Looks like one of the many proposals from the league looks like it would resemble the FIFA World Cup. But what does that mean for the Toronto Raptors.
The World Cup means something special to everyone, whether you're a hardcore soccer fan (or football if you're in Europe) or a casual fan. It's a time where nations and cultures get together to watch games. Well, Canada and the Toronto Raptors can be involved in their own Mini World Cup this summer.
There has been a proposal from the league that they might try to emulate the FIFA world cup style tournament. So in this specific format, the most likely scenario is four groups of five teams. This would include the top twenty teams in the league, which is a good way compromising those teams who were not so far off a playoff spot.
Kevin 0'Connor from The Ringer explains the whole process best. He also set up the five tiers/pots of teams on how the groups would be picked out. So each tier/pot has four teams, and each group will have a team from each tier, and a team in the same tier cannot be in the same group. Here is how KOC set up the tiers based on the standings.
- Tier 1: Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, Clippers
- Tier 2: Celtics, Nuggets, Jazz, Heat
- Tier 3: Thunder, Rockets, Pacers, Sixers
- Tier 4: Mavericks, Grizzlies, Nets, Magic
- Tier 5: Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs
Now let's give an analysis on each team and explain the matchups the Toronto Raptors want and want to avoid.
Tier 2: Celtics, Nuggets, Jazz, Heat
The two teams the Toronto Raptors must avoid here are the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat. The Toronto Raptors are a combined 1-4 in these games, but in three of them, they didn't have Pascal Siakam. So it's not an entirely fair debate since Siakam is the focal point of this Raptors team.
Nonetheless, in the lone game, the Raptors did face the heat with Siakam, he did have a hard time scoring with Bam Adebayo guarding him. Adebayo is an emerging player just like Siakam, but Adebayo seemed to be able to completely shut him down, so that is a scary thought.
Another reason they should avoid the Miami Heat is that both of these teams play in the same way. They both don't have superstars but Erik Spoelstra is a mastermind of a coach like Nick Nurse is. He maximizes all his players on the court and is not afraid to make mid-game adjustments just like Nurse. It would truly be a battle of chess between the two.
Already we saw Kyle Lowry be the primary defender on Jimmy Butler and vice versa, while Adebayo is the one covering Siakam. And we also have already seen Spoelstra implement zone defense when necessary. I truly believe this would be a toss-up and the Toronto Raptors better cross their fingers they don't meet in the group stage.
I'm sure that the Toronto Raptors can take on the Boston Celtics. One of the losses was a fourth-quarter blow-up by the Raptors and had Marc Gasol miss all eight of his field goals taken. The second loss had Patrick McCaw in the starting lineup instead of Siakam. They actually did win one the games with McCaw instead of Siakam.
The Toronto Raptors are actually one of the teams that can shut down Jayson Tatum. Albeit it was before Jayson Tatum was playing at an MVP level, the Raptors got him to shoot a combined 16/47 (34 percent) across all three games they played each other. The Raptors' loss is more the Raptors not playing to the level they should be than the Boston Celtics winning.
I still wouldn't write off the Boston Celtics for two reasons. One is Brad Stevens and the second is surprisingly Jayson Tatum. Although I am confident that the Raptors can continue to shut down Tatum, a player with Tatum's talents can carry a game on any night. He may not be a superstar yet, but he is close to being one soon enough.
Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets
I am not going to spend too much time on these teams. The Toronto Raptors probably want to face the Utah Jazz the most.
The Utah Jazz have a team with a center straight out of the 1990s. A center that protects the rim, screens, and doesn't stretch the floor. The reason this is good for the Raptors is obvious, both centers that the Raptors can stretch the floor. As great a defender that Rudy Gobert is, he's an interior defender, not a perimeter defender. Taking Gobert away from the paint pretty much results in an easy way to the bucket or an open option for three.
(Donovan Mitchell also shot 6/16 in BOTH games played against the Raptors)
The Denver Nuggets did win the only encounter they did have this season, but the Raptors were without their best tools to face the Nuggets: Gasol and Ibaka. Jokic ultimately scored 23 points on an 8/11 shooting night. The Nuggets do have the superstar, but the Toronto Raptors do have the tools to match up with Jokic nicely.
It also helps that both Utah and Denver won't have their altitude advantage at home.
Tier 3: Thunder, Rockets, Pacers, Sixers
This may be tier 3, but the quality from tier 2 and tier 3 is almost the same. The two teams the Raptors should want to avoid here are the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers. The Pacers are not a threat to the Toronto Raptors whatsoever --- the Raptors won season series 3-1 and the only loss was without Siakam in overtime. The Thunder should also not pose a threat but they do have Chris Paul, someone no team should underestimate.
The Houston Rockets are a very weird team to evaluate. Strangely enough, the Toronto Raptors are not too far off from how the Rockets play. Of course, no one will truly be close to how the Rockets play, the Toronto Raptors shot selection is the second most efficient in the league, behind the Rockets, per Cleaning The Glass.
The Raptors take the third least mid-range shots and the fifth most threes in the league. So the battle between these two teams would seem like the typical saying of "it's a make or miss league."
