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Optimism Alert: The Raptors are Good.

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I sat down to write this morning with a typically critical mind. The questions surrounding this team started to manifest themselves as they always do as a reflection of winnings an NBA championship. Regardless of the reality of the end-goal, the process is still important to me, and therefore the shortcomings are an easy pit to fall in. A cartoon could be drawn with tiny speech bubbles popping up surrounding my head to illustrate all the questions I considered trying to answer:

“Is Serge Ibaka a shell of his former self?”
“Are the Raptors in trouble without Delon Wright?”
“Where are the rebounds?!”

Instead, I took a moment to reflect on the past 14 games as a closed case study. “If the playoffs started today” is obviously a grossly overrated evaluation of the season so far, and yet consider just some of the positives if this were the case:

Toronto would be 4th in the East with the same record as the 3rd place Washington Wizards.
They’d own the second highest scoring offence (111.4 pts/gm) behind only the Golden State Warriors.
DeMar DeRozan would finish 8th in scoring at 24.9 pts/gm (a spot higher than Kevin Durant!)
Kyle Lowry would finish 7th in assists per game at 7.0 (three spots up on Stephen Curry!)
OG Anunoby is arguably the steal of the draft and a top-10 rookie.
Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and Lucas Nogueira are the three-headed beast that guards those gates to hell in Greek Mythology or whatever.
The Cleveland Cavaliers would miss the postseason.

While I hand-picked some of the most extreme positives from a very small sample size can you really see anything changing dramatically when the season actually does draw to a close? (With the exception of the Cavaliers missing the playoffs). This snapshot feels sustainable, if not improved upon and that’s cause for a mini celebration. Add in the fact that the Raptors have played the toughest schedule from an objective and subjective standpoint and our fears after losing to a Celtics team without Kyrie Irving seem silly after the back-to-back beatdown of the Rockets and Pelicans.

The Raptors have the 5th-best net rating in the NBA, are third in True Shooting Percentage and 7th in total plus/minus. Did I hand-pick a bunch of stats to avoid the glaringly obvious negatives like their three-point shooting and inability to rebound? Of course! But we have the tendency as fans and writers to over-analyze the team we root for and negatives pop up far quicker than positives. It’s important to take a moment and find some optimism after a gruelling start to the season that could have gone much worse.

The only objectively bad news comes in the form of the injuries to Delon Wright and Norman Powell, and even those pale in comparison to what some teams have already had to deal with. The Raptors are improving with each game, their veterans are beginning to play like all-stars and their young talent has already far-exceeded expectations. They may be hanging in the unenviable position of “relevant – but not for a championship” but that position can change as the season wears on and currently they’re headed in the right direction.

It’s easy to get negative about a team that we all want to see succeed, but right now the going is good. Take a breath, peep the upcoming schedule and ease into a clip of JV’s highlights from the Pelicans game

What are your positives so far?

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