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Raptors Franchise-Best Performance Leaves Room For Growth

Coach Steve Kerr praised Toronto’s strategic shift after the Raptors nearly pulled off a Warriors-style comeback against Golden State: “I don’t know if there’s another example… it is different when you see a team change philosophically with the same coach and a similar roster.”

Both the eye test and cold, hard stats back up Kerr’s assertion. Toronto whips the basketball around the court far more often than their previous iso-heavy style, creating more assists and open looks around the perimeter. The Raptors stalk their own end with renewed purpose, sending waves of long, energetic defenders capable of switching nearly all matchups. And all the best sports betting sites concur, with most pegging as third favourites to come out of the East.

These impressive changes created the best basketball team in Raptors history at the halfway point, fourth in the NBA with a 29-13 record. Crushing the Cavaliers without Kyle or Serge and a near-miss against the Warriors proves that Toronto belongs in the championship conversation, albeit as a long shot.

Nonetheless, the Raptors still need help from internal or external sources to give themselves a realistic shot at a ring.

Raptors Need To Sink More Jumpers

Toronto’s done a terrific job changing their approach on offence.

Stars in any sport rarely embrace a shift in strategy which redistributes control to less experienced teammates. As such, Lowry and DeRozan should be applauded for following coach Casey’s team-first structure. Instead of pouting about minutes and touches, the Raptors all-star backcourt facilitated the new philosophy, lifting entire team’s play.

Now the rotation needs to start hitting their jumpers.

A quick look at the stats reveal the Raptors near the bottom of the association for three-point efficiency, hitting 11.2 of 31.9 attempts for a .351 3P%. Despite a below-average conversion ratio, the Raptors still rank eighth in the NBA for made three-pointers.

OG Anunoby started the season hot, but his shooting tailed off over the last couple of weeks. Norm Powell’s offense fell off the earth, shooting .287 from beyond the arc, while Siakam’s still developing his stroke. Lowry, Ibaka and Miles are well below their typical percentages.

Perhaps GM Ujiri will find extra shooting before the trade deadline, but the most likely source of three-point improvement will be from within. Maybe Powell starts hitting at an acceptable rate again, Siakam improves his jumper, or the trio of Lowry, Ibaka and Miles return to previous levels of efficiency. Regardless of how Toronto rectifies the problem, the Raptors must find a way to hit threes at a league average rate.

Nov 7, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Chicago Bulls guard Kris Dunn (32) drives to the basket as Toronto Raptors center Jakob Poeltl (42) tries to defends during the second quarter at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

A Complete 48 Every Game

Nearly every team fights issues of readiness at the opening whistle. An elite few can get away with it – not including the Raptors. Toronto’s pulled off some jaw dropping comebacks this season, but they’re not the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets or playoff Cavaliers.

Despite playing like an elite team, Toronto doesn’t get the same whistles as the Celtics or the Warriors, as evidenced by the phantom foul call on Jakob Poeltl’s clean block against Steph Curry during the 127-125 loss on January 13th.

Toronto features more star-level talent than most squads, but not enough to coast. The Raptors play elite basketball when they’re engaged and energized for 48 minutes. A 133-99 blowout win over the Cavaliers without Ibaka and Lowry was an outlier which required world-class teamwork.

Toronto can’t expect Cleveland to play awful defensively again, or for their shots to fall at an unworldly rate, but the Raptors can choose terrific teamplay and a full 48 – a trait which the Raptors display more often than not this season. Running with the Cavs and the West’s elite requires unerring consistency from Toronto.

Will The Raptors Bounce Back This Week?

San Antonio Spurs at Toronto Raptors

Friday, January 19th – 7:00 PM

Injuries continue to dog the Spurs this year, including ailments to Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili, Pau Gasol and Rudy Gay. It’s appears doubtful that all four will play in Toronto, but the obvious injury watch involves Kawhi Leonard. Coach Popovich’s the G.O.A.T., but the Raptors at home will be considered favorites if Leonard doesn’t dress.

Toronto Raptors at Minnesota Timberwolves

Saturday, January 20th – 9:00 PM

The Timberwolves present the Raptors with another superb test to gauge Toronto’s progress in 2018. Minnesota’s on a roll and tends to play well at home, boasting the fourth-best offensive rating. Their offense will challenge the Raptors defenders while Jimmy Butler will mark DeRozan relentlessly. This one could be another close but high-scoring clash.

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