One Quarter Through


Through First Quarter of the Season, Raptors Struggle to Find Identity

Normally when you ask a contender what their team identity is, you receive an answer fairly quickly.

For the Golden State Warriors, it’s their elite perimeter shooting and off-ball movement. For the Milwaukee Bucks, its their tough-minded interior defense. For the Phoenix Suns, it’s their high pace and ability to score inside the arc. Over the last decade, the Toronto Raptors had a very clearly defined identity of their own – it was their defensive tenacity and ability to outwork their opposition.

Through the first quarter of the regular season, this Raptors team looks far different than the contending Raptors teams of the last decade.

They are far younger first and foremost. They are long and athletic.

At times, you see plenty of promise and excitement, but at other times you see a team still searching to find consistency on both ends of the court.

Through 24 games, the Raptors are 11-13, good for 12th in the Eastern Conference and only two games out of the final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. Outside of a five-game win streak earlier in the season – albeit during a stretch against weaker competition – the Raptors have simply not looked like a cohesive unit capable of making a run at the postseason.

They have battled injuries throughout the year and currently continue to play without OG Anunoby and Khem Birch. Their defense has looked nothing like the defense Raptor fans have grown so accustomed to over the past number of years.

The Raptors are ranked 21st in defensive rating and 13th in offensive rating. Despite improving mightily on the offensive boards, they rank 20th in the league in rebounds overall. With an offense as up and down as that of the Raptors – one that ranks 25th in field goal percentage and 18th in three-point percentage – there has surely been an influx of opportunities on the offensive glass.

Looking past all of the bad, in a year of transition, it is important to always look for the good.

As difficult as things have seemed at times, there have been some positive takeaways through the early goings of the season and it all begins with the Raptors first round pick Scottie Barnes.

The early-odds on favorite for Rookie of the Year, Barnes has averaged 15.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game while shooting a very impressive 48.9 percent from the field. His perimeter shooting has also been steadily improving as the year has gone on. In fact, Barnes has hit 13 of his last 29 three-pointers (44.8%) while continuing to play well above average defense.

Similarly, the Raptors other rookie Dalano Banton has showed some promise as well.

Taken with the 46th pick, the Canadian-born Banton has feasted on inferior competition in G League spurts, while making the most of his minute when up with the main roster. The per game stats aren’t anything to brag home about, Banton has shown a unique blend of size, athleticism, playmaking and ball-handling, making him an interesting prospect for Raptor fans to keep an eye on as the season goes on.

As far as the team’s veteran cornerstone pieces, Fred VanVleet quietly remains one of the more underappreciated players in the entire NBA. The undrafted point guard currently ranks in the top-5 in FiveThirtyEight’s Raptors WAR while averaging 19.8 points per game and making a strong case to crack the Eastern Conference All-Star roster.

Pascal Siakam has returned from offseason shoulder surgery and is beginning to slowly work off the rust, most recently scoring 31 points and grabbing six boards against the Washington Wizards. Prior to suffering a hip injury in practice, OG Anunoby was making a strong Most Improved Player of the Year case, averaging 20.1 points per game and looking very much like one of the top two-way players in the entire NBA. Lastly, 22-year old Gary Trent Jr. has taken strides on both ends of the floor, cementing himself as an invaluable part of the Raptors young core.

The question now is why have the Raptors not been able to put things together or at the very least, perform far better than they have been to this point?

With the 15th best Pythagorean record in the league, the Raptors have not been able to get much continuity from its role players while injuries to key contributors throughout the season has forced a very young Raptors team to consistently play undermanned. Every team deals with injuries, but when a team lacks serious depth even prior to injuries, staying afloat becomes exponentially more difficult when players go down.

If the Raptors hope to come on strong as the season continues, consistency on both ends of the floor, along with health will become paramount. Expecting better and smarter play from their bigs – specifically Precious Achiuwa and Chris Boucher – will be important as well, especially as Nick Nurse hopes to find some reliability coming off the bench.

Plenty of games are still to be played and the Raptors can still turn their season around. A lot of things have to go right if they hope to make a serious push but if the Raptors continue to see positive development from their young players, who knows how this season can end.


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