All That Glitters Isn’t Gold

Patience is a virtue, and Masai Ujiri is wise to slowly build Toronto without mortgaging the franchises bright future.

There’s no debating the Toronto Raptors are enjoying a great season.

There’s no debating the Toronto Raptors are enjoying a great season.

They have enjoyed the top record in the Eastern Conference for most of the season before a recent “slump” that has seen them fall to third in the conference.

But, with most of the teams in their division tanking and the Brooklyn Nets being a mess, Toronto essentially has the division and home court in the first round of the playoffs locked up.

Toronto is on pace to set a franchise record for wins in a season. And, if they can win a series in the playoffs, it will arguably be the best season the team has ever had.

With the instant success the team has enjoyed this season there has been a lot of chatter online, in print and on talk radio about Masai Ujiri needing to go all in and make a big trade or two prior to the trade deadline next month.

Not so fast.

While Ujiri will listen to offers leading up to the trade deadline in February, he would be wise not to panic and make a trade just to make a trade.

“You read about it and hear about the East, the East, the East,” Ujiri recently told Zach Lowe. “And you have to think about it sometimes. Is this a rare time? Is this period — the next year or two — something we have to take advantage of? That’s a question I can’t answer. It depends on what’s there. But I won’t make decisions that are going to shorten our growth and help us only this year.”

While adding additional help may be wise in the short-term – Toronto needs another big to provide rim protection – the reality is the team isn’t ready to compete for an NBA Championship as currently constructed.

Toronto has played eight games so far this season against teams that have legit chances to win a championship and they have a 2-7 record in those games.

They have lost twice to the Bulls and Cavaliers, had a heartbreaking loss to the Mavericks and they were thumped by the Warriors.


One of their wins, against Memphis, was a game in which most of the Grizzlies were DNP’s due to a nasty stomach ailment that ripped through the team. And even then Toronto barely hung on for a 96-92 win.

They also fought back for a big win on the road against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but that was when the Cavs were still trying to form their identity.

Heck, the Cavs are still trying to form their identity roughly 30 games into the season and might not even be title contenders this season and since that win Toronto has lost twice to Cleveland.

Toronto has beat Oklahoma City – without Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook – and the current Eastern Conference top team Atlanta Hawks (but on the first game of the season). I’m not counting either of those wins because the Hawks were far from a title contender when the season opened and without their franchise players the game against the Thunder was far from a true litmus test.

Arguably their signature win so far came back in early November when they beat the Washington Wizards. An impressive win, but not one that shows they are ready to compete for a championship.

Teams that win championships are generally strong on the defensive end. Toronto is struggling there this season giving up 101.4 points per game while allowing opponents to have a true shooting percentage of 55%.

When they do get defensive stops, they are allowing teams to grab 26.7 offensive rebounds per game. That puts them in the bottom third in the NBA in giving up offensive rebounds.

When you dig a little deeper into the advanced stats you’ll find opponents are attempting 30.5 shots within five feet of the rim.

Of those field goal attempts, teams are shooting 57%.

Toronto’s efficiency on the offensive end (they are leading the Eastern Conference with 101.4 points per game) won’t be able to mask their defensive issues in a best of seven series. Good coaches and teams will be able to exploit Toronto on the defensive end while formulating schemes to slow the team down on the offensive end.

Plus, when Lou Williams, Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan go cold for a quarter or a half the team falls into an immediate funk. Toronto has relied too much on “hot” shooters this season instead of creating a offensive philosophy that is sustainable or reliable.

Again, racing out to a great start to this season is fun for the fans and it has created a buzz in the Air Canada Centre and around the city.

However, Ujiri is wise to not panic and risk Toronto’s future financial flexibility, draft picks or current young players for what appears to be a relatively short-lived playoff run this season.

Patience is a virtue, and Ujiri is wise to slowly build Toronto without mortgaging their bright future. Toronto would be wise to fight the urge to go all in this season despite the fact the conference is wide open and theirs for the taking.

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