The 2020-21 Toronto Raptors may go down as the unluckiest team in NBA history.
Generally speaking, the best indicator of a team’s future success is their point differential. Wins and losses can occasionally come down to a little luck here and there but if you’re winning games by a lot and losing games by a little it typically means you’re a pretty good team.
That’s why this season has been so strange for the Raptors. Even at 27-39, they have a +25 point differential this season, smackdab in the middle of the NBA in that category, and suggesting Toronto should have a 34-32 record this season, per Basketball-Reference.
It’s why Fred VanVleet can joke and say the Raptors are the “best worst team of all-time.” To borrow some work from The Athletic’s Blake Murphy, the Raptors are certainly among the select few who can claim that title.
“I think we’re a pretty good team, and obviously it’s been a tough year, a lot of ups and downs, and I think that’s reflective of those numbers and what it means,” VanVleet said. “I would love to take the wins and get rid of the plus-minus differential, but it’s the situation we’re in.”
The plus-minus situation is only half of that unlucky equation for Toronto. Not only have they dealt with COVID-19 problems more so than most other teams, but the way the league handled those COVID issues has been strangely different.
When Toronto’s outbreak first started in late February the NBA shut down the Raptors’ facilities to ensure everyone could be properly tested and anyone with the virus could be quarantined. Unlike earlier incidents when teams like the Washington Wizards of Memphis Grizzlies were given almost two weeks off to deal with their issues, Toronto was forced to quickly contain the virus and return to the court in a matter of days.
“They gave us like 24 hours and then we started playing games again,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said Tuesday. “They were just like figure it. Coach with whoever is left, coach with whoever’s left and play with whoever’s left and we had to kind of do it and it wasn’t very pleasant.”
When the outbreak hit, the Raptors were in fourth in the Eastern Conference. They had overcome their early-season struggles and were 17-17 having won four of their last six games. Then, as Nurse said, COVID-19 knocked their teeth out. By the time it was all over Toronto was sitting in a pit of misery at 18-26 and just outside the Eastern Conference’s play-in picture.
It took the Raptors a little while to reorient themselves and get used to their new reality. They learned to smile again thanks largely to the successes of Freddie Gillespie and Khem Birch. It wasn’t easy, as Nurse said. Even with a few teeth knocked in and a continued disdain for losing, they’ve somewhat accepted their fate this season and learned to live with it come what may.
If this is the price the Raptors had to pay for those four bounces from Kawhi Leonard, then it was certainly a price worth paying. Next year, however, things should normalize and Toronto should be right back in the thick of things when the playoffs roll around.