After finishing the 2015-16 regular season 56-26 and only a game behind the World Champion Cleveland Cavaliers for the Eastern Conference title, the Toronto Raptors loss to the Cavaliers in the Conference Finals 4-2. As both teams were exiting the floor, it was clear Toronto may have been but one season away from catching the Champs in both talent and ability.
With a little more than a third of the 2016-17 NBA season already in the books, the Raptors are sitting in a familiar place. With a record of 20-8, they find themselves 1.5 games behind the Cavs for the conference lead with Boston sitting in a distant 3rd with a record of 17-12. Given the parity found in the conference, it looks like the two leaders will battle it out until the end for home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference Finals.
To get a better idea of whether or not the Raptors have made enough improvements to catch the Cavs, one would have to look inside the numbers. For starters, the Raptors are playing an up-tempo offense that has led to a scoring increase from 102.7 PPG to 112.3 PPG from last season to this season. This has also led to a spike in the number of points allowed per game from 98.2 to 103.0. Overall, that represents an improved scoring differential of 4.8 PPG versus a positive scoring differential change for the Cavaliers of only 1.8 PPG. The 3.0 PPG difference between the two teams is quite significant at this level of play.
The question becomes, “is this sustainable?” because if it is, it might be relevant enough for the Raptors to catch the Cavs and earn that all-important home court advantage heading into the playoffs. All of this analysis assumes both teams will stay healthy, and the Cavs have already been bit by the injury bug with guard J.R. Smith out with a fractured thumb and forward Kevin Love having knee issues. To date, Toronto has nothing to report.
With essentially the same group of players on the floor, the biggest improvement has come from star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, who has ratcheted up his game up another notch, scoring at a rate of 27.9 PPG, up from 23.5 PPG last season. While he has increased the number of shots he has taken per game, he has also improved his shooting percentage from 44.6% to 48.2%. He has also improved his rebounding and steals, which shows he’s more focused on defense. Read the rest of this entry →