Despite entering this season as reigning champions, many experts and analysts across the NBA figured the Raptors’ run of success was over when they lost Kawhi Leonard.
While some experts figured they’d still be a good team (ESPN predicted they would finish sixth in the East), others predicted doom and gloom.
Check out these pre-season predictions from NBA GameTime, in which former Raptors coach Sam Mitchell picks Toronto to barely make the playoffs and Dennis Scott predicted they’d miss the postseason entirely:
Some even went as far as predicting the Raptors would be fighting for a lottery pick:
Toronto Raptors: Back to the basement, back to the lottery pic.twitter.com/opyApmum6f
— Jason McIntyre (@jasonrmcintyre) July 6, 2019
But despite what the hot take artists thought, after 50 games, the Raptors have an identical record (36-14) to last season, placing them third in the overall NBA standings behind only the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks.
Their recent franchise record-tying 11-game winning streak in particular has silenced their critics and changed the narrative this season.
Here are six reasons how they’ve able to do that.
1. They kept the band together
When the Raptors lost Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green president Masai Ujiri could’ve easily blown up the roster and started to rebuild for the future. No one would’ve blamed him.
But instead he kept the veteran core of Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol together, trusted the development of Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, and let Nick Nurse and the team try to run it back as champions.
The result has been a resounding success as the Raptors are once again one of the top teams in the league and a force to be reckoned with in the east.
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2. The offence is as balanced as ever
If the Raptors regular season record wasn’t impressive enough, they’re currently riding an 11-game win streak that’s tied for the best in franchise history.
They’ve managed to pull it off while having players miss a combined 168 games due to injuries (fifth-most in the NBA).
These are injuries like that would crush a lot of teams, but the Raptors’ offence has thrived with role players like Norman Powell and Terrence Davis making the most out of their opportunities.
Over the past 11 games, seven players are averaging double digit points per game and six different players have led the team in scoring.
raptors scoring stats over the 11-game win streak. the balance has been really nice to see. feels like anybody could lead the charge pic.twitter.com/E0siNRTSAf
— William Lou (@william_lou) February 3, 2020
3. Defence, defence, and more defence
When the Raptors won the championship last year they were able to stifle their opponents with relentless defence.
That hasn’t changed this season.
With a defensive rating of 104.3 the Raptors are second in the league behind the Milwaukee Bucks (102.0). They’re also second in steals per game (8.7), and allow the second-fewest points in the paint (41.8).
It’s something that even the Raptors division rivals are acknowledging.
Jayson Tatum exposed pic.twitter.com/V9AapLx2Jo
— Yahoo Sports Canada (@YahooCASports) February 4, 2020
4. Pascal Siakam is having an All-Star season
Simply put, the Raptors wouldn’t be where they are if it wasn’t for Pascal Siakam taking his game to a whole new level.
Last year’s Most Improved Player is now an NBA All-Star thanks to statistical improvements across the board. He’s averaging career highs in points (23.7), rebounds (7.6), assists (3.4), steals (1.0), and blocks (0.9) per game.
He’s embraced his role as the team’s leading scorer and based on how his trajectory has been he isn’t going to be slowing down anytime soon.
5. Road warriors
We all know that the Raptors have one of the best home court advantages in the league, but they’ve also been getting business done on the road.
The Raptors 18-7 away from Scotiabank Arena, which is the third highest in the NBA behind the Los Angeles Lakers (21-5) and Milwaukee Bucks (19-4).
6. They’re making it rain from 3
Historically the Raptors haven’t been known as a three-point shooting team, but this year they’re making it clear they’re one of the best in the league from beyond the arc.
They’re currently have the third highest three-point percentage (37.4%) in the league behind the Utah Jazz and Miami Heat. They’re also making the fifth most three-pointers in the league, averaging 13.6 per game.