The 2015-16 Toronto Raptors had the best season in franchise history. With 56 regular season wins and an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals where they held their own against eventual NBA champion LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Raptors showed to be one of the elite teams in the league.
The question for next year is, of course, can the Raptors repeat their success? Last year’s team benefitted in many ways from lowered expectations, in part because they lack the star power of a lot of the league’s other top teams.
According to Vegas Insider, the Raptors tied for the second best record in the league against the spread. The Raptors were 44-37-1 against the spread, trailing only the Orlando Magic, who won 45 games against the spread and tied with the Dallas Mavericks.
This is important because the spread shows the perception of a team. Teams that are popular tend to be overvalued while teams with less of a fan base tend to be undervalued. The Raptors also benefit by being a team without a large American fan base. While Toronto fans are some of the best in the league, the reality is that most American viewers do not care much for them. American fans are more likely fans of the Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers or other teams that get more media attention.
While players like Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have become all-stars in recent years, they still lack the name recognition of James, Stephen Curry, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant. While Gambling.com points out that star quality counts for a lot when it comes to the NBA, the Raptors greatly benefit from the play of these young talents and are one of the most exciting teams to watch because of it.
As Real GM writes, the Raptors had a relatively quiet off-season, which may actually be a benefit. As NBA contracts have gone wild and teams have tried to rebuild themselves, the Raptors are a rare picture of consistency. With a lineup intact, the Raptors’ chemistry will benefit them as the league reorganizes.
While the other teams in the league made a large number of changes, a number of teams in the Atlantic Division made moves that may make them dangerous after some time together. Those teams include the Knicks who acquired Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah; the Philadelphia 76ers who scored the first pick in the draft and took dynamic big man Ben Simmons; and the Boston Celtics who only seem to get better under coach Brad Stevens.
So will the Raptors improve? The team’s improved record last season and deep playoff push will get them more national attention, but there is still room for improvement. The Raptors benefit from the cohesiveness of their players that could improve with another year together, especially as opponents with new parts try to find their footing. Or, the Raptors could struggle as the team did little to improve its roster over the offseason. That’s the great mystery everyone will try to answer.