Toronto is Winning But Can They Get Some Love?

If any other team were on a ten game winning streak, the national coverage would be over the top nauseating. But it’s the Toronto Raptors. Out of sight, out of mind. The Raptors are the oh, yeah them default team, after the Bulls without Joakim Noah is tossed around, and after the Heat and their offensive ineptitude bores us to tears, and after the Wizards, who aren’t even in the playoff discussion, is dissected like a frog in bio class. Then the Raptors are discussed, as if they are not the second best team in the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors have more wins than the Los Angeles Clippers. They have one fewer win than the Cleveland Cavaliers. They have won 10 games in a row. They have two All-Stars.

But they play in Canada.

Locale shouldn’t matter but it does. Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, New York, the big cities have always stirred the NBA drink. Certain small U.S. markets have staked their territory because the teams are very good. San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Cleveland have all been front and center in the media wars when deciding who is great, who is good, who is mediocre and who needs to quit.

Toronto is a big city, and occasionally they get some attention but not what any of the U.S.  teams would get if they were on a 10-game winning streak, even if seven of the teams have losing records.

There are two problems impeding the Raptors from love and attention on the NBA hyperbole map. The Raptors don’t have a superstar. Their dynamic backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan is one of the best in the league, second to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. But as players, Lowry and DeRozan have yet to reach that superstar status because they have flamed out in the playoffs. Good regular seasons haven’t resulted into much (other than Raptors misery) and no one is a believer. Until they can prove they are not a Novemvber-April team but a May-June team, the respect will be hard to come by.

Dynamic Backcourts Points FG% 3-Point % PER
Steph Curry- Klay Thompson, 2015-16 50.8 49.0% 44.3% 51.0
Kyle Lowry- DeMar DeRozan, 2015-16 44.1 43.5% 37.6% 44.3

 

Playoff Flameout Points FG% 3-Point% W-L
Lowry, DeRozan, 2014, 2015 38.8 38.2% 33.3% 3-8 

The regular season is where you make your name. The playoffs is where you make your fame.

This season, the Raptors are on the brink of a special season. They are two games out of first place in the conference and home court advantage throughtout the playoffs. They are 5th in three point shooting. They rank 4th in points allowed, 8th in field goal percentage defense, 10th in blocks, 10th in steals, 5th in point differential.

DeMar DeRozan ranks 1st in the NBA in drives to the rim. Kyle Lowry ranks 2nd in steals. Both are having career years. The question comes down to the front court and can they compete in a 7 game series. Are they athletic enough? Will they score enough points when the guards are shut down? Not too many people tremble at the sight of Bismack Biymobo.

While the Raptors defense is contender worthy, their offense has holes. They rely on iso plays too much. They don’t have a lot of versatile scorers. They don’t move the ball like the Warriors or Spurs with players passing out of drives. They don’t get a lot of easy baskets. They are at the bottom of the league in fast break points. Their pace is boring and slow.

As good as Lowry and DeRozan are, they haven’t proven it in playoff moments, when everything is on the line. That’s why no one is a believer, not yet.

The Raptors success is directly related to their off-season I.Q. They drafted well, DeMar Derozan, Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, all lottery picks. They signed Kyle Lowry as a free agent, beating out Pat Riley and they added DeMarre Carroll as the big prize last summer. They exiled their bad defensive players like Lou Williams. They added experience and maturity in Luis Scola and hometown product Cory Joseph who already has a championship ring. Their pieces fit.

Drafting Well First Round
DeMar DeRozan 9th, 2009
Jonas Valunciunas 5th, 2011
Terrence Ross 8th, 2012

The Raptors are about to embark on a long road trip which will quiet all the doubters or cause them to yell I told you so. The first three teams they play have losing records: Denver, Phoenix, Portland. Minnesota is sandwiched between Detroit and Chicago, two tough Eastern Conference opponents. On February 28th, the Raptors host the Cavs, a possible showdown for the top seed in the East. Before the season started, the Raptors weren’t given much of a shot to win the East, but now, with Cleveland learning a new system, and with a new coach, it’s possible the Raptors-Cavs late February game can set the tone for the postseason.

Who knew? We the North may just mean We the Eastern Conference Champions if the Raptors continue what they have started in 2016, winning 11 out of 13 games.

 

photo via llananba