Step into a world in which you know nothing about the Toronto Raptors and the team’s previous performance in the postseason. I know it’s difficult but bear with me.
If not for those playoff issues, the Raptors would look and feel a lot like an NBA title contender. Yes, the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets have been the two best teams in the sport and, given recent history, the Warriors still feel like prohibitive favorites to capture the Larry O’Brien Trophy once again. However, Toronto stands head and shoulders above the rest of the Eastern Conference when evaluating 2017-2018 performance.
Since a pedestrian 11-7 start, the Raptors are 38-10 and, over that time since Nov. 25, Toronto holds the league’s best net rating at +9.5 points per 100 possessions. Dwane Casey’s team also displays the best defensive rating in the NBA (102.3) during that that span and, even from a season-long perspective, Canada’s squad is far closer to to Houston and Golden State in net rating (+8.5) than they are to any Eastern Conference foe.
Of course, life is not conducted in a vacuum and that is especially true of the NBA Playoffs. Toronto has developed a significant reputation for futility in postseason settings and, while at least some of that may be unfair for a franchise that has claimed playoff series victories in back-to-back seasons, it is also earned to some degree. The team’s star backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry has fallen flat in the playoffs, with DeRozan posting a hideous 49.4 percent true shooting mark in 41 career playoff games and Lowry faring only slightly better (51.4 percent TS) in 52 playoff appearances.
The Raptors did manage to reach the Eastern Conference Finals two seasons ago and, in 2016-2017, the team won a playoff series despite wholly underwhelming numbers on both sides of the ball. With that said, the Raptors are indeed playing (at least slightly) different basketball this season, with strategy that less favors isolation opportunity with an increased emphasis on ball movement. Beyond that, Toronto sports two (yes, two) of the best five-man lineups in the NBA this season, with its starting unit (headlined by DeRozan and Lowry) outscoring opponents by 12.1 points per 100 possessions and its full second unit (including CJ Miles, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright) absolutely eviscerating opponents to the tune of a +24.9 net rating.
When the postseason arrives, the strength of a full bench unit will likely evaporate, simply because benches shorten and not even the Raptors are likely to deploy extended lineups without either star guard on the court. With that said, there is every statistical reason to expect that Toronto is different this time around and, don’t look now, but the Raptors are far closer to challenging for homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs than they are from dropping out of the No. 1 spot in the East.
Nothing “matters” for this Raptors team until the NBA’s “second season” arrives and that is fully understandable. Still, providing this particular team with the benefit of the doubt wouldn’t be out of line and, from a regular season standpoint, what Toronto has done has been incredibly impressive.
Where does Toronto rank when compared to the rest of the league in this week’s Dime Power Rankings? Full speed ahead.