Valentine’s Day is the time of year when you spend time with someone you love. Someone who makes your heart skip a beat every time you see them. Someone who is there during the tough times and the best times. If you read that and thought Raptors, you are correct. If you thought anything else, I don’t what to tell you. I made it as clear as possible.
The Toronto Raptors are the hottest team in the NBA right now. The team is on a 15 game win streak which is already a franchise record. The team will look to extend the streak to 16 against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday. The streak’s even more impressive considering pre-season expectations.
Following Kawhi Leonard’s departure, the Raptors were thrown to the wayside as a fringe contender in the East at best. Well, bad news for preseason analysts but the Raptors are no fringe contender. The team sits securely second in the Eastern Conference and looks like a tough outing for anyone in the playoffs. There’s a lot of things to love about this group. Here are a few.
The first thing to love about Toronto is that they got no excuses. In a long 82 game season, every significant loss is chalked up to an excuse. It’s perfectly normal for teams to mention that a certain player had the flu or someone had a nagging hamstring. But the Raptors, who’ve been decimated by injuries time after time after time … after time, don’t even mention it.
Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry, the team’s two all-stars have both missed 11 games. Marc Gasol, the team’s low-post presence has missed 17. Normal Powell who was having a break out year missed 14. Their backup backcourt savant in Fred Vanvleet missed 10. And finally, Serge Ibaka missed another 10. If you told me before the season that all these players would miss these amount of games and the team would still have the 3rd best record in the league, I would call you batshit crazy.
Next Man Up
But that’s exactly who the Raptors are. They’re a crazed bunch of players that believe in a next-man-up mentality and playing every possession like it’s their last. There are no egos on this team. No one complaining that they’re not getting enough minutes. If Nick Nurse calls your number, you go out there and perform. And more times than not, they do.
If Lowry’s out, it’s VanVleet, If he’s out, it’s Terence Davis. It’s Matt Thomas who comes in and hits some big threes. It’s OG Anunoby locking up the hot hand (ie. Caris LeVert a few games ago). And it’s Serge Ibaka hitting game-winners.
It was nothing but excuses for the Lakers earlier on in the season when they were without Kyle Kuzma. Because all of a sudden Kuzma is the second coming of Magic Johnson and having two of the top five players in the NBA isn’t enough. But the Raptors, who if anyone’s unaware, don’t have a LeBron James or Anthony Davis, got no such pass. And frankly, they didn’t need any or want any. This team has gone through more adversity in one season than teams go through in multiple. To fight through all of it and still hold the 3rd best record in the league is something to admire, respect and love.
Play Hard Every Night
At the centre of the Raptor’s success this season is their willingness to play hard every night. This team is not about walking out on the court with supreme talent thinking it’s just gonna magically happen for them. Cough Philadelphia 76ers cough. But don’t take some random Toronto sports writer’s words for it. Just listen to what LeBron James has to say about the Raptors.
After an early-season loss to the Raptors, James said, “They were short-handed but they’ve still got guys that are championship DNA players.” That same sentiment is consistently echoed across any team the Raptors cross paths with. And part of what gives those championship DNA players that edge is their defence. Despite their injuries and streaky scoring output, they defend like madmen every game.
The Raptors are currently 5th in the league in opponent’s points per game. Even more impressive is that they’ve got the second-highest defensive rating. It’s astonishing looking at the shot charts during every Raptors game. Just seeing the massive shooting percentage disparity between both teams. There are only a few things in life that are guaranteed. Death, taxes and the 2019-20 Raptors shutting their opponents down. You gotta love it.
Before anyone points it out, the Raptors do not technically have a rising star player. They just have Terence Davis who’s averaging 20 points on 60% from both the field and from three in the month of February. And he keeps getting better every single night. But again, they do not have a rising star.
What the Raptors do have is the best development staff in the NBA. If you’re a young player in the association and want to make a name for yourself, make the trip to Canada. There’s Terence Davis, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and many more.
Siakam, the Raptors leading scorer was just another name when he joined. Just two years ago, Siakam was averaging 7 points in 20 minutes and started 5 games. Fast forward to today and he’s a first-time all-star.
VanVleet was another player with a lot of heart and confidence but without opportunity. No team wanted to take a chance on him. In his first two seasons with the Raptors, he didn’t start a single game. VanVleet was too busy hopping back and forth between the Raptors G-League team and the main roster. A few years go by and he’s averaging 18 points with 7 assists, and shooting 40% from the 3pt line.
It’s the same case for all the young “rising stars” on the Raptors. Each year, each game, each minute they improve under the tutelage of the best development staff in the NBA. The Raptors give people opportunities and help them realize their potential. That’s definitely something to love.
This year’s Toronto Raptors are lovable in so many other ways but it’s best to cut it short here. Valentine’s Day is here so it’s time to throw on your best Raptors gear and celebrate.