Long before the Toronto Raptors set a franchise record with their 48th win against the Milwaukee Bucks in their final home game of the regular season, this special group of players had been doing things no previous Toronto team had been able to. With no disrespect to Vince Carter, who is still the best player in franchise history, the 2013-2014 Raptors are the best team Toronto fans have seen since this franchise started playing in 1995.
First and foremost in the NBA nothing counts more than winning and this year’s team holds the franchise record for wins at 48 with 1 game to go. However, as every season is different, it wouldn’t be fair to anoint them as the best without a little context.
In 2000-01, Head Coach Lenny Wilkens and All-Star Vince Carter won 47 games in what has been the most memorable Raptors season up until now. This team had the advantage of coming off a 45 win season where Carter rose to superstar status in the NBA Slam Dunk contest, so everyone was paying attention. The Toronto Raptors were on the NBA map at this time.
Record: 47-35, 2nd place Central Division
Road record: 20-21
Western Conference Record: 11-17, (Minnesota 8th place at 47-35)
Net Points per game: +2.2
Offensive Rating – Defensive Rating: +2.5 (per 100 possessions)
The 47-win 2006-07 season came as a shock. Head Coach Sam Mitchell and All-Star Chris Bosh led an unlikely cast thrown together by new President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo to the team’s first Atlantic Division title. It was a special year for the Raptors even if almost no one noticed until it was almost over.
Record: 47-35, 1st place Atlantic Division
Road record: 17-24
Western Conference Record: 14-16, (Warriors 8th place at 42-40)
Net Points per game: +1.0
Offensive Rating – Defensive Rating: +1.0 (per 100 possessions)
This season was supposed to be a year of player evaluation and development, but after a 6-12 start, new President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri traded Rudy Gay for four players from the Sacramento Kings and everything changed.
Toronto has enjoyed the best record in the Eastern Conference since the trade – yes, better than the HEAT, Pacers, Nets or Bulls – the Raptors have been on a roll. The team led by Head Coach Dwane Casey and freshly minted All-Star DeMar DeRozan clinched the Atlantic Division with three games left in the regular season and set the new franchise high water mark with their 48th win two games later.
It has been hard to garner the attention this team deserves as everyone was waiting for the Cinderella story to end, but it didn’t. Instead it has evolved into the Raptors aren’t playing up to their own recently set very high standards as they continue to win game after game, however, the reasons for this team’s fluctuations can be found in their original goals. This season remains one of player evaluation and development, only now it has come with a healthy helping of success.
Record: 48-33*, 1st place Atlantic Division
Road record: 22-18*
Western Conference Record: 16-14, (Memphis 8th place at 49-32*)
Net Points per game: +3.3
Offensive Rating – Defensive Rating: +3.5 (per 100 possessions)
(* 1 game remaining)
Objectively, the 2013-14 Raptors have their best regular season record, best road record, best record against the Western Conference facing the toughest Western Conference schedule and have won by the biggest margin of victory over the season of any Raptors team. However, in some ways, that isn’t the half of it.
The Raptors Kyle Lowry, DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas have the most wins of any starting lineup in team history and this wasn’t the starting lineup when the season started.
Toronto is the only team in the playoffs that is starting two sophomore players. Casey has been starting both Ross and Valanciunas since the trade in December and while their development hasn’t come in a straight line, the organization has to be ecstatic about what they have seen.
The Raptors players have achieved a number of significant personal and franchise bests, but nothing can top Ross scoring 51 points against the Clippers in January and tying Carter’s franchise record for points in a game.
Casey has joined Wilkens and Mitchell as the only Raptors head coaches with over 100 wins and/or more than 45 wins in a season.
Team reputations are made in the postseason and the Carter led team in 2001 went to the second round, however, that team had been there the year before and playoff experience is something the current Raptors are very short on.
How it will turn out for the 2013-14 Raptors in the playoffs is yet to be determined, but this group is young, determined and way ahead of schedule. Looking back at all they have accomplished already, this has been the best team Toronto has ever put on the court and things are about to get even crazier.
“I feel like the fans are going to be crazy,” John Salmons said. “Just walking on the street is going to be crazy, it’s going to be a crazy atmosphere and that’s the fun part.”