Despite winning 59 games this year, the Toronto Raptors are still seen as a non-contender in most-NBA circles ahead of the playoffs.
After a breakout 2013-14 campaign and four early playoffs exits later, it’s understandable why people feel that way. While the NBA was advancing offensively — teams began to shoot more threes and have smaller line-ups and move the ball more effectively — Toronto looked and acted like a team who hated change. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the team often settled for low quality two pointers, and in tight situations, played isolation basketball.
When they were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in last year’s Eastern Conference semi-finals, the same old questions popped up. What’s Dwane Casey’s future in Toronto? Will they ever change their style of play? Are they just a regular season team? Are they deep enough to make a solid run postseason run? Will they ever be more than just Canada’s team?
Looking at the numbers this year, a lot of these questions have been answered. Over the course of their franchise record setting season, the Raptors have completely changed their style of play.
With more threes and better ball movement — they average 10 more three-point field goals and six more assists per game compared to last year — Toronto enters the playoffs with a top 10 field goal percentage in the NBA.
Even though DeRozan and Lowry’s points per game numbers have slightly regressed this year, it has resulted in Toronto becoming a lot more efficient. If you watch last year’s team play side-by-side with the current roster, the changes are evident. Instead of having Lowry or DeRozan dribble to no end, the ball now pings around the arc until the possession end with a good shot .
On top of this, they have become one of the league’s most efficient teams on both ends of the floor. According to ESPN and Hollinger Team Statistics, the Raptors are the only team in the NBA who ranks in the top five in both the offensive and defensive efficiency rating categories.
On top of this, they are one of the deepest teams in the NBA. When looking at NBA bench stats, there isn’t a team that truly compares to the Raptors. Per Hoops Stats, Toronto leads the league in bench efficiency (51.4), first in point differential (10.4) and are second in points per game at 41.8. These stats point to one thing. When you face the Raptors, don’t expect a massive drop off from one unit to another.
Not bad for a team who wasn’t even projected to win their division.
Despite these numbers, the Raptors are still doubted about their chances this postseason.
Although they have a whole country behind them, a lot of fans and NBA reporters don’t think this team will make it far. But what does success truly mean for this year’s Raptors?
The goal will always be a championship, I understand that. If they get knocked out early, I also get there will be a sour taste left in the Toronto fans and players mouths. But haven’t they done enough as a franchise to prove their status as one of the league’s top teams?
Once the playoffs begin, we often forget about how successful teams are. Over the last five regular seasons, Toronto has the fourth-highest winning percentage in the league. They’ve also won the third most playoff games in that time and only trailing the Cavaliers and Golden State.
They also have one of the league’s best backcourts and one of the deepest benches. Their bench is filled with high quality players Toronto has drafted and developed through the 905. With OG, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl and Delon Wright, the Raptors have flexibility to either the development of these players, or potentially package them together to tool up for another chance at a title.
If these things don’t quantify as success, then someone must have changed the definition of the word overnight. If you look around the league, there are only a handful of teams in the same situation or recent history of Toronto.
And if the Raptors lose their opener against Washington on Saturday, don’t hit the panic button right away. They’re only 2-9 in the first game of a playoff series.