The Raptors have took another step this year and separated themselves from the pack. For the past few years the Raptors have been slowly getting better and better each year. They have been on Cleveland’s tail all year long and are no longer in the same category as the teams in the middle anymore. They look primed for a deep playoff run this year with Kyle Lowry leading the charge.
The Raptors are 5th in offensive efficiency, 11th in defensive efficiency, and 29th in pace. That last number is a little surprising when you consider the makeup of the team being led by two guards being slower than every single team besides the Utah. They do their best to run an efficient offense on the floor and keep teams from running all over them. Somehow this team has slightly still gone under the radar. Part of that has to do with the fact the franchise itself has a single series victory ever and has gone down when they should not have in the first round the past two years. I would argue this team is quite different though. This team could really make a run to the finals and nobody seems to be noticing that.
Lowry has had a jump in his game from last year to this year and it might not be as noticeable unless you are watching him, but let’s go ahead and take a look at the numbers. Lowry last year averaged 17.8 PPG 4.7 RPG 6.8 APG on 41% from the field and 34% from 3 point land. This year Lowry averaged 21.2 PPG 4.7 RPG 6.4 APG 43% from the field and a career high 39% from 3. All of them seem to be slight rises in play, but if you watch the man go to work on the court you can see the evolution in his game. Anytime his team has needed a big game out of him to have a chance against the top tier teams he has delivered putting up 41 against the Warriors and 43 against the Cavaliers. Derozan has been a surprise himself this year and one of the most surprising things you might find this year is his ability to run a pick & roll. This year Derozan leads the team in points per possession and is in the 93.4 percentile while leading the PnR. The only players more efficient in a pick and roll than Derozan is Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, and Louis Williams. That is what gets this team going is when they get the defense working and can get easy shots. The Derozan-Valanciunas dynamic has worked to perfection and I hope we see more of it in the postseason.
My favorite lineup Toronto has is the lineup of Lowry-Joseph-Ross-Patterson-Biyombo. Joseph and Lowry are solid playmakers with two efficient 3 point shooters in Ross and Patterson, and Biyombo is better defensively than Valanciunas who seems to have stone feet on defense. This lineup is one of their slowest ones, but also one of their most efficient. The life of the team is honestly not in their starters, but instead those off the bench. Bismack Biyombo is honestly a better fit for the team that leaves out the offensively talented Valanciunas far too much, Pattrick Patterson is more of the modern day 4 who can shoot and spread the floor for the perimeter guys, and Cory Joseph is a solid playmaker who can create for his team. These players are in the best lineups by net rating that the Raptors have to offer.
The Raptors can make a deep run in the playoffs and I do mean a deep run as in a Eastern Conference Finals appearance and the finals do not seem so far off. If they can get out of the dreaded first round they have had so many issues with this year they will be a team to fear. They face the Pacers in the opening round and Paul George has always been a great playoff performer so keeping them away will be easier said than done, but if they can finish them off in 6 games.