Ever since my writing career started, I have never been able to cover Toronto Raptors playoff basketball. Now, after an unbelievable season, the Raptors enter a foreign ground – the NBA playoffs.
When Masai Ujiri was brought in by Tim Leiweke, he promised a culture change. Saying the Raptors wouldn’t be stuck in ‘no man’s land’ was a strong implication, however most figured that implied tanking was in the books for the organization.
It really is hard to explain how special this season has been. The progress over the years has been a warm sight for sore eyes, even during Bryan Colangelo’s tenure. After the departure of Chris Bosh, this team has progressed year over year. With percentages moving from .268, .348, .415, and finally, .585 this season. Improvement is a key metric for success, and it’s clear that the franchise is headed in the right direction.
After the Rudy Gay trade, this team has been crazy good. I mean, Atlantic division title good. I can’t say there were many that predicted a franchise record setting 48 victories for this team (I predicted 44 for the record). Here are some of the feats accomplished this season:
- Most road wins in franchise history
- 9 season series sweeps
- 16 wins against Western Conference teams – best in franchise history
- Won in Denver for first time since 2002
- Won in LA vs Lakers for first time since 2000
- Best road record in Eastern Conference (tied)
- Only team in East with top 10 offensive and defensive rating (with SAS, LAC, and OKC being other 3 teams achieving this feat)
- Lowry set 3PTers made record, 4th player n franchise history to have PER over 20
- All-Star appearance for DeMar DeRozan, first for any Raptor since Chris Bosh
- DeMar shot most FTs in franchise history, most 30+ points in a season with 17
- Terrence Ross scores franchise record (tying) 51 points
- Second best 4th quarter point differential out of any NBA team in past 10 years at 2.4 (wow)
- Best point differential in franchise history at 3.23 per game
- Set franchise record 48 wins
- Secured Atlantic division title for 2nd time in franchise history
- Reached playoffs for 6th time in franchise history
Soak all of it in, folks. The Raptors have the youngest starting 5 out of all playoff teams in the NBA. That is a good thing and a bad thing. This is the only playoff team in the league with 2 sophomores in the starting line-up. However, this inexperience might not translate into playoff success this season, despite being a third seed. That is simply why I’m saying regardless of the outcome, this has been a successful season. The key is building on it.
Look at the progress of Terrence Ross. This guy has received so much criticism from everyone (including me), however his rise has brightened the future significantly. Jonas Valanciunas has been unbelievable. This guy is a 2nd year European center averaging a near double double. He’s absolutely the Raps most important piece moving forward. DeMar DeRozan has made a huge jump. He’s proven that he has that it factor, and really elevated every aspect of his game. Kyle Lowry, the x-factor, has proven that he is a top 10 point guard in the NBA. Him and DeRozan have carried this team all year long. Finally, Dwane Casey has started to take control of this team. His recipe for success has yielded a top defense along with a solid offense, and will receive consideration for coach of the year.
Winning a series would be huge for the franchise. However, it’s alright if the Raptors lose in the playoffs. While it won’t be next season, this time around getting there is enough. With that being said, a series win would certainly accelerate building the winning culture Masai is aiming to ingrain into the organization, so let’s hope for that. Stay tuned for the series preview vs the Brooklyn
Nets Cowards, which begins Saturday.