Fresh off an Eastern Conference Finals appearance, expectations for the Toronto Raptors heading into the 2016-17 season were justifiably high. This was a team that would be judged solely off its postseason success, not based on anything during the 82-game regular season. Yet, after a fourth straight loss, pundits and fans alike are wondering: what’s wrong with the Raptors?
Just to be clear, the Raptors’ struggles shouldn’t be blamed on the team’s offense. Toronto is the third best offensive team in the league, scoring 110 points per game on 46.6% shooting. According to NBA.com, those numbers rank third and seventh respectively league-wide.
Instead, the recent slide can be attributed to poor defensive intensity.
Raptors Defense Reeling with Losses Mounting
Opponents’ Field Goal Percentage
In the Raptors’ last four losses, they’ve allowed opponents to shoot efficiently. Toronto allowed Philadelphia to shoot 44% on field goals. The team followed that up by letting the Hornets, Suns, and Spurs shoot 50%, 51%, and 45% respectively. Giving opponents opportunities to sink high-percentage shots is a recipe for losing. If there’s one thing known about Head Coach Dwane Casey‘s reputation, its that his message to the team would go something like this: the Raptors need to buckle down defensively if they want to get back in the win column.
The Raptors have also struggled on the glass. In the team’s losses to the Hornets and Suns, Toronto registered 33 and 35 rebounds respectively, down from the team’s season average of 42.5 per game. The Raptors rebounding bounced back in their next game, snatching 46 boards in their loss to a depleted Spurs team. The Raptors need someone other than Jonas Valanciunas to help secure more boards and create consistent second chance points. Rebounding should not be this big of an inconsistency for a team with three seven footers on the roster.
If Toronto can force opponents into tougher shots and secure more rebounds consistently, look for the team to bounce back from its recent slide. After all, the Raptors have no reason to panic. At 28-17, they’re in firm position of a playoff spot, and trail Cleveland by three games for first place in the East.
Remember: this team will be judged by its playoff performance, not by a four-gaming losing streak in mid-January.
TORONTO, CANADA – APRIL 16: Jonas Valanciunas #17 of the Toronto Raptors holds on to the ball after securing a rebound against the Indiana Pacers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on April 16, 2016 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)