Road to the 2017 Playoffs: Toronto Raptors

Migs Bustos
Toronto Raptors guards DeMar DeRozan (10) and Kyle Lowry (7) celebrate after taking the lead the second half half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

51-31, #3 in the East, second in the Atlantic Division

Key transactions: The team went big in the draft, adding Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam. They also re-signed DeMar DeRozan and signed Jared Sullinger. 

Toronto however made a splash just before the trade deadline. First, they sent Terrence Ross and a 2017 first round pick to the Orlando Magic, to get Serge Ibaka. After that, they traded Sullinger, plus a pair of second-round picks, to the Phoenix Suns, for PJ Tucker.

Top performers: 

DeMar DeRozan - 27.3 ppg (46.7% FG), 5.2 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.1 spg
Kyle Lowry - 22.6 ppg (41.5% 3FG), 4.8 rpg, 7.0 apg, 1.5 spg
Serge Ibaka - 14.2 ppg (39.8% 3FG), 6.8 rpg, 1.4 bpg
Jonas Valanciunas - 12.0 ppg (55.6% FG), 9.5 rpg
DeMarre Carroll - 9.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.1 spg

Cory Joseph - 9.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.4 apg
Patrick Patterson - 6.9 ppg, 4.6 4pg, 1.2 apg
PJ Tucker - 6.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.5 spg
Norman Powell - 8.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.1 apg

Key injuries: 

- Kyle Lowry suffered a wrist injury and missed 21 games after the All-Star break. However, he returned for the last four games of the regular season, and should be 100 percent come the Playoffs.  

Key stats:

- The Raptors have #6 offensive rating (109.8) and the #8 defensive rating (104.9), for a net rating of 4.9, tops in the Eastern Conference. Off all the teams in the Playoffs, they turn it over the least (13.0%, good for #5 in the league). Toronto is also a team that gets to the foul line often (29.3%, good for #6), and a squad that scores off opponents’ miscues (17.4 turnover points a game, tied for #5)

Storylines:

The Raptors got out to a hot start early in the season, and looked like they would be nipping at the heels of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East. But a major slump right before the All-Star break threatened to undo them. Following a four-game win streak, they went 5-11, for a 33-24 record heading into the mid-season classic. 

That led to a retooling at the trade deadline, where they added Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker for toughness. But then news broke that Kyle Lowry had suffered a wrist injury, and would be out for an extended period. 

Despite Lowry’s absence, the team managed to keep their heads above water. They even went on a six-game win streak. Then luckily, Lowry returned just in time before the start of the Playoffs, allowing them to close out the regular season as winners of four of their last five games.

Consistency will be key for the Raptors, who has been on the rise through the past few years. DeRozan and Lowry have proven themselves to be franchise players, but they have to be more than that: they have to win the games that matter. Last season in the Playoffs, the duo, especially Lowry, really struggled to score, and no doubt, defenses will key in on them anew.

In spite of that hurdle, the Raptors were able to make it to the Conference Finals, and even took two games from the eventual champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers. This time around, the Raptors’ goal of at least equaling that feat is within reach, thanks in part to those mid-season reinforcements.

Serge Ibaka will play a key role in the Playoffs for the Raptors. Perhaps one of the best active two-way big men in the NBA, he unlocks small lineups for the team with him at center, giving them a rim protector that can also space the floor. Ditto for PJ Tucker, who can swing between the 3 and 4 spots, while giving the squad a much-needed boost of toughness and grit.

With those two in the fold, teams will have a harder time just focusing on the power backcourt, and should they meet the Cavaliers anew, Toronto this time is much better equipped in the war between The Land and The North.

Fun fact: This year marks the longest streak of Toronto of making it to the postseason, with four straight seasons, all under Coach Dwane Casey 

(Stats current as of end of regular season)

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