Power Ranking Poll Week 7: The endless loop (?) of progress with the Toronto Raptors

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With some time off this week, the Raptors put together a mere 2-1 run of games. In this triangulation of effort, we arrive at the current situation for Toronto: one win with a singular performance (54 points from Fred VanVleet!), one great win that included quite a team effort (in Brooklyn), and then a disappointing, seemingly unavoidable loss. Are we meant to be pleased with this situation?

The Power Rankings continue, of course, and we’ll have to see how they account for the extreme highs of this past week when balanced against the unfortunate lows. In truth, I’m perhaps overselling the despair a bit here: the outcome in Atlanta — a relatively narrow loss against a solid team on the second night of a back-to-back — was not that bad. We’re still just waiting for the Raptors to really and truly assert themselves, it seems.

Let’s see if the Power Rankings People feel the same way.

First up, we turn as always to ESPN, who really want you to know they are number one. Here’s Tim Bontemps with the call:

18. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 21)

Toronto remains a team in flux. Since their 2-8 start, the Raptors have gone 8-5, posting the East’s third-best record — and the league’s sixth-best offense — during that stretch. But that still leaves Toronto under .500 at this point in the season and in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. Toronto is now dealing with starting forward OG Anunoby’s absence with a calf injury.

The word of this one is “flux,” which I feel quite accurately still accounts for our feelings around the Raptors. They’re better now, but still not as good as they could be. It would be nice, as noted, to have OG back in the lineup too. And, semi-unrelated to this entry, is a trade even possible with this group or will improvement come from within? Either way: let’s stick with flux for now.

Here’s where the Athletic’s Zach Harper as the Raptors this week:

14. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 18)

The preseason prediction: Aron Baynes hits 100 3-pointers.

The update: Maybe it’s the swampy Tampa Bay air (is it swampy there?), or maybe he’s just not hitting shots. Whatever it is, Baynes has not been the 3-point shooter we saw last season. He’s made just 11 3-pointers through 20 games played, shooting 23.4 percent from deep. Baynes would have to hit almost two 3-pointers per game while playing every game for the rest of the season to knock down 100. The Raptors could use his shooting a little, but mostly they’ve righted the ship without him turning into a Splash Brother.

Why this ranking? A 2-1 week for the Raptors, and I just love where they’re headed as they hit this long travel trip. They’re 8-5 in their last 13 games, which doesn’t sound spectacular, but it’s a good trend.

The word here: swampy. No matter what else happens to the Raptors this year, or how things go, Baynes is never going to hit 100 three-pointers this year, and at the rate he’s going he’d have to shoot something like 300 more just to get there. (No, I will not be doing the math; too depressing.) All of which is to say, my head is absolutely swamped even thinking about this. Still, as Harper notes, the Raptors are moving in the right direction.

While he definitely would have done the math, Dr. John Schuhmann of NBA dot com also knows best how to use his time. Let’s see where he’s at this week:

21. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 21)

The Fred VanVleet story just keeps getting better. From going undrafted to grinding his way into the rotation of one of the best teams in the league, catching fire to help that team win its first championship, turning into one of the most disruptive defensive players in the league, cashing in on his bets on himself, and now, setting the franchise record with 54 points in Orlando on Tuesday. Four days before Stephen Curry had his second 50-point game of the season, VanVleet looked a lot like the two-time MVP, shooting 11-for-14 from 3-point range, and, late in the game, leveraging his hot shooting to get a handful of layups.

Kyle Lowry’s triple-double in that game went under the radar, but Lowry had his fingerprints all over the Raptors’ win in Brooklyn on Friday. Lowry scored 30 points, with a run of 11 straight turning the game around in the fourth quarter. The Raps have had five of their seven most efficient offensive games of the season in the last 10 days, but they lost two of those five.

With their loss in Atlanta (in which Lowry shot 4-for-16 with no free throw attempts) on Saturday, the Raps are 0-3 in the second games of back-to-backs, having allowed more than 124 points per 100 possessions over those three games. They have three more back-to-backs left on the first-half schedule, including one on Wednesday and Thursday to close their six-game trip.

The word here: grinding! The Raptors had to do some grinding to get their wins in Orlando and Brooklyn. Yes, Fred made it look easy, but he also laboured on defense to keep the separation going from the Magic. Meanwhile, it really is astounding on the Raptors kept the Nets in check. Seeing the stat lines of Kyrie Irving and James Harden (once Patient Zero Kevin Durant left the game) is something — and quite the feat for a team with an obviously lower overall ceiling.

Finally, we turn to Colin Ward-Henninger of CBS Sports to provide the hammer:

15. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 22)

It was a strange game against the Nets with Kevin Durant in and out of the lineup, but give the Raptors credit for hanging on for a big win. The offense exploded for Toronto in a 2-1 week, as Fred VanVleet scored 54 points in Tuesday’s win over the Magic, the most ever for an undrafted NBA player. Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell each averaged 20 points for the week, while Kyle Lowry added 17.7 points, 7.3 assists and 6.0 rebounds on 42 percent 3-point shooting. Nick Nurse said OG Anunoby could return soon, which should only help Toronto on both ends.

The word here: strange, strange, strange. The Raptors’ season remains a strange time, even if parts of it are legible in any given moment on the court. The goal the rest of the way? Toronto needs to bring itself into coherence. Fortunately, even with the ups and downs, their current road trip is proving that that can be done in various ways. We’ll see where that puts them next week — on the trend line up, or through another bizarre down-swing.

Now, onto the poll.

Poll

Are the Raptors being ranked fairly in Week 7 of the Power Rankings?

  • 4%

    No, and I don’t give a flux!

    (1 vote)

  • 47%

    Yes, the Raptors are still in the swamp of the conference

    (11 votes)

  • 8%

    No, we’re grinding ourselves into nothing

    (2 votes)

  • 39%

    Yes, this season will never not feel extremely strange, no matter the outcome

    (9 votes)



23 votes total

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