The Toronto Raptors are the kings of the NBA’s basement.
It’s a weird spot for the Raptors to be in. Not only are they losing games at a rate not seen in almost a decade, but they’re losing games close, something they haven’t done in years.
Over the past two seasons under head coach Nick Nurse the Raptors have outperformed their expected record. They went 111-43 in Nurse’s first two seasons, despite have a plus-minus more indicative of a 106-48 team, according to Basketball-Reference. That’s five wins the Raptors generated with some good luck and clutch performances.
This year, however, the pendulum has swung the other way. The Raptors sit at 7-12 with a plus-minus of plus-seven. For context, they’re the only team in the NBA with a losing record and a positive plus-minus. Essentially, they should be a 10-9 team, according to Basketball-Reference’s Expected Record, not a team well below .500.
“The difference between a winning team and a losing team is not as big a gap as you would think all the time,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said Saturday.
Three times this year the Raptors have lost a game by one possession and they’ve really only been blown out once or twice this season. Instead, they’re just going through these brief lulls — usually in the third quarter — that cost them down the stretch.
The optimist would look at that and say regression is on its way. Eventually those last second losses should turn into last second wins and if the Raptors clean up a few issues here and there they’ll be well on their way to being a playoff team.
But on the other side of the coin, things are a little bit more concerning. The Raptors haven’t been able to generate very many points out of their half-court offence which is usually the kind of offence you’ll see in crunch time. It’s partially why they rank 24th in the NBA in clutch scoring, per NBA Stats. Making matters worse, they don’t seem to have a stable closing lineup and it’s led to communication issues on the defensive end. So far this year they rank 28th in the league in clutch defence, according to NBA Stats. When you couple together an inability to score in the half court and a lack of rotational stability, you begin to see why Toronto has underperformed so mightily this season.
Fixing Toronto’s offensive issues isn’t going to be very easy. They didn’t have a very good half-court offence last year and there’s no reason to expect that to change. So if the Raptors are going to turn around their crunch time woes it’s going to be on defence and that starts with finding a stable lineup.