Option 3: The Raptors stay in the middle of the pack.
As boring and vanilla as it may be, this is probably where the team is gonna end up. These days there’s not a lot more than hope and speculation, but let me give you some concrete basketball reasoning why the Raps should be a playoff team, albeit as a very low seed.
The team’s combination of depth, complimentary star power (lower-end star power, but star power nonetheless), along with Nick Nurse’s coaching acumen should be enough to keep the team above water for the regular season.
The squad should continue to get better. We’ve seen VanVleet put up nearly 20 points a game all while playing second fiddle to Lowry. Now that he’s been given the full keys to the offense, it’ll be interesting to see how his scoring and leadership pan out.
He’s guaranteed to average more points per game, but the key will be the efficiency and the distributing numbers.
The concerns surrounding this team are all on the offensive end. What the Raptors lost in offensive creation they made up for in defensive chops.
Imagine a lineup of Siakam, Barnes, Anunoby, Achiuwa, and Boucher and tell me how anyone is going to score on them. Every one of those guys can guard multiple positions. Expect some early 2000s 85-82 scorelines this year!
The old “defense wins championships” mantra may not ring as true these days as it did in decades past, but that identity does create a baseline of ability that will help overcome the shooting streaks the team is bound to experience. It will win Toronto games in the regular season, and for a team trying to get back to the playoffs, every win counts.
The Toronto Raptors can fight with anyone in the East.
The East isn’t stacked with competitive teams. The Nets, Sixers, and Bucks are all locks for the post-season, they’re a tier above the rest, but the next level down isn’t nearly as bulletproof.
The Heat and Hawks are strong, but the Celtics have no playmaking, the Bulls are an unknown, the Knicks fell apart in the playoffs, and are we really worried about playing the Hornets, Pacers, or Wizards?
If we pencil in those first five teams, that leaves 3 playoff slots available for the Raps to steal. Even if you want to argue the Celtics and Bulls have too much star power to fall out, I’m willing to take the Raptors over any remaining team in the East in the play-in tournament.
Usually, that middle-ground is exactly where you don’t want to be. Better to contend for the top or else bottom out and try and draft a star, but this is an exception. The Raptors may be in that awkward spot, but they have an upward trajectory. They have a few stars entering their prime and some really exciting young guys coming up.
Toronto will probably be right in the thick of that 6-10 seed range this year. Play-in, playoff, and if we get the snot kicked out of us by the Nets in the first round, that’s fine.
You can’t undersell the importance of high-pressure game experience and a winning culture to a young core. For nine years Lowry was the generator of Raptors culture, now we have to re-affirm that winning mentality with this next generation.