LX
http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/22212993/why-toronto-raptors-real-nba

Quote:

Amid all the drama and unanswered questions in the NBA's Eastern Conference -- When will the talented but dysfunctional Cleveland Cavaliers pull it together? Can the Boston Celtics really expect to have staying power without Gordon Hayward? -- the Toronto Raptors continue to lurk beneath the radar.

With a projected 56.9 wins and a 62.9 percent chance of finishing first in the East, BPI sees only the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets as better teams than the Raptors. But good luck finding an objective observer who truly believes they'll reach the ultimate playoff stage.

The Raptors' history has something to do with their spot on the B list of NBA perception. Toronto has never reached the NBA Finals, and a very similar roster to the one it features today was swept out of the Eastern Conference semifinals by LeBron James and the Cavs just last year.

Well, if you're waiting for the other shoe to drop with the Raptors, you might find yourself waiting until after they're crowned Eastern Conference champions.

Why is this Raptors team different?

DeMar DeRozan's De-Renaissance

While the Raptors haven't completely revamped their offense, they have made a bunch of smart tweaks to help them gain an edge. The most notable is the dramatic improvement in shot selection and efficiency by DeMar DeRozan.

DeRozan has taken 2.8 fewer midrange jumpers per game in 2017-18 than he did a season ago, turning those into 3-point and layup attempts. The change in shot selection has increased his effective field goal percentage to a respectable 50.1 percent. In terms of shot-making, the All-Star choice ranks as the 36th-best shot-maker in the league with at least 50 shot attempts, according to Second Spectrum's quantified shooter impact metric.

Meanwhile, the team has lightened the workload on its other All-Star, Kyle Lowry. Lowry's playing time has dropped by almost 4.6 minutes per game, and the amount of times he's the ball handler in the pick-and-roll has decreased by 3.2 possessions per game, according to NBA.com/Stats.

With less reliance on the pick-and-roll, the offense has been coming from different areas. The Raptors were dead last in the league last year in scoring attempts that came off cuts, but they have risen to a respectable 15th in the league in that area in 2017-18, according to Synergy. Toronto was also dead last in percentage of made shots that were assisted last year, and has seen that mark improve to 23rd in the league.

If it comes down to facing the Cavs again -- and Cleveland can't fix its notoriously leaky defense -- the tweaks on offense could bear fruit for Toronto when it matters.


Tighter defense ... and better luck

On the other end of the floor, the Raptors' defensive rating has improved by 2.2 points in 2017-18, from 104.9 to 102.7. That might not sound like much, but it's bumped them from No. 8 in the league in that category up to No. 3.

Opponent shot-making is down this year, as the Raptors' defense against shooter impact has improved from 16th in the league to fourth, per Second Spectrum. That number can be tricky, mind you. Did the Raptors' defense actually make a difference, or did opponents just happen to make fewer shots than last year? The Raptors' opponent shot quality is slightly better, which suggests Toronto has just been luckier on the defensive end.

But there are other ways to view this. The Raptors have increased the pace this season, adding about three more possessions per game. Increasing pace increases the chance for points in transition, but Toronto opponents have only averaged 1.03 points per transition chance this season, versus 1.31 points per transition last season -- a jump from No. 8 to No. 5 for the Toronto D. So while luck always has some impact on the opposing shooting numbers, the Raptors deserve credit for simultaneously increasing pace and improving transition defense.


Staying the course

When you've been a playoff team averaging 51 wins per season over the previous four years, it is tough to find room for improvement without significant change. While other perceived contenders went the route of massive, headline-grabbing lineup shifts, the Raps and GM Masai Ujiri may have taken a bolder step by only slightly tweaking the formula after last year's humbling playoff ouster.

The organization has been shrewd in only making subtle changes that improve its playoff odds without introducing much risk, and that's evident from its general manager down to its players. While it may appear easier to tear things down and start fresh, it arguably takes greater strength to hold on to your beliefs about what the winning formula is. Success is fleeting in the NBA, and it may turn out that holding onto that belief was the Raptors' best move.

