You’d think after averaging 53.5 wins over the past six seasons and an NBA championship last year the talking heads at ESPN and elsewhere would be giving Raptors president Masai Ujiri a little more respect when it comes to building a winning program? But no, instead there’s a debate if Toronto will even make the postseason. Talk about no respect.
It takes a lot of effort to ignore the returning talent head coach Nick Nurse has to work with this season.
- FIBA world champion center Marc Gasol is back and it would be foolish to assume he won’t be just as dominate this season as he was in the playoffs and has been for years.
- Five time All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry was rewarded with an extra year at $31 million tacked onto his current deal and he earned it. This is Lowry’s team and as the opposing coaches who keep voting him onto the All-Star team know, he plays winning basketball.
- The NBA’s most improved player, Pascal Siakam, was even more impressive in the playoffs where he averaged 19 points and 7.1 rebounds. The doubters say he won’t have Kawhi Leonard to attract defenders, but anyone who watched the Raptors in the playoffs saw teams game plan for Siakam as a key threat and, as often as not, he burned them anyway.
- Serge Ibaka put up numbers not seen since his days at OKC and just maybe that’s the influence Nurse’s style had on the big man. He got his mojo back.
- “Steady Freddie” VanVleet and “playoff Norm” Powell have come into their own as young vets even if ESPN hasn’t noticed.
And, it would be hard to say any NBA team has done a better job at finding and developing overlooked talent. We don’t know who is going to surprise off the back half of this roster, but it would be foolish to bet against Ujiri at this point.
But ignoring the potential upside and development fans in Toronto have come to expect from a Ujiri built team, as the analysts at FiveThirtyEight calculate based on player talent alone, this Raptors squad is a top four Eastern Conference team as is.
Their 2019-20 NBA Predictions as of October 12, 2019 (updated daily):
- Bucks 53-29
- 76ers 52-30
- Celtics 46-36
- Raptors 46-36
- Pacers 43-39
- Heat 42-40
- Magic 42-40
- Nets 38-44
- Bulls 37-45
- Pistons 36-46
- Wizards 30-52
- Hawks 29-53
- Hornets 26-56
- Knicks 24-58
- Cavs 20-62
If history and confidence in management and coaching is worth anything, pencil in the Raptors for another 50 win season. While its fair to give the Bucks and 76ers the best chance of coming out of the East at the start of the season based on the talent they’ve assembled, it’s a long way to May and June.