The Burning Questions, Observations, and Harsh Realities through one Quarter of the Raptor Season
It may seem like a broken record, but as I’ve noted on multiple occasions, the Raptors are at a crossroads as a franchise.
It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to discover that Kyle Lowry’s 34 going on 35, with the last year of his deal set to expire following this season. Masai Ujiri reportedly hasn’t signed an extension as of yet, although he’s expected to sign a shorter deal than Bobby Webster, who re-upped earlier this week.
The Raptors have been certainly faced some misfortune and setbacks. Basketballreference suggests the team should be hovering around a .500 record when taking into account all their advanced metrics, but sometimes the ball doesn’t roll your way.
The reality is, this team scraps, claws, and fights nearly every game to squeeze out a win. It’s not easy to watch, especially for fans that have gotten used to the regular success the organization has achieved over the past seven years, but it sure is entertaining.
Without having to go to any box scores or standings, can you recall the last time the Raptors strung together a couple of blowout (15+ point differential) wins? The last time would have had to been during their franchise-record 15 straight wins in 2019-20. Three of the Raptors wins this year have come via blowouts, and three of their losses have also come in blowouts.
Those wins came against New York (8-11), Miami (6-12), and Sacramento (7-10). The three losses came against Boston (10-7), New Orleans (6-10), and Indiana (11-7). Blowouts certainly aren’t the end all be all in terms of identifying the elite teams in the NBA, but it certainly helps to convincingly win against opposing teams.
To be fair, the Raptors went 1-1 against both the Heat and Pacers in their two-game mini-series’ and the trend around the league among teams playing in these mini-series’ has been that the teams split the pair of games.
The reality and likely ceiling for this Raptor team may be a low-tier playoff seed (barring any major moves or breakout stretches from rostered players), and it might be time to evaluate whether the Raptors are okay with a potential first-round exit as the outcome from the 2020-21 season.
Are We Watching the Last Days of Lowry in a Raptor Jersey?
I imagine the discussion of trading Kyle Lowry is a discussion the front office is constantly engaging in and evaluating as the season continues to unfold, and the Raptors should be taking a hard look at what the market looks like for Lowry.
He’s still a game-changer for any team that manages to have him, as he’s among the leaders in real-plus minus. Anyone who’s watched the Raptors over the last couple years knows what Lowry brings to a team, and it’s almost gone to a point where outsiders look at Lowry as a vastly overrated player due to all the hype the Raptor faithful give him.
The 34 year-old floor general is still an elite shot-maker, playmaker, low post defender, and on-ball defender. Lowry will shine even more in a role that allows him to focus more on defence, playmaking, and the hustle plays that win games.
Ultimately, the market for Lowry could be a little more underwhelming than expected. It would be a godsend if the Raptors were to get a Chris Paul-like package in return for Lowry, and while Lowry and Paul are at similar points in their careers, Chris Paul has longer team control which makes a move for Paul less risky, compared to one-half season with Lowry.
The only way I can envision Lowry getting traded is if a team is approaching the trade deadline and they truly believe they can make a run at the title. Lowry could be the missing piece for that title run. In terms of what the Raptors can realistically net in return for Lowry is maybe a couple second rounders, a first rounder if they’re lucky, and a promising young player for the future.
And if Lowry does end up traded this season, hopefully the organization does him some justice by sending him to a contender.
Which Direction does the Franchise Intend on Going?
The 2-7 start was certainly an early point in the season to judge just how good this team could be, but after 19, 20 games, the identity of this team begins to reveal itself.
The eye test tells me that this Raptor team is good. They compete night in and night out, the effort is there. Advanced metrics suggest that this Raptor team is more along the middle-of-the-pack in terms of offensive rating, closer to the top ten in defensive rating (11th), and those metrics do reflect on how the Raptors have performed this season.
Toronto has blown multiple double-digit leads this season, with a couple of those leads being blown leading to losses. I can probably count the number of games they’ve won this season with a 10+ point lead that wasn’t blown on my hand.
And the biggest reason for these blown leads has been their struggles on offence. This team goes on major offensive droughts, and at times cannot buy a basket for the life of em.’ Teams throw the zone at the Raptors, and they’ve struggled to break it.
The Raptors have had to rely heavily on the three point shot to try and equalize the playing field, and they’ve often lived and died from three. The Raps are dearly missing some sort of semblance of a go-to scorer, a player who can consistently operate within the offence and score when the team needs a basket.
Defence hasn’t been an issue for the Raptors for a long time, but it’s hard to consistently win games when you have trouble putting the ball in the basket. With that being said, where does the front office intend on taking the franchise going forward?
The Raptors are likely good enough to make the playoffs this season, but any hopes of competing for anything substantial (Larry O.B.) hinge on the ability of the Raptors resolving their offensive woes.
Tanking should never be an organizational goal for any sports franchise, as the goal should always be to try and win. The Raptors have also proven to have success in the draft over the past couple years, even without having a top draft pick. And yet, the 2021 NBA Draft class looks to be one of the more stacked and talented classes in recent years, with four, potentially five, franchise-star level talents.
If the ceiling of this team is a first-round exit, doesn’t it make sense logically to acquire assets in preparation for the future?
Wherever the front office decides to take the Raptors, it’s clear that a move could come sooner than expected. Alex Len was recently waived, opening up a roster spot. With the Raptors struggles at the Centre position this year clearly evident, maybe they make a move at one of the available big men on the trade market.
Bradley Beal (yes, a pipe dream), hasn’t requested a trade out of Washington yet (as of writing this), but do you think he’ll continue to accept blowout losses while putting up 40+ points? I certainly wouldn’t bet on it. Wherever the Raptors decide to go with the team moving forward, three things are evidently clear.
This team is likely not going to compete for the Larry O’Brien trophy this year, we could be seeing the last of Lowry, and a decision between preparing for the future versus improving in the short term is being made as you read this.