Do you remember the Toronto Raptors of last year? You know the ones who surprised us all by finishing 48-34 with the fifth seed in the East? The team that was so exhilarating, that even the national media was riding the high which is the North heading into this year.
What if I told you that they were 23-25 heading into the All Star break? I think the fact that it was such an exciting finish to the season, made us forget about how poor this team was to start the year.
A key difference was the expectations placed on this team, and last year’s team. Last season’s roster had the privilege of following the Tampa Tank. The season where the Raptors held no home games, and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
Because of this, the key differences on the roster was the departure of Kyle Lowry, and the addition of rookie, Scottie Barnes. The pre-season win total was placed at 35.5, which projected them at 12th in the East.
Compare that to this season. The Toronto Raptors win total was placed 11 wins higher than the previous year at 46.5, with very little roster turnover, and a projection of 7th in the East.
Looking at the team today, it has lead many to wonder if last season was an over-achieving surprise, or has this season been a huge disappointment?
When a young team doesn’t change their roster much from year to year, you would expect internal development to be the main source of improvement, but typically, you would not expect a difference of 11 wins. I think there is something to be said about 35.5 being a little low of a win total last year, but also finishing 5th in the East was a slight over achievement. So yes, I am taking the cop-out approach and saying both.
However, maybe last season was a fairly accurate representation? Maybe this year’s Raptors team has a chance to finish with a similar record and be in the playoffs? Finishing the back half of the season going 25-9 is absurd, and an extremely high level of play.
To reach the same record as last season, the Raptors would have to go 19-4 if they finish these next four games 4-0. I don’t expect that. Even though that would mean they would only have to play to a clip that’s 10% better than the team last year post-All Star break.
But, what about 45 wins? Would a record of 45-37 get Toronto into the playoffs? It would certainly get them into the play-in, and likely the top-half of the play-in. The East is better this year, but last season, the Chicago Bulls occupied the final playoff spot with 46 wins.
We can get to the final season win total after the All Star break, once we know where this team stands both four games into the future, and post-trade deadline. What I am here to suggest, is if the Toronto Raptors want to make a push for the playoffs, I’m not saying that they would have to finish this “half” of the season 4-0, but it would be extremely beneficial.
The Toronto Raptors are already currently riding a two game winning streak. Their longest on the season is three, so what gives me so much faith that they can pull off the next four to ride a six-game winning streak into the break.
First off, even though 4-3 isn’t a fantastic record in a vacuum, it is when you consider all seven of those games were on the road in the western conference. Also, when you take into account that six of the seven were against teams who are positioned in the playoffs or play-in currently. AND, even though there were some injuries to the Grizzlies, the Raptors managed to pull off wins against them and the Kings, who are the second and third best teams in the West right now.
They are playing some of their best basketball of the season currently, and their remaining schedule leading up to the break is extremely favourable. For starters, all four games are at home. The Raptors’ record at home is 15-12, which is much better than their road record of 10-18.
Secondly, the combined winning percentage of the four teams they are playing is .351. Not a single one of these teams is over .500, and the only one in any sort of good standing is the Utah Jazz, who hold the final play-in spot by only 0.5 games over the Oklahoma City Thunder. The other three teams are all bottom five in the league, the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs.
The Raptors can do this! The Raptors can really head into the break at 29-30. As much as that would still be a disappointment, that is only one game below .500, and would very likely place them right in the midst of the play-in tournament.
Now, the only team who the Raptors play before the highly anticipated trade deadline is the Spurs, and depending on what Toronto does at the deadline, they could potentially have a significantly worse team than they do now. Although, I would not expect a complete tank. This front office seems complete against that concept, and I for one appreciate the mindset.
The Raptors are only 4.5 games out of the final playoff spot, which is currently occupied by the Miami Heat who have five games remaining before the All Star break. Meaning theoretically, the Raptors could hold the sixth seed heading into the All Star break.
I wouldn’t set your expectations that high, but it is kind of crazy that it is at least a realistic possibility, considering how much of a disappointment it has been to watch this team for the majority of the season.
I was on team tank all season, but I can’t believe that I am almost at the point of buying in again. I don’t expect this team to compete for a championship. The only way is if Masai Ujiri pulls off some magic by landing Kevin Durant. Even then this team has a lot of holes to fill.
There is something to be said about making the playoffs though. The mindset around sports, and sports fans has turned so much into the idea of either winning the championship, or finishing high up in the lottery.
What happened to being a consistent playoff team? What happened to the joy of watching your franchise play consistently good seasons? No, you don’t want to be stuck in first or second round exit territory forever, but I for one would love to see this team push their way to the play-in or potentially playoffs.
I still don’t know how much I believe in this team, but four wins here against teams who they should beat would certainly heighten it. I am happy to say that the Raptors are finally becoming exciting to watch again.