The Raptors Are Spinning Out

December 21, 2022 0 By Cypher9ja

After a one-year dip in 2020-21, the Toronto Raptors bounced back with 48 wins in 2021-22 and appeared to be on the upswing. In addition to Pascal Siakam and 2022 All-Star Fred VanVleet, Toronto landed 2021-22 Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes and entered the 2022-23 campaign with real expectations. The season started in middling fashion but, rather than throwing things into high gear, the Raptors are spinning out. Toronto is on a six-game losing streak, dipping to 13-18 on the season, and are allowing almost 1.19 points per possession over the six-game downturn.

That stretch includes three home losses. With all due respect to the improved Orlando Magic, a pair of losses in Orlando kicked off the swoon in ugly fashion. Toronto did perform well in Monday’s road loss in Philadelphia before losing in overtime, but the team’s overall projection is middling at best. Amusingly, the Raptors have scored and allowed the exact same number of points (3,444) through 31 games, essentially profiling as the most average team in the NBA. Of course, Toronto would gleefully take average in the standings compared to 13-18, and that is one area to find optimism in that the Raptors probably should have a couple of more victories.

With that said, the Raptors have familiar strengths and weaknesses, but a few troubling trends are emerging. Toronto is very good (+4.4 per 100) with Siakam on the floor and pretty bad (-4.4) without him. Toronto remains excellent in transition, posting top-three marks in efficiency and frequency, but are No. 29 in the league in halfcourt offense, per Cleaning the Glass, while scoring only 0.90 points per possession. That is a hideous figure and, while the Raptors are elite in turnover rate and offensive rebound rate, it is tough to overcome that level of halfcourt impotence.

On defense, the Raptors are always fantastic at creating havoc, and that applies to this year’s sample. Still, opponent shooting has bitten the Raptors to the tune of bottom-five marks in effective field goal percentage on both offense and defense. In short, it is exceptionally difficult to sustain consistent success with that level of shooting on both sides of the floor, and the Raptors need improvement from players like VanVleet (46.7 percent effective field goal percentage) and Barnes.

Things don’t get easier anytime soon for the Raptors on paper, with the red-hot Knicks, Cavaliers, Clippers, Grizzlies, and Suns on the schedule over the next five games. Toronto does have 9 of the next 12 games at home, and given that the Raptors are 10-6 in Canada, that safety could be helpful. It could potentially get gross before it gets better, though, and the Raptors are staring at a potential play-in trip in the face if the ship isn’t righted soon.

Where is Toronto in this week’s DIME power rankings? Let’s find out.

1. Milwaukee Bucks (22-8, Last week — 2nd)

Milwaukee is closer to full strength these days and continue to really excel on the defensive end. The Bucks essentially inherited the top spot with Boston’s recent struggles, but Milwaukee was also impressive in a road win over New Orleans on Monday to clinch the No. 1 location.

2. Brooklyn Nets (19-12, Last week — 5th)

We went deep on the Nets a week ago, and it was a quiet week in a good way. Brooklyn won a pair of road games, and the Nets’ only loss in the last 11 games came against the Celtics. This is probably too high for Brooklyn, but they’ve earned it.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (21-11, Last week — 7th)

Cleveland now leads the NBA in net rating, out-scoring opponents by 6.5 points per 100 possessions. The Cavaliers also lead in defensive rating after a 4-0 week with wins over Dallas (twice), Indiana, and Utah. The Cavaliers don’t have an easy week coming up with games against the Bucks, Raptors, and Nets, but each of those contests is in Cleveland.

4. Denver Nuggets (19-11, Last week — 6th)

The Nuggets vault here on the strength of a nice win over Memphis on Tuesday. Denver has won four of the last five and Nikola Jokic had a triple-double with 40 points and 27 (!) rebounds on Sunday. Come on.

5. Philadelphia 76ers (17-12, Last week — 8th)

Joel Embiid’s MVP push is ongoing with 36.9 points per game over the last seven contests. Philadelphia is on a five-game winning streak behind Embiid and James Harden, and the Sixers are into the top five of the Eastern Conference with this latest run.

6. Boston Celtics (22-9, Last week — 1st)

Trouble in Boston? The Celtics just lost four of five, including back-to-back home losses to Orlando. Granted, Jayson Tatum missed one of those games, but it wasn’t great. It’s probably too early to actually worry, but the Celtics have some discomfort for the first time all season.

7. Memphis Grizzlies (19-11, Last week — 12th)

This is more of a market correction than anything. Memphis actually went 1-2 this week, but the Grizzlies absolutely bludgeoned the Bucks. The two losses were on the road. It’s really fine.

8. New Orleans Pelicans (18-12, Last week — 4th)

Right as the Pelicans were garnering contender buzz, they’ve lost four in a row. The last three of those losses came by single digits, with two on the road and a loss to Milwaukee. Those aren’t damaging defeats, but the Pels’ red-hot run came to a screeching halt.

9. Phoenix Suns (19-13, Last week — 12th)

Phoenix was going to jump higher after three straight wins and a 58-point outburst from Devin Booker. Then, the Suns led by double-digits in the fourth quarter on Tuesday before losing to the previously skidding Wizards. That’s only one result, but it wasn’t a good one.

10. New York Knicks (18-13, Last week — 13th)

The Knicks are scalding-hot with eight straight wins. It’s been a fairly soft schedule over that sample, but New York is also playing quite well and throttling opponents with a +17.3 net rating. The Knicks also have a two-game lead for the No. 6 seed and the defense has been locked in since rotation shifts leaned in that direction.

