Toronto’s Championship Pedigree Is One of the Leagues Best Stories This Season
One of the biggest questions the Eastern Conference had been facing this season was if the Toronto Raptors were able to become a playoff team again after an unprecedented 20-21.
Finishing almost 20 games under .500 at 12th in the East, all-time franchise cornerstone Kyle Lowry sitting most of his remaining stretch as a Raptor and most of all, playing home games in Tampa? Last season was a very unusual one for Jurassic Park.
Many viewed them as star-less following Pascal Siakam's down year and a potential falling-out with the teams' staff. Scottie Barnes was coming out of Florida State as a 19-year-old fourth overall pick with uncertainty, although he was playing like the obvious choice for Rookie of the Year and Toronto's main bright spot in the beginning.
Fred Van Vleet has always had slight durability issues with for sure All-Star potential that we saw come into fruition this season. Norman Powell's experience was dealt away at last year's deadline for a young and hungry Gary Trent Jr. The teams' already young cornerstone in OG Anunoby also had knickknack problems. While he had displayed plenty of potential especially in the Raps' bubble run, his numbers were not star-like.
Toronto also never really had much size despite a brief Aron Baynes tenure along with a quick signs of possible greatness from Chris Boucher, but he was never cemented to be played consistently.
The Raptors have had such a special turnaround mid-season for their franchise.
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Toronto began the season with a struggle to reach .500 as they finally began to break free towards the end of January following a quick six-game winning streak. Over two weeks later, the team then went on one of the leagues largest winning streaks this season of eight as they have now won nine out of 13 contests.
Big picture, coming out victorious in 11 of their last 17, the Raptors now hold a one game lead on the Brooklyn Nets for the seven spot in the East at 32-27. Toronto has a Monday-Tuesday, home and home series kicking off tonight in Brooklyn.
In the last 15 games, the Raptors are ranked 16th in offensive rating, 17th on the defensive side. They are seventh in wins while in the middle of the pack between Net rating, efficiency field goal, true shooting percentage and rebounding.
In the month of February, Toronto has shot 46 percent from the field and 37 from three which is about three percent more than they did in October and November.
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Van Vleet ended up becoming the fourth undrafted player in the NBA's modern era to be an All-Star. Since Jan. 21, the 27-year-old has put up 20 points, seven assists and three boards on 36% from the field.
Siakam fed off last season's criticism carrying into this year as he's averaged star-like numbers. At 21.4, 8.6 rebounds and five assists shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 34% from distance, Siakam could have very well made another All-Star appearance as well. Since that date, he is putting up almost 23 a night with nine rebounds on 51% shooting.
Anunoby has had another solid campaign with a career-high 17 and five boards on 35% from the perimeter. The young forward who has made many clutch plays through his young career has 18 outings out of his 42 where he has scored 20 points or more.
Trent Jr. became a spectacular fit and the youngest player in league history to drop at least 30 with five triples in five consecutive games. Most of all, he became the fourth ever to do so joining the elite company of Steph Curry, Damian Lillard and James Harden.
As he tied DeMar DeRozan for the longest 30-pt game streak in Raptors history, he also joined Kawhi Leonard in the midst of the streak as the only player in the history of the organization to have 30+ with five or more steals and threes in a game. Trent was able to continue the streak in the third game playing 55 minutes due to the three-overtime thriller in Miami.
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Now averaging 18 points shooting close to 40 from three, since that Jan. 21 date, Trent has put up almost 22 points on 44% from out there.
The Raptors went 17-5 in their championship season with Kawhi Leonard when he was off the floor and their bubble run as the two-seed at 53-19 being dominant against the East at 34-11.
Time and time again, Head Coach Nick Nurse continues to prove his intelligence of getting the best out of all his teams proving him to be one of basketball's premiere coaches. Toronto does not have much of either a second unit or size still with the likes of still running Boucher and prospect Precious Achiuwa for their fitting run of versatility.
"I think it's a big deal and I think they're doing a really good job of not thinking about that," said Nurse postgame after beating the Heat again with a starting five playing heavy minutes on the second night of a back to back in Toronto Feb. 1. "Even though everyone's talking about it and asking them about it and talking about it some more. They're lost in the competition. They're lost and they're digging in and there's none of them asking me to come out. They're digging into the competition and they're enjoying that and I'm glad they're playing super hard and getting some results for their work."
Nurse notices Toronto's grit and hard work acknowledging that his team can compete with anyone.
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"For me, should give our guys some belief that we can play against anybody in the league," he said. "I mean we gotta play really hard and we gotta have a great effort and we gotta have guys perform, but we can play that's for sure and we're trying to grow. That's all we ever ask for. Go out and give a great effort and then we feel like we deserve to win."
Nurse deserves a lot more credit. Especially with the season his Raptors are having this time around.
"It's one of the things I love about here, Masai (Ujiri) rewards winning," Nurse said. "If you're winning, he's gonna reward you. I'm not afraid to talk to that about the players, 'how are we getting you to a better place, bigger contract, longer contract, 13th man to 9th man, 9th man to sixth man, etc.' What is it we can do? We spend a lot of time trying to get them better. We're also not afraid to teach them winning. We got to coach winning."