Entering the 2015-16 NBA season few pundits predicted the Toronto Raptors would be the team who would push the Cavaliers for East supremacy. Most suggested the Raptors would do well to gain home court, and a 50-win season still seemed elusive. This wasn’t necessarily an admonishment of the Raptors. Rather, teams like the Bulls, Hawks, Heat and Wizards were logical choices given their post season success and mostly returning rosters.
Whereas close to half the Raptors roster had changed. Fully a third were rookies and youngsters who would primarily spend time in Mississauga or riding the pine. Of the seven new players, free agent DeMarre Carroll was the one figuring to make an immediate impact on the court.
Yet, after the Raptors surpassed their hellish road heavy, season start and found themselves above .500 (11-10) their performance has been one of consistent excellence. Not since that 21 game start has the team posted 3 losses in a row. Four times the team has lost on consecutive nights, but that was on route to a 40-15 success rate through their next 55 games.
It’s been heady times north of the border with numerous records set, and previously unimaginable milestones finally being recognized.
Six games remain and for the first time in the Raptors history the franchise is in uncharted territory. Fans aren’t just glad to be in the playoffs for a third consecutive season, they enter with expectations.
- Achieve third consecutive Atlantic Division title for first time in franchise history (previous times: 2006-7, 2013-14, 2o14-15)
- First 50-win season
- 32-game win streak when holding opponents under 100 points (third longest such streak since 2000)
- Kyle Lowry named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for games played Mar. 14-20 and Feb 22-28 First Raptor since 2009-10 to earn Player of the Week honors twice in the same season.
- Dwane Casey first coach in team history to record 200 wins
- Bismack Biyombo sets franchise rebound record (25 rebounds in a game)
- DeMar DeRozan becomes second player in franchise history (Vince Carter) to achieve 38 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists
- 12 game home winning streak longest in franchise history
- First 7-game home stand sweep in franchise history
- DeRozan goes 24-25 from the line (third highest percentage in league history with over 25 attempts)
- DeRozan fourth player in history to play 5oo games as a Raptor
- Lowry scores a career high 43 points in leading the Raptors to a victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers (also becoming first player in Raptor history to score over 40 points, dish 9 assists, grab 5 rebounds and 4 steals in a single game, as per Elias)
- Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan make history by both being selected (fans/coaches) to play in the All-Star Game. Note: the previous time two players (Bosh/Davis) played in the same year one was an injury replacement
- DeRozan becomes the winningest Raptor in franchise history
- Toronto hosts All-Star Weekend for first time
- DeRozan and Lowry named co-winners for Player of the Month (January)
- Casey named Coach of the Month (January). Only Raptor coach to earn this honor multiple times.
- For second consecutive season Lowry sets new record for three pointers in a season
With that, let’s take a gander back to the 2005-2006 season:
At the end of the 2004 season, the franchise had lost arguably their most famous and talented star (Vince Carter) via a trade that brought virtually nothing in return.
2005-06 Toronto Raptors Roster:
Villanueva was selected in the draft and Calderon was picked up as a rookie free agent
If nothing else the design of the roster showcases how much the NBA has changed over the past decade with fully two-thirds of the roster based in the front court and emphasis on the center position.
The team recorded a 27-55 record, finishing fourth in the Atlantic Division. Ironically it’s conceivable this year’s version could be a mirror image of that record if they win 4 of their final 6 games.
With Chris Bosh the focus of the offense the team ranked fifth offensively (109.5) and fourth for points per game (101.1).
In stark contrast the team was abysmal defensively, ranking 29th (112.7) and 29th in opponent points per game (104.0).
- Aaron Williams was traded to New Orleans for a 2006 second round draft pick (Edin Bavcic) and a 2009 second round pick (Jack McClinton)
- Jalen Rose was traded
- Antonio Davis was waived from the team in a move that still leaves a bad taste in my mouth as he cited poor schools and teaching as part of the reason he wanted out.
- Bryan Colangelo was hired as the Toronto Raptors new General Manager
- Araujo was traded to Utah for Kris Humprhies and Robert Whaley
- Matt Bonner and Eric Williams (plus the 2009 draft pick McClinton) were traded to San Antonio for Rasho Nesterovic
- Villaneuva and cash was traded to Milwaukee for T.J. Ford
The following season the Raptors posted their best record since the Carter era, but lost in the first round to Carter’s New Jersey Nets. Again the next season the team lost in the first round to an Orlando Magic squad who went to the finals.
When Chris Bosh entered free agency a few seasons later he took his talents to Miami and the franchise once again began rebuilding. In addition, Bosh’s departure only served to reignite the concern in Raptorland of their inability to retain top talent.
Looking back it’s hard not to marvel at how far the franchise has come. Toronto is no longer a destination players are averse to joining, especially now with the team showcasing a strong front office and solid foundation. With Canadians now representing the second largest country featured in the NBA it also points to the future free agent opportunities as primary destinations for those players.
Beyond the Raptors record this season there are solid core players in place with tiers of talent. The top tier obviously is the All-Star back-court of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry with the hope DeMarre Carroll will seamlessly mesh into that unit as a “3 and D” specialist. Tier two offers re-signed fourth year players Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas who have both demonstrated growth and are succeeding from operating in the same system.
Tier three showcases depth via one of the top defensive bench units with Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo. And, perhaps the most exciting tier features the rookies (Norman Powell and Delon Wright) who showcased on Saturday in San Antonio precisely why there is reason to be optimistic about the future. The fact Gregg Popovich had to play Kawhi Leonard 40 minutes, LaMarcus Aldridge 38 as well as Tony Parker and Tim Duncan close to 30 highlights just how much these youngsters can add moving forward.
With the 905 Raptors D-League affiliate in place the team finally has a farm system (for lack of a better descriptor) to keep the youth fresh, and teach them the varsity system. In the unique case of Bruno Caboclo it has offered him extended playing time which he has flourished in.
Unlike previous seasons the brain trust at the heart of the franchise (Masai Ujiri) has made pivotal free agent additions, retained draft picks, and perhaps more importantly made trades that for now favor the Raptors. To that end, the obvious example is the robbery of Norman Powell plus a draft pick for Grevis Vasquez. More larcenous is the likely top 10 draft pick (currently 9th) courtesy of the Andrea Bargnani trade that just keeps on giving.
Suffice to say the Raptors have come a long way in ten seasons.
In retrospect the stories of the NBA 2015-16 season will no doubt focus on the incredible run of the Warriors, the unbeaten home record of the Spurs and resurgence of a decimated Blazers team. Yet, arguably the most unexpected gift of the year came courtesy of our very own Raptors.
Side note: earlier this morning the Dr. of Joyology (Steve Gennaro) and I discussed the looming playoffs and the Raptors potential pairings. You can catch that podcast here:
— ALL IN Sports Talk (@allinsportstalk) April 4, 2016
As the team prepares to hopefully add playoff records to their magical season it’s important to relish those 2015-16 accomplishments. However, as you look back upon this season do so with an eye on the future as it’s the healthiest and most hopeful the Toronto Raptors franchise has ever been!