The Toronto Raptors are the only NBA team based outside of the United States, and in recent years, they have dwelled at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Coming into this year, it was expected that the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets would compete for the Atlantic Division title. However, in a season where struggling became the New York state of mind, the Raptors clawed their way to the top of the division.
The Raptors currently sit in third place in the NBA’s Eastern Conference with a record of 40-31. They share the same record as the Chicago Bulls but hold the tiebreaker in that match up. Much like seasons of the past, the Raptors got off to a rough start to the year as they stumbled out of the gates to a 6-12 record.
Things changed for the Raptors in early December after they made a blockbuster trade with the Sacramento Kings that sent Rudy Gay to California. Toronto received John Salmons, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes and Greivis Vasquez from the Kings to help strengthen their bench. Following the trade, the Raptors increased their ball movement and as a result team scoring increased.
Prior to the Rudy Gay, trade only three players on the Raptors averaged double-digit scoring. Following Gay’s departure, five players on the Raptors averaged double-digit scoring. Sophomore Terence Ross took Gay’s place in the starting line up and began to excel in the role.
Despite averaging just 10.9 points on the season, Ross has been a key three-point shooter and floor spacer for the Raptors. Ross also had a breakout game against the Clippers, which saw him tie a franchise record with 51 points. Along with Ross, fellow NBA sophomore Jonas Valanciunas has continued to develop into a solid big man for the Raptors.
Player to Watch in the Playoffs
The Raptors will have little to no playoff experience on their roster and as a result, they will rely heavily on their floor general, Kyle Lowry. Lowry has emerged as the leading voice in the locker room and on the court for the Raptors. Although not selected to this year’s All-Star team, Lowry has played at the level of an All-Star for much of the season.
He is averaging 17.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 7.7 assists on the year and recorded his fourth career triple double earlier this month. Lowry is one of the few Raptors with playoff experience, as he played 13 postseason games with the Rockets in 2009. Not only is Lowry the second leading scorer on the team, but he is also the vocal leader on both ends of the floor.
If the Raptors are to win their first playoff series since the 2000-01 season, Kyle Lowry will need to lead the team there.
How Will Their Season End?
While the Raptors have an inexperienced roster, it is likely that they will face another young squad in either the Washington Wizards or the Charlotte Bobcats in the first round. If this is the case, expect the experience of head coach Dwane Casey and the leadership of Kyle Lowry to lead the Raptors to their first second round berth in over a decade.
If the Raptors slip to the fourth seed and have to face either the Chicago Bulls or Brooklyn Nets, there may be a different outcome. Chicago and Brooklyn are both savvy, veteran teams with plenty of playoff experience. Their physicality and toughness may be too much for this young Raptor squad to handle.
The NBA Eastern Conference playoffs are sure to be exciting this year, as there are a handful of teams who have been in a playoff drought for several years. It will be interesting to see if the young guns of the league can prove themselves when it matters most.
NBA Daily is a daily series providing commentary, predictions, and analysis of events surrounding the NBA.
Commentary By Eric Kummel