Modern basketball has its massive share of detractors. The oldheads and “purists” loathe how offensively focused the game has gone, how defense has become very secondary (at least in their point-of-view), and how “Hollywood” the stars are – mainly due to the recent rise of load management.
Canada’s favorite basketball team, the Toronto Raptors, are basically an antithesis of those factors. They are a talented and humble bunch, from the players to the coaches, and they have dogs on the defensive side.
Here’s the big “however,” though. These boys up North just can’t make a basket. The Raptors are only shooting 44.9% from the field this season, including 33% from beyond the arc, which both rank all the way down to 29th overall in the league. They are only ahead of the young and rebuilding Houston Rockets.
It’s a bummer because just being a tad better in those areas will make them a far more dangerous squad. Instead, they are rocking a 19-24 record, 10th in the Eastern Conference standings, desperately trying to crawl out of mediocrity.
Toronto has been dipping, from champions in 2019, to Eastern Conference contender in 2020, to an injury-riddled team in 2021, to first-round exit in 2022, to now. The core seems tired.
Also a bummer is how likeable the players are. They are easy to root for because they bring it on the floor and you rarely hear a peep out of them. Most of them have a great backstory too.
Pascal Siakam hailed from New Mexico State, a midmajor university. After receiving crickets on draft day 2016, he’s now one of the most all-around players in the NBA, averaging 26.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 6.4 assists. He’s cool, calm, and collected too, and free of the gameface schtick we always see.
There’s OG Anunoby, who’s very much like Siakam in terms of demeanor. He’s also a two-way weapon, being able to attack inside and out while also shutting down a key player from the opposition. The 25-year-old has risen in the Toronto depth chart every season and is currently leading the NBA in steals, with 2.3 per game.
Over at the point guard spot, you got Fred VanVleet, a tough-nosed floor general that knows a lot about the grind after coming up as an undrafted player from a mid-major program. He, too, rose from the end of the bench all the way to becoming a starter and inking an $85 million contract.
Then, there’s the youngster and reigning NBA Rookie of the Year, Scottie Barnes. He’s pretty much like Anunoby with his offensive and defensive attributes, except he has a higher ceiling considering he’s only 21. Barnes is seen as the franchise’s future.
Finally, head coach Nick Nurse! He climbed the ranks slowly but surely, from assistant in the minor leagues to a champion coach. It’s like they’re like a slightly different version of each other.
So yeah, you get the point. The Raptors are a collection of low-profile individuals who are good and have a great mind for basketball, and players that especially play hard on defense. What’s not to like?
Imagine if they can shoot at least within league average.
Maybe it’s time to blow the team up?
Rumors about blowing up the Raptors started in early December, mostly through murmurs on Twitter. In late December, however, TSN’s Josh Lewenberg wrote that interested teams are definitely lurking, right when the Raps were on a six-game skid:
“The vultures are already circling. If the losses continue to pile up, people are wondering whether the Raptors would consider pulling the plug on this season, or even take a more drastic measure. It’s not just fans. Sensing blood in the water, teams have started calling Toronto to inquire into the availability of its core players, multiple sources confirm to TSN.”
With all the talent surrounding the team, particularly within its core four, it’s tough to imagine that the plug ought to be pulled anytime soon. Let’s all hope it’s just another blip in the rumor mill because before anything else, the front office should try to reload, instead of rebuilding right away.
One thing’s for sure, though, they have to start winning consistently now.