Many thought the Toronto Raptors had their eyes on the draft lottery when they traded Rudy Gay, but they have climbed the standings and now own home court advantage in the playoffs.
The Story So Far
The Raptors’ season got off to a slow start, as they struggled to a 7-12 record before deciding to make a drastic change to their squad.
Only 51 games into his career north of the border, the Raptors decided to part ways with swingman Rudy Gay – who was shipped to Sacramento with Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray for Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Greivis Vasquez – and haven’t looked back since.
After stumbling off the blocks to that 7-12 start with Gay in the lineup, the Raps have since gone 40-21 and hold the third seed in the Eastern Conference with a 47-32 overall record – clinching their first playoff berth since 2008.
The absence of Gay made room for improvement across the roster as it freed up shots and opportunities for other players.
Shooting guard DeMar DeRozan has thrived as the team’s primary scorer, improving his scoring to 23.1 points per game since Gay left (up from 21.6). He has also become a better overall contributor, averaging 4.6 rebounds (up from 3.8) and 4.4 assists per game (2.8), earning his first All-Star selection along the way.
Also receiving All-Star consideration was point guard Kyle Lowry, who also showed a clear improvement in his production across the board with Gay no longer on the roster – 18.6 PPG (up from 14.8), 5.1 RPG (3.6) and 7.8 APG (6.7) – thanks in large part to receiving extra touches on offence.
Meanwhile, Gay’s removal from the team also provided opportunities for the team’s role players to prove themselves.
Terrence Ross developed into a valuable bench scorer, upping his scoring to 12.5 points per game (from 6.5) and becoming an improved outside shooter (40.8% 3FG from 34.5%) thanks to an extra 10.3 minutes per game.
Patrick Patterson (9.4 PPG from 6.9) and Jonas Valanciunas (11.9 PPG and 9.2 RPG from 9.1 and 7.6) also thrived in the restructured offence.
Postseason Performer to Watch
He may have been overlooked for his first All-Star selection, in favour of the flashy, high-flying scorer that is DeRozan, but Lowry is the Raptors biggest barometer.
He took his game to the next level once Gay was traded to Sacramento, and he provides Toronto with a toughness and grit that they have been lacking over the last few seasons.
When many thought the Raptors were giving up on the season and tanking for draft picks, Lowry willed them into the third seed.
If he can emulate his post-trade form in the postseason, the Raptors will be much better for it.
The Raptors fate falls onto how the seeding eventuates over the close of the season.
They currently hold the third seed, but with the Chicago Bulls also holding a 47-33 record and two games remaining for both teams, that order is no certainty.
Brooklyn is not longer an outside chance to push the Raps further down the standings, now three games behind with only two to play.
Toronto stand a good chance to get past any of the Charlotte Bobcats, Washington Wizards or Brooklyn Nets in the first round, especially given their big home court advantage. It is also not inconceivable to see them upsetting the Indiana Pacers in round two, given Indiana’s poor form heading into the postseason.
However, a second round matchup against the Miami Heat would likely, as impressive as the turnaround in Toronto has been, spell and end to their postseason run.
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