Tired, or Toothless? Breaking down Raptors’ Recent Rough Patch
Indiana Sports Coverage
To say that the Toronto Raptors are currently skidding, to some, might be considered a stretch. Such terminology usually implies a lengthy losing streak, or a sudden rash of blow-outs perhaps correlated to season-altering events. Toronto, still 2nd in the Eastern Conference with a record of 26-11, don’t really qualify as a team in freefall by these standards.
The Raptors, however, are 6-7 in their past 13 games.
No matter what you call that, it’s concerning; especially for a team with summer-scented aspirations of basketball glory.
Are They Just Tired?
According to Nathan Currier of Man Games Lost NBA, the Raptors rank third in the league in Wins Lost Due to Injured Players, with 3. The Raptors have lost over 60 games due to injury already, undoubtedly struggling to remain healthy, with 9 different players on the roster having seen time on the injury report.
Presently beleaguered by injuries to rotation stalwarts Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas, and having been nagged by the injury bug for most of the season, it would seem that Toronto has enough ammo to rationalize away the recent on-court turbulence.
To do so would be foolish.
With this team gunning for a franchise-first Finals appearance, in a season loaded with organizational incentive, these Raptors ought to heed the warnings brought to a head by their recent sub-.500 stretch. Look beyond the largely stochastic surface explanation, composed of persistent short-term injuries and still-in-the-oven team chemistry, and you notice that these Raptors have a few underperforming key cogs in their basketball machine.
Are They Toothless?
The regression or underperformance of even a few rotational players on a Raptors team reputed for - and thus dependent on - its depth could spell disaster later in the season. While each of the following four Raptors has a fair bit of time to improve their play, the early results have not been promising, and the reasonably hopeful outcome for the player’s pre-playoff development is listed accordingly.
In his second year, O.G. has thus far failed to take the leap many analysts predicted after a tantalizing rookie season. Projected to be a prototypical 3-and-D wing with primary stopper potential, Anunoby has been lacking aggression on offense, taking only a couple more shots per game and making less of them. He’s seeing a measly improvement of one more made basket per game on regressive efficiency, evidenced by disappointing shooting splits of 45(fg%)/34(3pt%)/32(ft%). His advanced stats also tell a tale of taking steps backwards, as both his offensive and defensive ratings (per 100 possessions) have taken a turn for the worse compared to last year.
Goal for 2019/After Game 82: Get to a 10(pts)/3(reb)/3(ast)/1(stl)/(0.5blk) per-game/average line on shooting splits of 48/38/70. Turn the defensive dial up to “smothering/maximum effort”.
The man affectionately known as C.J. Kilometres is currently getting $8.3 million from the Raptors to provide end-of-bench shot-creation and handle light sharp-shooting duties. Suffice it to say, he has not been up to the challenge in this, his 14th league season. Playing the lowest minutes per game of his career (15), he is also putting up 5 points-per-game, his lowest per-game points average in 10 years. The cherry on top is the horrendous shooting line with which he’s doing so: 30/27/78 with an eFG% of 39.2, the second-lowest of his entire career.
Goal for 2019/After Game 82: Get to a shooting slash-line of 40/35/85 and stay sharp from long-range. Be as “2013-Finals Ray Allen” as humanly possible. Hoping for a barely positive individual Net Rating or playing close to league-average defense is, at this point, unrealistic.
The 3rd place finisher for last season’s Sixth Man of the Year Award, VanVleet has not taken the leap up the team’s pecking order as expected, and has had a hand in the Raptor’s struggles of late. Tasked to fill in for starter Kyle Lowry, and asked to expand upon the court vision and sheer impact he flashed last year, VanVleet has instead been stuck in place. For the Raptors to survive their injury scares, and potentially win the East in hopes of securing home court advantage in the playoffs, they need VanVleet to take his game to the next level as one of the league’s best second-unit spark plugs.
Goal for 2019/After Game 82: Finish with a per-game line of 12(pts)/3(reb)/5(ast), dominate opposing second-units on a nightly basis, and generate some conversation about a second run at 6MOTY.
The 4th-year guard out of UCLA has yet to make the leap everyone expected after his sophomore year, when he played a key role in helping the Raptors reach the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals, marking previously uncharted territory for the franchise. Since then, there hasn’t been any more exploration for Norm, as he continues to hover around career-average numbers. His ceiling is attractive, but he may have more value as a trade piece for the Raptors, should the team make any last-minute, win-now moves before the trade deadline.
Goal for 2019/After Game 82: Break-out, or get-out. If the Raptors can move his contract in a play for a larger fish or better-fitting piece, it would take a really obvious performance uptick to keep him in place; say, a stat-line of 12(ppg)/4(rpg)/3(apg)/1(spg) on shooting splits of 50/39/82.