Are the Undefeated Toronto Raptors for Real?
The only two undefeated teams left in the NBA are the defending champion Golden State Warriors and the Toronto Raptors, both of which currently sit with a record of 5-0. While most people expect the Warriors to win just about every game they play this season (news flash: they're good), not many were on the Raptors this year (except, you know, us).
But, after five games, the general basketball-watching public will have no choice but to start taking notice of the basketball club up north. Yes, it's a small sample size. No, they're not the Warriors East. Not even close. They have, however, played five solid games of basketball against five playoff hopefuls, three of which were played on the road, two of which were against Western Conference opponents (including beating a rested, title-aspiring Thunder team, in their gym, and on the second night of an East-team-going-West road back-to-back).
Your attention should at least be piqued, especially after last night's signature win in Oklahoma City.
It's obviously way too early in the season to make any kind of proclamations about which teams are good and which aren't, but a little over a week of NBA action suggests that the Raptors might actually be pretty darn excellent.
According to our NBA power rankings, the Raptors are currently playing like the fifth-best team in the NBA and second in the Eastern Conference, trailing only the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Clippers, and San Antonio Spurs (pretty esteemed company). That ranking is based on their 66.2 nERD through five games. In case you're unfamiliar, Team nERD is one of our in-house metrics. It's set on a scale from 0-100, with 50 as the league average. This ranking is meant to be predictive of the team's ultimate winning percentage in a schedule-free vacuum based on performance-to-date. In other words, the Raptors are currently playing like a 54-win team (.662 winning percentage over 82 games).
If you look at where the Dinos rank among the other 29 teams in some important categories so far, it's easy to see why our system is so in love with them:
|Average Point Differential||+10.4||3rd|
|Free Throw Attempt Rate||0.385||2nd|
|Opponents Field Goal Percentage||40.4%||3rd|
They join both of last year's participants in the NBA Finals (the Warriors and Cavs) as one of only three teams currently in the top six in both Offensive and Defensive Efficiency, according to our numbers. Considering that they finished the 2014-15 season as the 23rd-ranked team in Defensive Efficiency, it certainly looks like the Raptors did a good job of addressing their issues this offseason when they brought in defensive-minded guys like DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, and Bismack Biyombo.
Their efficiency on the offensive end stems from getting to the line at a fantastic rate of 0.385 free throw attempts per field goal attempt (hello DeMar DeRozan and his 11 freebie attempts per contest), while the defensive number is driven up by the fact that opponents are only shooting 40.4% from the field against them. Throw in the fact that they're grabbing 55.1% of available rebounds, and you get a recipe for success that might actually be sustainable. Not 82-0 sustainable but certainly good enough to put them in the mix as one of the East's top teams going forward.
This positive outlook is also strengthened by the fact that the Raptors seem to have an effective crunch-time lineup. After spending the vast majority of fourth quarter minutes on the bench for the Raptors last season, Jonas Valancinuas finally seems to have the trust of coach Dwane Casey, averaging 6.8 fourth quarter minutes per game, good for third on the team (after coming in ninth last year). He joins Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, DeMar DeRozan, and DeMarre Carroll to form a five-man unit that has an Offensive Rating of 143.3, a Defensive Rating of 80.2, and a Net Rating of +63.2 in 15 minutes of floor time (12 of which have occurred during fourth quarters).
These numbers should absolutely be viewed through a "small sample size" lens, but a team that has shown signs that it can be efficient on both ends of the floor, rebound the heck out of the ball, and effectively hang with opponents in crunch-time should at least be taken somewhat seriously.
There are still some questions regarding the starting power forward battle between Luis Scola and Patrick Patterson, and the team's upcoming schedule does feature 9 of 13 games being played on the road, but early returns say that this Raptors team is good until proven otherwise.