The 2022-23 Toronto Raptors, messy and emotional, kings of the counterfeit comeback, failed and redeemed, are officially going to the postseason. This season has been many, many things, and the Raptors were far from promised a postseason berth. They earned this achievement, leaping all sorts of hurdles (including many self-imposed), and that shouldn’t be downplayed.
This season has been rescued. If you had told the Raptors themselves on Jan. 22nd, when they were 20-27 and had just lost a close game to the Boston Celtics missing Jayson Tatum (after a disastrous collapse against the Minnesota Timberwolves, arguably the worst of the season), that they would (almost) all survive the trade deadline and would return to .500 and would make the postseason, I imagine it would have been a comfort.
Toronto has fought back to .500, and even though their win total hasn’t equaled last season’s total, in many ways they are at this point an equal team to last year’s iteration. When you account for pace and exclude garbage time, last year’s Raptors ranked 16th in offense and 10th in defense. This year’s Raptors are 13th in offense and 14th in defense. Both teams ranked 11th in point differential.
Obviously the total season from team is worse than last year’s output. Their net rating in some ways has been hacked by playing their stars so many minutes, and they’ve been a disaster in the clutch. But this year’s team has been as good as last year’s team since acquiring Jakob Poeltl. The net rating of plus-3.0 has been quite solid. Last year’s team went on a run after the All-Star break, too, with a net rating of plus-3.3 after Feb. 9, 2022.
It must be mentioned that Toronto’s current offensive rating of 115.4 is a franchise record. It must also be mentioned that a whooooole lot of teams this year are setting franchise records in offensive rating. But the offensive boom has not passed Toronto by. The team floundered on the offensive end for much of the year, but it has found a formula that works: Fred VanVleet and Jakob Poeltl run pick and rolls to create, Pascal Siakam is the wing creator out of isolations and post-ups, O.G. Anunoby the spacer and second-side attacker, and Scottie Barnes is the connector in all things. That, and the team runs like hell in transition. In terms of raw offensive firepower, and the Raptors have never scored better.
That was the case against the Charlotte Hornets. Fred VanVleet set the franchise record in assists, with 20, and he’s now the only player to own the single-game franchise record in points and assists other than Wilt Motherfucking Chamberlain. Siakam scored easily and efficiently. Poeltl finished at the rim when others created for him. Anunoby hit nearly every shot he threw at the rim. And Barnes, though quiet, still had some moments of brilliance in transition. The team has a route to success — on both sides of the ball — and it knows it.
Of course, comparison to the league average is a much more telling statistic, and in that regard, the Raptors are slightly above average, if far below the best season in franchise history. In fact, this year’s Raptors are slightly above average on both sides of the basketball, despite the perfectly average record.
Whether that can carry on into the actual playoffs remains to be seen. Toronto doesn’t have a guaranteed path to the playoffs — and if there’s anything we can’t count on this team for, it’s winning on command. In the eighth seed, maybe: Toronto can probably win one of two. If they’re in ninth or tenth? Two in a row is a big ask, even for this improved version of the Raptors.
Regardless of what happens there, the team isn’t done, and for a long stretch it looked like it was. In fact, I wrote the team off in the middle of January. In my defense, I did that mostly because it was fun to put together some tangential writing about sports during a time when the actual play itself wasn’t that compelling (and was fairly repetitive — you can only cover late-game collapses in so many different ways).
“When you’re left with wreckage, fandom finds something to love in the twisted remains. Sand, waves, and time turn broken bottles and needles into beach glass; fandom can be so pure that there’s even something to love in this lifeless husk of a basketball team called the 2022-23 Toronto Raptors.
Barnes put up a monster 29 points against the Timberwolves. Love that, if you want to love anything. Precious Achiuwa was basketball’s version of Beethoven, stomping and thundering and wielding glorious chaos like a piano hammer. You can’t not love that. Broken glass can be the most beautiful thing on earth. Well, maybe not the most. A full bottle, pieces working together in harmony, can be pretty nice, too. That doesn’t need sand or waves or time to love.”
In my further defense, I only wrote off the team that was. This is a new team, which I even predicted: “This thing is done. Even if the 2022-23 Raptors are rescued by the trade deadline like deus ex machina, it won’t be this team that crawls away to fight another day.”
All that defending done though, I was wrong. The Raptors added to the same core, adding Poeltl and trading only Khem Birch and picks. And they’ve rebounded. They saved the season. They likely shouldn’t have, but they did. Shooting percentages rebounded to career averages, and health rebounded, and the thing is working. There’s plenty of time for it to go wrong, particularly as even if the Raptors make the playoffs, they’ll face the far superior Boston Celtics or Milwaukee Bucks. But for now, the Raptors are, once again, a fun and good team. That’s worth commendation.
4 thoughts on “For all its miseries, the Raptors’ 2022-23 is headed to the postseason”
This was beautiful Admin. Thank you for your reflections.
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