August really is the worst month on the calendar, at least when you’re covering the NBA. There’s not a lot going on so the big media players resort to things like ranking players and predicting win totals. For little media players like us... that means we have to follow up on their inane lists and predictions with rebuttals of our own! When really, shouldn’t we all be on vacation, enjoying a beach or a cottage or exploring a new city or something?
Alas, the content mill must ever churn. I promised myself I wouldn’t get caught up in “player rankings season” this time out (too many years of DeMar DeRozan slander have forever tainted the exercise for me), but when it comes to team predictions... well, what can I say. I can still get caught up.
And so that brings us to ESPN’s latest round of preseason predictions for the Eastern Conference and the Toronto Raptors. According to ESPN, the Raptors will finish fifth the east this season, with a 47-35 record. Here’s how they see things shaking out:
1. Boston Celtics: 54-28
2. Milwaukee Bucks: 54-28
3. Miami Heat: 51-31
4. Philadelphia 76ers: 50-32
5. Toronto Raptors: 47-35
6. Atlanta Hawks: 46-36
7. Cleveland Cavaliers: 45-37
8. Chicago Bulls: 44-38
9. Brooklyn Nets: 40-42
10. New York Knicks: 39-43
Here’s ESPN’s write-up of the Raptors:
For Toronto, it was an offseason of continuity, with Chris Boucher and Thaddeus Young retained in free agency. There is excitement that reigning Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes can take another step forward and that a resurgent Pascal Siakam can do the same after a huge bounceback season last year.
That’s all entirely fair. But I think 47 wins seems a little low for the Raptors this year — in fact I think they’ve undersold the top five teams overall. Assuming decent health for all involved, doesn’t 57 or 58 wins seem more likely for the Celtics and Bucks? 54 for the Heat, maybe 52 for the Sixers? And 50 for the Raptors?
After all, beyond the top teams, there are still some terrible Eastern Conference teams for these guys to beat up on. 39 wins for the Knicks? That’s probably high. The Pistons, Magic, Wizards, Hornets and Pacers will all be lucky to win 30 games. That’s probably 10+ wins for each of the top five teams right there, right? That’s not even counting the Nets, and whatever final form they take.
And for the Raptors specifically, remember they won 48 last year — and they started slow as Pascal Siakam returned from injury, then got hit with the COVID bug in December. They were 14-17 on December 28, then muddled to 23-23 before getting healthy, trading for Thad Young and finishing the season 25-11.
With the team coming back in pretty much the same shape, 50 wins seems very reasonable and attainable to me. It’s possible Scottie Barnes hits a sophomore slump, or that Gary Trent’s defense regresses, or that Precious Achiuwa’s development comes to a halt. Maybe Young and Otto Porter are over the hill. Or maybe they trade for Kevin Durant and win 58 games?!
Maybe, maybe, maybe. But every team faces those questions. On paper alone, the top of the East is full of talent, should be hyper-competitive, and should beat up on the dregs of both conferences.
As such, I expect the Raptors to win 50 games and once again be in a dogfight with the 76ers for the fourth seed and homecourt advantage in the first round. Deja vu? Maybe. But the second half of last season was super-fun so if we can get a repeat, I’m all for it.
How many games do you think the Raptors will win this season?