The surprise package of the Eastern Conference, Toronto boast an 11-2 record and are looking like a legitimate title contender.
In his fourth year as Toronto head coach, Dwane Casey has led his youthful side to the top of the Eastern Conference after a lightning fast start to the season, culminating in an emphatic win over the much-hyped Cleveland Cavaliers last week.
Point guard, Kyle Lowry has set the tone on the defensive end of the floor and the team have got valuable contributions from unlikely sources including Lou Williams, James Johnson and Greivis Vasquez. Can they keep their momentum going and surprise even their most optimistic fans?
The springboard for Toronto’s early success has been due to the emergence of Kyle Lowry as a top five point guard in the NBA. Lowry, who is averaging 18.8 points and six assists per game, has proved himself to be an elite defender for his position and has transformed the attitude of this team.
He is already on track for his best ever shooting percentage and is the second-leading scorer on the team, behind his back court partner, DeMar DeRozan. If the backcourt duo can keep this torrid pace up, Toronto will be a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference.
The 110-93 win over Cleveland was sparked by a 36 point rampage by Lou Williams, who had his career high in points off the bench and has now scored into double digits in nine of his last ten games. Points off the bench have been a key ingredient for the Raptors, a stat they lead the conference in.
It is remarkable that the Raptors have succeeded to such a high extent given their lack of depth at the forward and center positions, which may be a point of emphasis at the trade deadline.
Chuck Hayes and Tyler Hansborough are pretty average role players off the bench, yet both are playing ten minutes and fifteen minutes respectively for Toronto. This is highlighted by the fact that the Raptors are giving up eleven offensive rebounds per game.
An intriguing dimension to this team will unfold at the trade deadline as Toronto have six expiring contracts currently on the roster, which will be of value for teams looking to clear cap space at the end of the year.
Toronto will be looking for front court depth in the hope that they can sustain a potential title challenge. Landry Fields and Tyler Hansborough don’t look particularly enticing for prospective trade partners but due to the fact they are expiring contracts, they become trade worthy.
A part of this writer believes that this surprising start to the season is just a mirage, and once Cleveland and Chicago really flex their muscles then Toronto will revert back to third seed in the conference.
Yet, when one looks at the statistics, there are no over-achievers on this team. Perhaps Kyle Lowry really is an elite point guard and Jonas Valanciunas is an above average centre. Toronto as title contenders is not an overstatement and they will surely be, at least, the number two seed in the Eastern Conference. Will the rest of the NBA really have to “Fear the North”?
Stephen Loftus, Pundit Arena
Featured image By Yzukerman (Flickr: WP_20131030_19_28_54_Pro__highres) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons