It was by no means going to be simple for the Raptors, not after they’re dwelling out of resorts and non permanent residences greater than 2,000 miles from their residence metropolis. Not after they dwell in, by far, essentially the most top-heavy division within the Japanese Convention.
Nonetheless, the best way the 2018-19 NBA champions have carried out extra like a bottom-feeding also-ran than a presumed title contender throughout the nascent levels of a difficult 2020-21 season is a minimum of a trigger for concern. And the troublesome circumstances the Raptors discover themselves below, enjoying their residence video games in Tampa, Fla., after being compelled southward by journey restrictions by the Canadian authorities, doesn’t fairly clarify all their early issues.
It’s not the only real cause Toronto has been among the many league’s most inept scoring groups up to now, rating twenty sixth in offensive ranking and useless final in area purpose share. It’s not why the Raptors have been routinely steamrolled within the second half of video games throughout their 1-6 begin (their sixth lack of final season didn’t come till their twenty first recreation, by the best way).
No, there’s a bit extra to it than that. And whereas it’s definitely not time to press button, there are a number of areas the Raptors clearly want to enhance on if they’re to a minimum of prolong their present seven-year streak of playoff appearances.
The photographs will not be falling, particularly from deep
The three-point shot has all the time been a giant a part of the Raptors’ recreation since Nick Nurse took over as head coach. They ranked sixth within the NBA in 3-point price (the ratio of 3-pointers tried to complete area purpose makes an attempt) final season and tenth throughout their 2018-19 championship marketing campaign. Thus far in 2020-21, practically half (49.2 p.c) of Toronto’s photographs have come from behind the arc — the best complete within the league.
The distinction is that this Raptors workforce is not hitting these photographs at practically the identical proficiency as earlier than. Toronto’s 34.2 success price ranks twenty fourth within the league. The Raptors completed no decrease than sixth in both of the previous two seasons.
In 2019-20, the Raptors had six gamers with a minimum of three 3-point makes an attempt per recreation shoot 38 p.c or higher from lengthy vary, tied with the Pistons for essentially the most within the NBA. Solely three present gamers (Fred VanVleet, Chris Boucher, Matt Thomas) could make that declare up to now this season.
Two gamers who achieved that feat in 2019-20, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, have moved on. Aron Baynes, a 35 p.c 3-point shooter over the previous two seasons, was signed with the intent to fill the void, however he’s 3 of 16 on triple makes an attempt up to now. Holdover OG Anunoby, simply weeks faraway from signing a four-year, $72 million extension, is 12 of 41 (29.3 p.c) after hitting at a 39 p.c clip in 2019-20.
The place have you ever gone, Pascal Siakam?
Siakam’s well-documented struggles in Toronto’s seven-game loss to Boston in final season’s Japanese Convention semifinals could not have been a blip on the radar.
The Celtics masterfully neutralized the ahead by deploying the smaller Jaylen Brown as his main defender, and groups have been efficiently following that blueprint throughout the early levels of this season.
The plan is working up to now. Typically drawing defenders with the size and athleticism to present him issues (the 76ers’ Ben Simmons and the Spurs’ Rudy Homosexual had been significantly efficient), Siakam is solely not attending to the rim with the identical frequency as previous years, and (see under) has been among the many least environment friendly gamers of his measurement when doing so.
Lowest area purpose share on the rim, gamers 6-9 or taller, 2020-21 season (min. 100 minutes performed)
Isaiah Stewart, Pistons, .478
Pascal Siakam, Raptors, .488
LaMarcus Aldridge, Spurs, .500
Brook Lopez, Bucks, .500
Jusuf Nurkic, Path Blazers, .500
Dwight Powell, Mavericks, .500
The Raptors have been outscored by an astonishing 63 factors with Siakam on the court docket, a mean of 10.5 per recreation that’s eclipsed solely by a pair of gamers from the possible lottery-bound Timberwolves (D’Angelo Russell, Ed Davis) for the worst mark within the league.
It has been a humbling begin for the 2018-19 NBA Most Improved Participant, and that frustration was no extra evident than when he bolted straight to the locker room after fouling out late in a loss to the 76ers. Nurse benched him for the next game, which occurs to be the one one the Raptors have received up to now.
Siakam did look extra like his previous self in Wednesday’s outing at Phoenix, when he put up 32 factors and shot over 50 p.c from the sphere for the primary time this season. It goes with out saying the Raptors want him to return to his All-Star kind; they had been 19-1 when he scored 25 or extra factors in a recreation in 2019-20.
Leads are slipping away
Six groups have misplaced a number of instances when holding a double-digit lead in a recreation up to now. The Rockets, Hawks, Wizards and Pistons have executed so twice, the Grizzlies 3 times. The Raptors have 5 such losses by their first seven outings.
Beginning nicely hasn’t been an issue — Toronto is outscoring opponents by a mean of 4.3 factors within the first quarter, the second-best mark within the NBA behind solely the Bucks. Beginning the second half nicely has been an actual situation, nevertheless. The Raptors have been outscored by a mean of 5.4 factors within the third quarter, with solely the Timberwolves and Cavaliers having been worse.
In distinction, the Raptors outscored foes by 4.3 factors per recreation within the third quarter (fourth-best within the NBA) whereas going 53-19 final season. They ranked second within the league throughout their 2018-19 title run.
So what is the cause for the dramatic drop-off? Is it as a result of Toronto fields one of many league’s older rosters? The Raptors are certainly one of solely three groups with two starters (Baynes and Kyle Lowry) aged 34 or older. One of many others is the Lakers, nevertheless, so there goes that idea.
An absence of depth is the extra believable reply. The Raptors rank twenty seventh within the NBA in bench scoring, although in addition they had one of many league’s least productive second models final season. That was much less of a problem in 2019-20 as a result of the beginning 5 was usually so good. With Siakam, Anunoby and Baynes all underperforming up to now, it has rapidly develop into a extra urgent concern.
The underside line
There is not any trigger for alarm but for Toronto followers relating to their snowbird workforce. If not for a number of unhealthy stretches, the Raptors might simply as simply be 5-2 as an alternative of 1-6, and a protection that’s nonetheless among the many NBA’s higher models has saved them in each recreation despite their inefficiencies on the opposite finish.
There’s sufficient of a observe report all through the roster to counsel that the offense will come round. Additional, it must occur for a workforce that has been constructed to win now and whose window could also be closing quickly.
Lowry, the Raptors’ unquestioned coronary heart and soul, is within the last yr of his contract and turns 35 in March. Does workforce president Masai Ujiri contemplate transferring him on the commerce deadline if Toronto finds itself combating for merely a playoff spot as an alternative of a division title?
The subsequent two months ought to be very intriguing in Toronto. And Tampa as nicely.