NBA Division Futures: Toronto closing the gap on Boston
Two weeks after claiming there was “very little value” in any of the division odds outside of the Northwest, we can no longer ignore the Toronto Raptors as a potential Atlantic Division winner.
Following last night’s 129-111 win over the Hornets, the Raptors are now even with the Celtics in the loss column. Boston’s five extra wins have them 2.5 games out in front to lead the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division, but as the Celtics start to look vulnerable, the Raptors are chipping away and flying under the radar.
Just a fortnight ago, the Celtics were head and shoulders above the rest of their division; the -5000 odds reflected their domination. A 4-4 record over their last eight games, though, has moved their odds to -700 and has brought the recently impressive Raptors into play.
Winners of 10 of their last 11, Toronto now find itself second in the East a little over two months into the season. Their odds have dropped to +500 to win the division, and the Celtics no longer look like the division-winning certainties they were at the beginning of the month.
Raptors are about to go 10-1 in their last 11 and are playing the best basketball they ever have in the Lowry-DeRozan era. League is asleep.
— Kevin Rashidi (@KevinRashidi) December 21, 2017
How have they done it?
They’ve done it by being nothing more than solid and consistent, unlike the other teams trying to catch the Celtics and Cavaliers (I’m looking at you Wizards, Bucks and Pistons).
As a team, Toronto’s 113.4 offensive rating is good for fourth in the league behind the Warriors, Rockets and Cavaliers. Meanwhile, their 104.8 defensive rating is right up there with the elite defensive teams in the league to rank seventh.
As far as individual performances go, there’s not a lot to write home about outside of one 20-year-old surprise.
Kyle Lowry started the season slowly but has recovered to now average 16 points, 6.3 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game. DeMar DeRozan has been typically consistent to earn his 23.9 points per game with a 50.1 effective field goal percentage. Serge Ibaka has done Serge Ibaka things and has made his presence felt on the court if not the box score.
We expected.decent production out of those three.
What will come as a surprise to most is the play of rookie OG Anunoby. He’s the reason the Raptors have their knees bent, ready to make the leap into the elite tier of teams in the East.
Anunoby’s basic stats don’t look anything other than ordinary, but the on/off court analytics tell the story.
Toronto’s offensive rating skyrockets from 106.6 while he’s on the bench to 117.1 when he takes to the floor. Similarly, their defensive rating takes a dive from 105.4 to 98.5.
With Anunoby on the floor, the Raptors are playing like a 64-win team according to NBA Math’s FATS calculator. More specifically, they are playing like the NBA-champion 2014-15 Warriors.
With OG off the floor, the Raptors fall off a cliff to play like a 41-win team or the 2016-17 Pacers.
Anunoby is a difference-maker, and one nobody expected given he wasn’t expected to return from his ACL injury until mid-December.
Is the hot start sustainable?
The Raptors have navigated the second-hardest schedule in the league, so there’s every possibility this level can be sustained. They’ve also spent so much time on the road, they’ve not yet fully exploited their 11-1 home record.
The #raptors are 21-8, and have played more road games than home games, and more games vs West than East. Not saying they can beat Celtics or Cavs in a playoff series just yet, but this is pretty good stuff so far.
— Dan Shulman (@DShulman_ESPN) December 21, 2017
The best is yet to come from this Raptors team, and their odds to win the division are likely to keep dropping. A young Celtics team still has to navigate the awkward middle months of an NBA season. The Raptors, on the other hand, have a core that has been together for years and the sort of experience that won’t take their foot off the pedal at any point during the season.
At +500, there’s value in the Raptors to win the Atlantic Division if you don’t trust the Celtics and their incredible opening two months after their opening-night heartbreak.
All odds provided by Ladbrokes as of 12/21