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True contenders? Looking at the Raptors’ early championship odds

The Raptors surprised many last year. Let’s see if they can do it again — and take it one step farther.

Boston Celtics v Toronto Raptors Photo by Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images

With their training camp roster at 20 players, and 12 of those players under fully guaranteed contracts, the version of the Toronto Raptors we see today and the one that takes the floor for the 2022-2023 NBA season is pretty much set. Sure, there’s competition at the back end of the roster for the final spots, and we’ll see if one of those guaranteed deals gets waived (hi, Svi Mykhailiuk), and Christian Koloko remains unsigned, but the core of the team — the 9-10 guys likely to make up the main rotation — is in place.

And sure — a trade could still happen. Maybe even a big one! Kevin Durant and Donovan Mitchell are still dangling out there.

But let’s assume this is who the Raptors are. Where does that put them in terms of championship contention?

Reviewing the odds for 2023 NBA Champion

Right now, our friends at DraftKings have the Raptors at +3000 to win the 2022-2023 NBA title; those are the 13th-best odds (tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves) in the league.

Some of the teams ahead of them make sense: The Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks are your top four contenders. Others are a little surprising; the Brooklyn Nets, for one, are +1500. But if you’re basing the odds on the team as it stands today, well, sure, I guess a team with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant on the roster should have good odds to win it all.

But the Los Angeles Lakers at +1100, sixth-best odds to win the title? Were we watching the same league last year??

Analyzing the Toronto Raptors championship odds

So, 13th-best odds to win the title. At first glance, it feels a little low to me; I probably would have had them closer to 10th. But the teams all right in front of them — the Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks — all have true superstars MVP contenders leading the way, and it’s hard to argue that they seem more likely, on paper, to make a deep playoff run.

I think you can also argue that some of these teams — the Timberwolves, certainly, and heck, even the Lakers — did more to upgrade their rosters in the offseason. Fringe Eastern Conference teams like the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks remade their rosters, too. The Raptors are essentially “running it back,” with only one real addition in Otto Porter, Jr.

The Raptors should see incremental improvements from Scottie Barnes, and will hopefully integrate Thaddeus Young more effectively with a full training camp, but have they really raised their ceiling from their (let’s be honest — surprising) 48 wins last season? Maybe 50 is in reach — you could easily argue that the Raptors would have gotten there last year if it wasn’t for COVID.

But are the Raptors going to finish ahead of the Celtics, Bucks, or Miami Heat? Unlikely. They’ll be fighting for 4-5-6 with the Philadelphia 76ers and Chicago Bulls again, and I suspect the Hawks will have something to say about that too. A couple swing games don’t go Toronto’s way, and suddenly the Raptors are in 7th, facing Boston or Milwaukee in round one.

So with all of that said — yeah, maybe 13th-best NBA Championship odds is right where the Raptors belong.

Does a Kevin Durant or Donovan Mitchell trade change the Raptors’ title odds?

Well, yeah! But it all depends on what’s going out in those trades.

If you can acquire Durant for OG Anunoby and Gary Trent, leaving you with a Siakam-VanVleet-Barnes-Achiuwa-Durant starting five, with Young, Boucher and Porter your top three bench guys... that’s top 3 in the east, to me, maybe just a notch behind Boston and Milwaukee.

If you can move Barnes for Durant without moving Trent, Anunoby or Achiuwa — unlikely given the salary discrepancies and Brooklyn’s desire for max value — I think that puts the Raptors even with Boston and Milwaukee, and a top-five contender for the title. (I’m not advocating for this! Sacrificing the long-term chances of the team with Barnes for the improved the short-term odds with Durant is still the swing factor here.)

As for Mitchell, he fits a lot of Toronto’s needs in terms of half-court shot creation, but I don’t think he has the same transformative effect as Durant. Even if you can get him for Trent, Young, Khem Birch and picks — essentially upgrading your starting 2-guard from Trent to Mitchell — I don’t think it puts them into the same tier as Milwaukee and Boston.

But once you get into the playoffs, where guys like Durant and Mitchell can make a transformative difference — again, it’s that shot creation in the half-court, when defences lock in and teams really get to know one another, that the Raptors are lacking and those two can deliver. Combine that with Toronto’s already excellent D — well, with Mitchell or Durant, the Raptors are (in my mind) better than Philly and all but a lock for home court in the first round, and from there, I’d say they can compete with anyone in a seven-game series.

But if those trades end up costing too much of Toronto’s already-very-good core, robbing them of their ability to truly contend, then it’s not worth it. And I think that’s where we are today, and why a trade for Durant or Mitchell still seems unlikely to me...

... and that’s why the Raptors will head into the season as a mid-tier championship contender.

What do you think of Toronto’s odds? Let us know in the comments!

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