Let’s get one thing straight- the Toronto Raptors are good. Damn good. So good that they’re the first in the Eastern Conference- .719- and are likely to stay that way. In fact, I’d wager that they’ll continue to grab win streaks till the end of the regular season.
The reason for this is simple- there are some tremendous players on the Raptors team. Players that no one expected would shine are now fundamental assets. Many called Jakob Poeltl a bust, but who’s laughing now? Fred VanVleet has become an offensive weapon, knocking down three’s with admirable consistency; Pascal Siakam is running around like a four-year-old; Delon Wright had morphed from a who to a wow; Jonas Valanciunas is drawing forth cheers from the home crowd with three-pointers.
The greatest addition to the Raptors’ team has been the rookie OG Anunoby. Many of the successes that the Raptors now have on the defensive end have come from OG- the very fact that he threw down Dwight Howard while grabbing a rebound is a testament to this young man’s promising future. If only he could shoot the three with consistency…
Any success the Raptors will have in the postseason will come from DeMar DeRozan. Although it is true that, by keeping Serge Ibaka the Raptors have held onto a crucial defensive and offensive weapon, and by keeping Kyle Lowry the Raptors have kept the greatest bulldog this side of the Pacific, it is with DeRozan that the fate of getting to any finals hangs in the balance.
As dramatic as this sounds, the truth is undeniable. In the past, DeRozan had come off small when a ‘clutch’ play was needed, when crucial, last-second shots were required. His scoring average during the 2016-2017 regular season was impressive; his scoring average during the 2017 postseason: disappointing.
A great shift in attitude has occurred in the man, however, from the “I” to the “we.” While it is true that he achieved his hitherto career high in points, and has tremendously improved his three-point shot, his assists are up and his regular season scoring average. He has sacrificed potential personal distinctions- potentially an MVP- to help out his team. He has become a more ball-movement- and passing-kind of player, one who is willing to pass to another player closer to the net in the final moments of the quarter.
Unlike many other commentators, I predict a bright future for the Raptors in the postseason this year. So long as the Raptors continue to play the way they’ve been playing, shooting the three’s and utilizing their tremendous defense, they should be able to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Who knows; maybe they’ll make it even further by competing in the NBA Finals. Weirder things have happened- remember that time when Dirk beat the Heat?