Are the Toronto Raptors legit contenders in the crowded East?

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - FEBRUARY 16: Pascal Siakam #43 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - FEBRUARY 16: Pascal Siakam #43 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Despite starting the season 2-8, the Toronto Raptors now see themselves sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with a 17-17 record and 5 games back of first place. After a rocky start to their 2021 season, the Raptors have now strung some wins together and look more and more like the old Raptors team that we all know.

They currently hold a 17-17 record and have beat some teams that are considered title favourites to many. Toronto took down teams like the Brooklyn Nets, the Milwaukee Bucks twice, and the Philadelphia 76ers, all within a week and a half.

The Eastern Conference is as wild as possible right now, as just a handful of games separate a home playoff game from completely missing the postseason entirely. Despite the crowded field, there is reason to believe that the Raptors could make some noise in the playoffs due to their quality coaching and history in the postseason.

However, despite them sitting in fourth place they still lack one important thing that they could desperately use right about now and would potentially make them one of the title contenders.

What do the Toronto Raptors lack?

It’s pretty obvious what the Raptors are lacking right now, as they need a big man who can protect the rim and get rebounds as well. Aron Baynes hasn’t really been the player that we all thought he could end up being here in Toronto, however, he has defiantly played a lot better in recent games compared to how he started the season.

If we’re being completely honest right now, the type of big man the Raptors could use right about now is someone like Serge Ibaka, and it’s pretty sad to think about how they had him, but then he left to sign in Los Angeles during the off-season.

If somehow the Raptors can trade for a big man before or even at the trade deadline who can protect the rim and grab a lot of rebounds while playing big minutes or at least split minutes with Chris Boucher, then it would put the Raptors in the same conversation as some of the other title contenders in the league.

There were also some rumours a while back that the Toronto Raptors were potentially interested and inquired about Andre Drummond of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but that would have been a big cost for the Raptors to acquire him.

They would’ve had to make the money work due to Drummond’s current contract and it would have involved possibly both Norman Powell and maybe even Boucher going back to Cleveland. While that might be a steep price, it could make them a feared team in the East.

Several key Toronto Raptors players are flourishing

Moving aside from what they currently lack on the team, let’s talk about what they do so well that makes them one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the NBA, of course when they win, not when they lose.

The Raptors may not have that one player that averages nearly 25 points per game like some other teams in the league, but they are a team that buys into the system and they all play team basketball which sees a handful of players average more than 10 points per game.

As of right now, the Raptors have six players that are averaging at least 13 points per game or more on the season, and those players are Fred VanVleet (20.1), Pascal Siakam (20.1), Kyle Lowry (18.0), Powell (17.7), OG Anunoby (13.8), and Boucher (13.0)

Just for reference, last season the Raptors had six players who averaged 10 or more points per game. Dring their historic season in 2018-19, they had seven players who averaged 10 or more points per game.

The only reason why most people don’t see this Raptors team as a huge threat every year is that they don’t have that one player who is a top player in the league and someone who is a game-breaker that will average nearly 25 points per game.

The last player who they had that was exactly like that was Kawhi Leonard, but now he’s gone to Los Angeles and people see the Raptors as a team that doesn’t have that one guy that will close out games anymore.

Although, after Kawhi left in the 2019 off-season they kind of shut the haters and doubters up as they finished with a winning percentage without him and still managed to reach game seven of the second round in the playoffs. Although they would’ve been better off with him on the team, the Raptors still fought through adversity in the playoffs.

Who are the Toronto Raptors competing with?

The Eastern Conference has been a circus, to say the least so far during the 2021 season and it feels like any team can make the playoffs. The only teams in the East that could do some serious damage in the playoffs are the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Toronto may not be called a legit contender in most people’s heads compared to other teams in the league, but this team has championship DNA and has started to look more and more like the old Toronto Raptors team we are all accustomed to, and if they can add a big man by the deadline, they will instantly get better.

The only thing that is stopping the Raptors from potentially beating, let’s say, the 76ers in a seven-game series is a big man that can match up against Joel Embiid. Now that Marc Gasol is gone and no longer able to clamp up Embiid, we need someone who can play minutes against him.

The Raptors cant go ahead and think they could make a deep run in the playoffs without a big man. Boucher has done a good job this season either starting in the small handful of games he has or even coming off the bench, but he doesn’t match up well against bigs like Embiid.

With our without a big man, they could run into trouble against the Brooklyn Nets, as playing against a team that can tally 80 automatic points between Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden certainly qualifies as a challenge.

However, despite Durant not playing the full game when these two teams locked horns, Toronto still took the Nets down with both Harden and Irving in the lineup, a sign that their perimeter defense is solid gold.

Against the Bucks, they also stifled a high-octane offense, as they limited Khris Middleton to only eight shots in the first game. In the second game, they made Middleton and Giannis Antteokounmpo work their hardest to make shots as they combined for an atrocious 13/33.

Against the 76ers in the first game, they were with them throughout the whole game and it really never swung into anyone’s favour until the fourth quarter when the Raptors clamped up the whole team and held them scoreless for nearly seven minutes.

This team may not have bonified star players like the Nets, 76ers, and Bucks, but like I said they know what it takes to win and have championship DNA, so don’t be surprised if they become a sleeper and make it deep in the playoffs this year.

Next. 3 biggest All-Star snubs in Raptors history. dark