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Were The 2013-14 Raptors The Best Team In Franchise History?

In the Toronto Raptors final home game of the 2013-14 regular season, DeMar DeRozan kicked off the party off by raising his team’s Atlantic Division Championship banner to the rafters. Then they went on to beat the Milwaukee Bucks and chalk up franchise record win number 48 beating the previous mark of 47 wins set first in 2000-01 and again in 2006-07. It was a season of personal bests, franchise records and a long awaited return to the postseason, but were the 2013-14 Raptors the best team in franchise history?

“It’s a hell of an accomplishment,” Amir Johnson said. “It is something we get to show our kids when we get old and we come back here. We can point up and say our team won that.

“Starting from training camp, to everything happening, to trades, to now this, it is a great honor. It’s a great accomplishment. I think we broke a lot of records this season, but we just got to keep a straight mind. There is a bigger goal we want to get to and we are just going to keep on working and keep on winning.”

The Raptors faced off against the Nets in the first round of the playoffs and after overcoming some first game jitters, they took the series down to the finals seconds of Game Seven before coming up short. In 2001, Vince Carter’s Raptors won Game Five of a five game series against the Knicks and then lost Game Seven of a seven game series by one point in Philadelphia to conclude Toronto’s most successful playoff run, but that team had been to the postseason the year before and the 2013-14 Raptors hadn’t been in the playoffs since 2008. It’s worth noting last year’s team would have been a winner in a five game first round playoff series as well.

“We lost a Game Seven by one point, one point, one point,” DeMar DeRozan said. “We lost by one point in a Game Seven.”

Toronto has not had a player as dominant as Carter could be before or since, but that doesn’t necessarily make the 2000-01 Raptors the better team. How the two squad’s regular seasons played out significantly favors the current group led by DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

Team                     Wins   Road Wins   W/C Wins    Net Points

2000-01 Carter         47            20               11             +2.2

2013-14 DeRozan     48            22               16             +3.3

 

The wins against the Western Conference (W/C wins) particularly stands out as in 2013-14 the West was every bit as tough as it was in 2000-01, if not tougher. In 2001, Minnesota finished in eighth place in the West with a 47-35 record while in 2013-14, Dallas captured eighth winning 49 games. Those 16 wins against the West in 2013-14 are impressive. The 2013-14 Raptors had the franchise’s best scoring differential (net points per game) as well. Carter can still lay claim to being the team’s best player, but any claim to being on the best team looks more than just a little shaky.

The 2006-07 team led by Chris Bosh won the Atlantic Division and lost by one point to the Nets in Game Six to fall 4-2 in that first round series and they fall short on nearly every regular season metric as well – 47 wins, 17 road wins, 14 wins against the West, but against a weaker Western Conference and a net points per game of just +1.0.

In 2000, the Raptors were a team on the rise. Vince Carter was a superstar and they had just come off a 45 win season. Expectations were sky high. In 2013, Toronto had just missed the playoffs for the fifth year in a row, the GM was replaced and the team was in full blown evaluation mode. No one knew if new President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri was going to blow it all up and tank for a shot at Andrew Wiggins in the draft or make deals to solidify a playoff spot in the relatively weak Eastern Conference.

A bad 18-game start to the 2013-14 season made the decision for Ujiri and likewise, how the team responded after he traded Rudy Gay to the Kings solidified what was about to happen.

Toronto enjoyed the best regular season in the Eastern Conference after the trade – better than the HEAT, Pacers, Nets or Bulls – and finished up on a 54-win pace over the final 64 games. In a year that Head Coach Dwane Casey insisted was focused on developing the sophomores Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors exceeded all expectations.

Toronto was the only team in the playoffs that started two sophomores and the line-up of Lowry, DeRozan, Ross, Johnson and Valanciunas still had the most wins of any starting lineup in franchise history and this wasn’t even the starting lineup until 19 games into the season. In an argument over which Raptors team was the best, having the winningest starting line-up goes a long ways towards solidifying that claim.

Objectively, the 2013-14 Raptors had the best regular season record, best road record, best record against the Western Conference facing the toughest Western Conference schedule, won games by the biggest margin of victory over the regular season and had the best starting lineup of any Raptors team. However, the bigger news is all of the key rotation players from 2013-14 will be back for next season.

That 2000-01 Carter led team built on their previous season in order to win more games and make it to the second round of the playoffs and that’s what is truly necessary to make 2013-14 the best season in franchise history. If the Raptors are better in 2014-15, then last season will have been their best and it’s time at the top will have been gratefully short-lived.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.