It’s been a few weeks since we did our usual check-in on how the Toronto Raptors are shaping up in terms of perception on the market, and now that the dust has fully settled from the Kyrie Irving blockbuster (except for, you know, the timeline about Isaiah Thomas’ hip injury, which appears to hurt less than the trade itself did), it seems as good a time as any to take a refreshed look.
There remains a lot of optimism around the Cleveland Cavaliers despite Thomas’ injury, and there probably should be. They employ LeBron James, acquired a useful piece in Jae Crowder, probably don’t need to worry too much about getting Thomas back until mid-season, and were starting from a really strong place already. All told, the Boston Celtics may not have actually improved for the 2017-18 season, with a lot of turnover and inexperience and a sudden dearth of elite proven defenders. Even if Irving improves as a playmaker (and the bet here is he will), Boston looks more set on offense than defense, and they could prove weak on the glass once again. The trade definitely opens up their post-James Eastern Conference window more, but until either side shows otherwise on the court, the East still very much runs through Cleveland.
What the net of the trade is for the Raptors isn’t entirely clear. They remain quite good, a team with a long track record of regular season success, with some solid continuity, and an offense that should prove formidable once again. There are questions, though, about the defense, about young players coming through as necessary depth, and about other teams in the East looking to attack their status in the conference’s second tier.
The court of public opinion seems fairly split on the Raptors right now, which is hardly surprising. They’ve been pegged for anywhere from 43.4 wins (ESPN’s RPM-based model) to 50 wins (some other advanced models), and pretty much every spot in between. You can predict anywhere, really, from 45-55 and make a case for the season playing out that way, and there will be a couple of experts who even pick them to earn the top seed in the East thanks to continuity, overall quality, and one of the lightest schedules in the NBA.
More than just a straight evaluation of the team goes into the market, but if we look at betting odds for next Raptors season, we come away with the same rough level of quality. Oddsmakers have the Raptors down for 48.5 wins, but just the sixth-best odds to win the East and 11th-best odds to win the title. The win total looks fine as an over-under, and it’s true that the Raptors haven’t been as good a playoff team as they are a regular season team, but the drop off from perceived quality in terms of win total to playoff chances is a bit striking (they’re really out here crowning the Philadelphia 76ers already). Again, more goes into these things than a straight prediction, but they’re always interesting trends regardless.
Also of note on the book are the odds for Most Valuable Player. The Raptors have a pair of stars who co-lead the team, and debate about which is more valuable or more important are endless (and mostly a pointless exercise, really), and both have been on the MVP radar the last few years. Each has made an All-NBA team in the last two seasons and made three All-Star games in the last four seasons, and if either stays healthy the whole year, it would stand to reason that both DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry could be on the back end of some ballots (either taking out the very top names seems a bit of a long-shot, and the best-case for the team would probably have them cannibalizing some of each other’s votes).
They’re at least on Vegas’ radar, with DeRozan on the book at +6000 and Lowry going off at +15000. You’d have to think Lowry is a better bet in pure EV terms at those prices (catch-all metrics have liked Lowry better than his counterpart the last few years, but DeRozan’s numbers are gaudier; and this is strictly a statement on the value in the lines, not the players). If you’re really high on one of their chances, that would prove a nice return. Heck, you could cover your bases and bet on both and still come out well ahead if one of them took it home. Realistically, DeRozan has just the 20th-best odds and Lowry the 28th, so we’re still talking long-shots, but it’s fun to think about anyway.
In terms of other markets, it wouldn’t seem likely that OG Anunoby is worth a Rookie of the Year flier given he’ll miss part of the year, but maybe you like Norman Powell for Most Improved (or even Sixth Man, depending on how Dwane Casey plays things) if and when those markets materialize. Are there any Raptors bets you’re definitely locking in before the season? A win total prediction? Is the uncertainty in Cleveland enough to grab the Raptors at +2800 to go to the NBA Finals?