Quote 4 0
elT
Now the story starts to change and the expectations will become impossible once playoffs come around. Raptors have ton of upside over next few years, getting to the finals should not be the measure of success.
Quote 2 0
MikeToronto
elT wrote:
Now the story starts to change and the expectations will become impossible once playoffs come around. Raptors have ton of upside over next few years, getting to the finals should not be the measure of success.


And what should be, then?
Quote 0 0
elT
MikeToronto wrote:


And what should be, then?


The progress over last year and potential to get better and do better next year. 
Quote 1 0
MikeToronto
elT wrote:


The progress over last year and potential to get better and do better next year. 


Why last year and not the one before? C'mon, the only true progress for this franchise is to win the East, something they haven't done before, and play in the Finals. All the other forms of progress, like youth development and such, are means to an end.
Quote 0 0
DocHolliday
elT wrote:


The progress over last year and potential to get better and do better next year. 


I can see the distinction with what you're saying about success and a goal.  Really, progress and potential to get over the hump with the end play of the Finals.  I agree that if the team doesn't make the Finals that doesn't necessarily mean the season should be viewed as unsuccessful - though I think the players might disagree lol.
Quote 0 0
Kaddrik
a succesfull season should just be competing in a 7 game series against Boston or Cleveland in the second round or in the ECF !

if we make the Finals, it will be a bonus.
but we are not yet at the level where a successfull season is only the finals.
we just reset the culture, or at least tweak it a bit, the changes will really be in place at the end of the season, and even i think, next season.
if no change in the roster until the beginning of training camp next season, could be that the expectations will be way higher than this year.
One more time, Masai and Dwayne have done a magistral job. We are ahead of schedule concerning young's devellopement.
Quote 1 0
LX
I mostly want to see a real path to the Finals being clearly evident. That hasn't happened before. If they have that path then maybe they get there. But maybe not. If not then getting all the way down that path next time should get easier. Never forget the longview here. We are lucky to have it.
Quote 2 0
LKeet6
Personally, I would never base my feelings on the progress of the raps based on definitive things like reaching the finals. Especially given that that depends on another team(s)!

We could lose first round to a team that finishes 6-8th, who comes into form and are then inspired in the playoffs, and I might take the attitude of "wow, fair enough, they really brought it..."

Likewise, we could face cavs in conf finals and lose, but they still look dodgy like now, and I'd be more disappointed! "man, that was an opportunity, we blew it..."

I'm not some kind of ever optimistic fanboy, I want my team to WIN, I get mad when they play like shit, but honestly, this team is already a "success," for me. I have very few complaints. When an organisation is run as well as this, it seems almost churlish to make "demands..."
Quote 4 0
Northern Neighbour
Quote:
But good luck finding an objective observer who truly believes they'll reach the ultimate playoff stage.


Exactly who are these objective observers? If anything, most observers have been biased against Toronto yet still blow smoke up the arses of the likes of Washington, Boston, etc. These teams have accomplished as much if not less than what Toronto has done the past few years.
Quote 0 0
elT
MikeToronto wrote:


Why last year and not the one before? C'mon, the only true progress for this franchise is to win the East, something they haven't done before, and play in the Finals. All the other forms of progress, like youth development and such, are means to an end.


Because last year is the latest known quantity of success in Raptor land. 

The team is progressing, feels like it can get places. Already feels better than any other Raptors team ever. This much winning with this much upside was never there. The 56 win season and ECF trip were the maximum of that iteration. Last year was a bit underwhelming with 2nd round sweep and injuries/seeding/team on court chemistry. 

This team has guys that are already contributing but can get even better over another good summer. Delon becoming even better shooter, Siakam becoming a reliable ~37-40% shooter, OG getting even smoother. Just those three guys have already shown major progress compared to start of the season. If they progress naturally with their roles intact the team plugs all holes. And we haven't gotten to JakJak, Powell, FVV. 

So if at the very end of this 2017/2018 run there's clear way to improve within on top of a good playoff run, the season is success. 

Quote 3 0
moremilk
Winning the conference would be enough to make me happy. While getting to the finals would be the best outcome, even losing a competitive series against the Cavs or Boston would be ok.

However, another blowout loss though, that would be a major dissapointment, negating any regular success as far as I'm concerned.
Quote 0 0