Another reason to be afraid of the Rockets is because of the renaissance of Russell Westbrook, who is playing his best basketball ever. This is the first season since the 2011-2012 season that Westbrook has shot so little threes. He has never been proficient in this area, and the Rockets letting him operate with an open floor is a horrifying thought for the Toronto Raptors.
Oh. They also have the best scorer in the NBA's history, James Harden. So yea, the Rockets are a tricky matchup for anyone.
We all know the Toronto Raptors always do well against the Philadelphia 76ers. Marc Gasol knows how to handle Embiid, and the rest of the team knows how to clog the paint against Simmons. But still, a team with this much talent should never be written off.
Joel Embiid is in his prime and is one of the best centers we've gotten in years. Ben Simmons is a LeBron James lite player who is a jump shot away from being a top ten player in the league. We also can't forget they have Al Horford, Tobias Harris, and especially Shake Milton.
The problem for the Raptors is that their star power is better, and so is their depth. The Toronto Raptors win are purely off Nick Nurse outcoaching Brett Brown each and every time. And also Marc Gasol knowing every move Embiid is going to do. But Gasol has gone through many injuries this year and who knows if he'll be the same.
Sometimes talent alone beats a good team, no matter how good the infrastructure is for the Raptors.
The OKC Thunder win against the Raptors came off the lack bucket of the game. Siakam was also not part of that game (as you can see Siakam is very important to Raptors) and they surely would've won with him. The second game they won pretty easily and were always in control.
Much like Utah Jazz situation, the center is from the 1990s and the rest of the OKC team are very small. They won't have what it takes to shut down a player like Siakam. I'd say they match up nicely, but at the same time wouldn't be surprised if they lose one of two games because of Chris Paul Heroics.
Toronto Raptors are just a way better version of the Indiana Pacers.
Tier 4: Mavericks, Grizzlies, Nets, Magic
Finally, the quality of a tier that has gone down. The Dallas Mavericks are an anomaly in this group, they are way better than the other three teams here. So the Raptors would have to be unlucky to draw them. I think it's clear that the Dallas Mavericks are a threat to the Raptors while the other three teams should not be a concern whatsoever.
We all remember the Dallas Mavericks for the marvelous comeback the Raptors had against them. But remember that the Mavericks still had a 30 point lead (WITHOUT Dončić) against the Raptors by the third quarter. There's a reason that the Dallas Mavericks have the best offense in the league.
There was also the first game, that did include Luka. The Raptors lost that game and Luka went to the line 19 times. They couldn't contain him, and we have to ask ourselves what are the Raptors going to do to shut down such a player in two games.
Grizzlies, Nets, Magic
Games against the Memphis Grizzlies would definitely be fun so seeing them in the same group would be good for that reason. But that's about it, no one wants to watch the Magic or the KD-less Nets. So for the purpose of fun, let's hope they can be in the same group as the Grizzlies.
Tier 5: Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs
It feels weird that teams are actually not in the playoffs in the first place, given the talent they have. But anyway, all of these teams should be teams that the Raptors should beat, but then again we never know. The Pelicans have Zion, the Blazers still have Lillard, the Spurs have Popovich, and the Kings have been disappointing.
No one would've expected the Blazers to be this low in the standings, but here we are. They have faced many injuries, including a long stretch without Lillard, and have played the whole season without Jusuf Nurkić. But I think they'll be better than expected come playoff time.
Nurkić was actually set to return in mid-March before the whole season was halted and if he does join the team in time healthy, then that is a huge gain for the Blazers. Another power forward/center that was gone for the majority of the season was Zach Collins, who can also come back in time for the playoffs.
Suddenly a team with no frontcourt presence is rejuvenated with the return of Nurkić and Collins. The last thing the Raptors should want to see is a well-rested Lillard with an actual team at his disposal and not Mario Hezonja.
San Antonio Spurs
I don't think the Spurs should be a problem. They play a very old fashion of basketball and have a lead the league in shots from mid-range with a way too high 41.7 percent -- the second closest is 36 percent.
The only thing I'd be scared is here is that it is coached by Gregg Popovich and DeRozan might want his revenge.
Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans
These are two very young teams that should produce very entertaining games if the Toronto Raptors face them. The Toronto Raptors have too much experience to let two young teams like this beat them.
Best and worst-case scenario
Here is the worst-case scenario for the Toronto Raptors:
- Miami Heat
- Houston Rockets
- Dallas Mavericks
- Portland Trailblazers
This would be the worst-case scenario for the Toronto Raptors and is a potential "Group of Death". Besides the Heat, these are all teams who have stronger star power. Also, two of these teams have struggled with injuries and their regular season seeding does not reflect their team's actual strength.
Here is the best-case scenario for the Toronto Raptors:
- Utah Jazz
- Indiana Pacers
- Orlando Magic or Brooklyn Nets
- Sacramento Kings
If the Raptors are anywhere near a group that resembles this, then they should have an easy road making it out.
We are not exactly sure how the groups will be made, but it should look like the way it was indicated at the beginning of the article. There are now ongoing talks on how these group stages would be set up and if it is the way mentioned in the article, you already have everything you need to know for the Toronto Raptors.
Hopefully, the NBA does move forward with this format, it'd be very fun and exciting to see the playoffs in a new fashion. It also means more basketball games for everyone, and who doesn't want to watch more basketball?