The post-All-Star Weekend Raptors, boasting a record of 3-5 and carrying a point differential of -15.0 in their losses have looked like a skeleton of their former selves. Gary Trent Jr., who at one point seemed ready to proclaim himself the reincarnation of Michael Jordan, is shooting 30.2% on almost 15 shot attempts per game over that stretch. Pascal Siakam has shot above 50% only twice during the symmetrical set, and has recorded as many games with a point tally in single digits. Needless to say, the bright spots had been few and far between: existent, among the likes of Precious Achiuwa and Scottie Barnes, but scarcer than ideal nonetheless.
That was until Fred VanVleet, Toronto’s lone All-Star, made his long-awaited return and righted the ship that was headed for its iceberg. After missing five consecutive games due to a knee injury, he threw himself right back into the mix without missing a beat. Following the Raptors’ 119-104 victory over San Antonio, inhibiting Gregg Popovich from sealing his spot as the winningest coach in NBA history, VanVleet was quick to take to Twitter.
Letting the Raptors faithful know that he wouldn’t oversee such an ugly stretch of basketball again, VanVleet gave us good reason to believe his word. Across 34 minutes of action, VanVleet was a game-high +19, and recorded 26 points, six boards, two dimes, and two thefts. Consistent with the display of analytics he’s been putting on all-year, his performance last night further cemented his league-wide sixth overall ranking in Raptor WAR – an advanced stat developed by fivethirtyeight tracking how many points a player adds to their team, accounting for their impact on both sides of the ball.
Given the Raptors recent skid, there is a 79% chance they make the playoffs (including the probability of them winning one of two play-in games, assuming they retain the 7th or 8th seed in the conference). For more betting odds, you can head over to Bet Station. Still, these figures could change, not only because of the return of Fred VanVleet, but also because OG Anunoby – who was sidelined with a fractured finger – can be expected to return within the next ten days. Contrarily, after blowing games to the Pistons, Hawks, and Magic, the Raptors are now left with the tenth hardest schedule in the league over their next 17 games. Their opponents boast an average winning percentage of .517, they’ll play seven out of the next eleven nights, and four of those seven games will come against Phoenix, Denver, Philadelphia, and Chicago.
It’s a tough stretch of games to be reductive, but how Toronto fares over these next few weeks will define where they land in the playoff picture, who they face in the play-in tournament (and hopefully, the first round), and ultimately, the fate of their entire season.