11. L.A. Clippers (18-14, Last week — 9th)

The Clippers haven’t played since Saturday. L.A. is 4-1 in the last five, though, and the Clippers are quietly 9-2 when Kawhi Leonard plays. He hasn’t played enough yet to make huge takeaways, but it’s a good indicator.

12. Minnesota Timberwolves (16-15, Last week — 17th)

The Wolves put 150 on the Bulls this week, and Anthony Edwards is picking up steam. Minnesota is on a three-game winning streak that was needed before a five-game gauntlet against the Mavericks, Celtics, Heat, Pelicans, and Bucks beginning on Wednesday.

13. Portland Trail Blazers (17-14, Last week — 14th)

Damian Lillard is now the all-time scoring leader for Portland, which seems fitting. Unfortunately, the Blazers lost on the night Lillard passed Clyde Drexler, but Portland has some very winnable games on the horizon beginning with a rematch on Wednesday against the Thunder.

14. Utah Jazz (18-16, Last week — 18th)

Lopsided losses to the Bucks and Cavs aren’t great, but they aren’t terribly worrying given where Utah is. The Jazz did beat the Pelicans to start the week and also walloped the Pistons on the road on Tuesday. Things are stable for now.

15. Dallas Mavericks (15-16, Last week — 11th)

Dallas has dropped five of seven and 10 of 16 with injuries mounting. The absence of Maxi Kleber is huge in that he unlocks defensive lineups for Dallas and the Mavericks don’t have great alternatives.

16. Sacramento Kings (16-13, Last week — 15th)

The Kings have flattened out to be sure, including a bad home loss to Charlotte on Monday. The profile remains solid, but Sacramento needs to take advantage of the next five games coming at home.

17. Atlanta Hawks (16-15, Last week — 21st)

After losing five of six, the Hawks won back-to-back games to close the week, and the team is healthier with the return of Dejounte Murray and John Collins. However, a bomb dropped on Wednesday morning with President of Basketball Operations Travis Schlenk taking an advisory role and Landry Fields taking an elevated position in his place. For a team perennially involved in trade rumblings, that shake-up could be instructive.

18. Golden State Warriors (15-17, Last week — 10th)

It isn’t rocket science, but the Warriors aren’t very good without Steph Curry. Golden State is just trying to hold on for dear life in his absence, but the Warriors got flogged in New York on Tuesday and Andrew Wiggins is still out as well.

19. Miami Heat (16-16, Last week — 20th)

Miami still ticks up in the standings, but a home loss to the scuffling Bulls on Tuesday wasn’t great. The Heat did win four in a row before that, and the next three games are manageable at home.

20. Orlando Magic (11-21, Last week — 26th)

It’s pretty rare to see a 5-20 team win six games in a row, but the Magic just did it. The run came to an end in Atlanta on Monday, but kudos to Orlando for making that spurt and doing it without Wendell Carter Jr. to boot.

21. Indiana Pacers (15-16, Last week — 22nd)

Reality is here for Indiana with a 3-8 mark in the last 11 games. The Pacers also project as underdogs in the next three games on the road, and the losses could keep mounting after the fun start.

22. Oklahoma City Thunder (13-18, Last week — 24th)

OKC stopped a five-game losing streak and won two games in a row to end the week. One of those wins spoiled a big night for Damian Lillard, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was responsible for the game-winner.

23. Chicago Bulls (12-18, Last week — 23rd)

The vibes are reportedly hideous in Chicago. The Bulls did win on Tuesday to stop the bleeding a bit, but Chicago is on the road for the next two games and clearly facing potential upheaval.

24. Los Angeles Lakers (13-17, Last week — 16th)

It’s not the fault of the Lakers that Anthony Davis is out, but Los Angeles isn’t the same team without him. He is reportedly going to miss at least a month and, with apologies to LeBron, the Lakers are pretty thin without Davis, who was dominating before the injury.

25. Toronto Raptors (13-18, Last week — 19th)

There is an entire rabbit hole to go down on whether the Raptors should blow it up or at least examine shedding a veteran or two in the coming months to retool on the fly. The next few weeks will dictate a lot of the direction.

26. San Antonio Spurs (10-20, Last week — 27th)

It’s hard to know what to make of the Spurs. San Antonio is obviously playing better with a 4-2 mark in the last six games. However, the losses came by double-digits at home, and the Spurs still have a hideous -10.0 net rating that is dead-last in the NBA.

27. Charlotte Hornets (8-23, Last week — 29th)

With LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward back, the Hornets have at least been more competitive. Charlotte did lose eight in a row, but a win on the second night of a back-to-back against Sacramento was nice.

28. Washington Wizards (12-20, Last week — 28th)

The Wizards snapped a 10-game losing skid with a road (!) win over Phoenix on Tuesday. If not for that result, Washington would’ve been No. 30 this week, but they pulled it out of the fire despite blowing a 17-point lead. The vibes are still ugly, but Washington avoids the total free fall.

29. Houston Rockets (9-21, Last week — 25th)

It was an 0-3 week for the Rockets and each defeat came on the team’s home floor. The ugliest loss was a 19-point drubbing at the hands of the Spurs, and that ensured a dip in the pecking order.

30. Detroit Pistons (8-25, Last week — 30th)

Detroit is 1-6 in the last seven games, including four home losses. The Pistons continue to operate with the worst win-loss mark in the league, and Detroit’s defense has been quite ugly, both on the broad and granular level.