Let’s start with Zach Harper at the Athletic. Zach is using his space to give every team a New Year’s resolution, and for the Raptors, that’s “make the play-in tournament.” Now, that seems slightly pessimistic to us; we think the Raps can make top-6, if they stay healthy. But maybe we’re biased! Here’s what Zach has to say:
19. Toronto Raptors (previously: 20)
The Toronto Raptors just can’t seem to find a way to have a normal season anymore. They had to live in Tampa last season, and now that they’re allowed back home in Toronto this season, we’re seeing their crowds cut down due to the pandemic. They’re the only team in the NBA currently going through this crowd control process. With everything that’s gone on for them in these two seasons, the Raptors managing to fight through the crowded East into the Play-In Tournament would be a great marker for their season.
Well Zach, when you put it that way... we can’t argue. It would be nice! And hey, it’s also nice that someone’s noticed the Raptors have been through the wringer the past two seasons. Adam Silver still hasn’t.
How about ESPN? Tim Bontemps has only given the Raptors a slight bump, but he seems fairly optimistic about the state of the team:
18. Toronto Raptors (previously: 19)
Despite a season full of injuries, COVID-19 issues and now playing in an empty arena in Toronto, the Raptors have pulled themselves back to within a game of .500 after Sunday’s win over the Knicks. Coach Nick Nurse’s team finally has its best lineup — Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes — available, and now Toronto will try to scoot even farther up the standings.
I can’t help but notice that almost-.500 record too. With a win tonight, the Raptors will move to 17-17. That’s exactly where they were last season when the COVID outbreak hit, and they proceeded to drop nine straight to fall out of contention. This year, fingers crossed, things will go in the opposite direction!
Finally, we’ll check in with John Schuhmann at NBA.com. John has the Raptors ranked at 18 too, the rare time all three prognosticators agree on the same spot for the Raps.
18. Toronto Raptors (previously: 19)
Five days after that game where the Raptors’ starting lineup met on the bus to the arena, they had basically everybody but Scottie Barnes available, with their three core vets — Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam — playing together for the first time in 46 days. And as they finished off their win over the Clippers on Friday, they basically had VanVleet and Siakam running pick-and-roll for the last five minutes.
I am always a happy camper when I see the Raps bust out the VanVleet-Siakam PnR, just as I was the past two seasons whenever they used a Lowry-Siakam PnR. It’s your two best players forcing the defense to react! It’s a no-brainer. Of course, it would be even deadlier if Siakam could find his three point shot again, but I digress. Back to John:
Two days later, the Raptors got Barnes back and started their best-five-guys lineup... it’s allowed less than a point per possession in its 56 total minutes this season. [VanVleet’s] effective field goal percentage (54.4%) and true shooting percentage (58.0%) are career-best marks by healthy margins and the Raptors have now been 20.5 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor (plus-5.9) than they’ve been with him on the bench (minus-14.6).
Well now, those are some mighty fine looking numbers from Mr. VanVleet, aren’t they? Perhaps even... All-Star numbers?
We’ll dive more into Fred’s case soon enough, but those on-off numbers are pretty telling. Now imagine if the Raptors had a quality backup PG to take some of the load off of VanVleet, or free him up for more off-ball action?
All right all right, that’s enough hypotheticals from me. For now, let’s get to the poll!
Is 18th overall a fair rank for the Raptors in week 12?
This poll is closed
Yes! This is no time to get ahead of ourselves.
Not really, but I’ll let it slide for now. Next week, though...
No. Look at what this team’s gone through! Fully healthy, they should be way higher.
I don’t know, but Adam Silver should personally apologize to every single Raptors fan for all of this BS.