The Toronto Raptors are 9-15 since the All-Star Break, is it time to worry about the season? Can they improve on last years momentum?
The Toronto Raptors have been one of the most surprising teams over the past couple years. Last year the Raptors started with a horrible 6-22 record, and then they traded Rudy Gay for a couple bench pieces that turned them around to become the 3rd best team in the Eastern conference. Despite their great comeback and their playoff birth, the Toronto Raptors lost to a veteran Brooklyn Nets team in 7 games in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. How close was the series? If you add up the totals to each game, each team scored the same amount of points.
This year the Toronto Raptors looked to continue the momentum into the season and continue growing. They did exactly that with an impressive 38-16 record at the All-Star break. At the end of the All-Star break they were happy and the whole NBA was pretty surprised. They even held 1st place in the Eastern Conference until the start of January over teams like Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Atlanta Hawks.
The All-Star break ended and everything went downhill from there. The Toronto Raptors are now 9-15 after the break and defensively they aren’t looking good. Offensively they are ranked the 4th in the NBA and Defensively they are ranked 21st. Before the All-Star break they allowed an average of 103 points per game, now they average 107. They haven’t been able to win 3 consecutive games since the All-Star Break. Now the regular season really doesn’t matter for these Raptors, because the Atlantic Division title was theres before the season started, which gauranteed them a top 4 spot in the playoffs. For this Raptors team is it all about how they do in the Playoffs. The Playoffs are about consistent and concise defense, which the Raptors are currently struggling with.
So who’s the problem here?
DeMar DeRozan came back and they still didn’t pick up the pace. Kyle Lowry hasn’t been the same since he became an All-star, and has missed the last 9 games with back spasms. Terrence Ross & Jonas Valanciunas haven’t seen the development they were ‘supposed to’ have. Valanciunas averaged 12 points and about 9 rebounds a game, but efficiency they are at their worst when he’s on the court. The reason for this is because they run their offense through their backcourt and that gives no touches to the big center in the middle. Terrence Ross was drafted by the Raptors for his length and defense. That hasn’t happened. He now owns the worst defensive rating for any player that plays more then 5 minutes a game. He shot one 3 free throws in all of March which is good for second worst in the NBA. Suprisingly Rajon Rondo is even worse then Terrence Ross at free throw attempts.
Ironically because the starters haven’t been able to do it for the Raptors. The bench has been carrying a good amount of the load. The Raptors are most efficient when they have the lineup of Tyler Hansborough, James Johnson, Greivis Vasquez, Lou Williams, and Terrence Ross (+9). The traditional starters of Jonas Valanciunas, Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson, and DeMar DeRozan are not working well together having a +/- ratio of 0.7.
As a Raptors fan this bothers me too. The way they are playing makes you question if they are really worthy of a top 4 seed and a division title. They lost to a division rivals in the Boston Celtics and it was ugly. But they will be in the NBA playoffs as the 3rd of 4th seed facing either the Washington Wizards or Milwaukee Bucks. They’ve beaten the Milwaukee Bucks in their season series, 2-1 and they’ve won all 3 matchups against the Washington Wizards. All wins against the Bucks and Wizards occurred before the All-Star break, which gets you to think. What happened during the All-Star break?
Although season series really mean nothing in the Playoffs, it doesn’t look good.
Is it too early to start praying for Andrew Wiggins, Kevin Durant, or getting a big trade?
Although the Raptors short term goals may be hindered a bit by their inability to grow right now, they are heading in the right direction. They’ve just hit a speed bump. A big one. With Masai Ujiri in the front seat as the GM and a little bit of cap space in the next 2 years, Masai may be able to steal a guy away again. They have an increasingly improving DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, and they have a bright star in Jonas Valanciunas if they give him a little playing time. But for now, another one bites the dust.