Nick Nurse-led Raptors teams have typically finished in the top 10 of defensive rating. However, this season Toronto sits 20th while its offence ranks 10th in the NBA. Will the Raptors finish in the top 10 of both categories?
AMIT MANN: A couple more for you, Yasmin, and I'll let you head on out with your day. The Raptors will finish top 10 in defensive rating and offensive rating at the end of this season.
YASMIN DUALE: Um, what's the offense right now? I know the defense.
AMIT MANN: I believe they're ninth. And --
YASMIN DUALE: Really?
AMIT MANN: Yeah, they're ninth, I believe. They were a couple days ago. I'm not sure what happened yesterday, but yeah, they're up there. And then defensively, they are now 20th.
YASMIN DUALE: The defensive rating, I feel like, is very deceiving. Because yeah, you think about how often the starters, who are the five best defenders on the team, have been out of the rotation throughout the season. It's been very hard to have them all on the court at once.
AMIT MANN: Yeah.
YASMIN DUALE: At their best, to me, they're a top five defense. When everyone is present, I feel like they can defend nearly every team in the NBA. I feel like they'd have trouble with maybe one or two, and those are like the teams with Embiid and Jokic. That's the only ones that I think would present challenges, and I think that Nick Nurse can scheme his way into competitiveness, even against those teams. So defensively, it's very misleading.
I see a lot of teams prior to playing the Raptors, a lot of fans will be like, Oh, they don't have a center. Oh, their defensive rating is very low, they should be being able to take advantage of blah blah blah. I saw it with Suns fans yesterday, and it's very deceiving. They have-- their starting five has no defensive holes. I don't know if people realize how rare that is in the NBA. That their entire starting five excels positionally and defensively, that's absolutely insane.
AMIT MANN: Sure.
YASMIN DUALE: So yeah, I think in that case, I feel like they can be top 10 by the end of the year barring injuries. Half a season, I feel like, is enough to kind of find that rhythm. I can't believe that we're at the halfway mark in the season. I feel like this season has felt long.
AMIT MANN: I know, I know. I'm kind of with you. I hear what you're saying. Like, you have earlier on the season, I mean, at different points, they were lying on their bench more. And you know, the bench goes out there. There are minus 12 in like six minutes, or not six minutes, like four minutes, and all of a sudden, now your defensive rating plummets. But the defensive rating-- and I don't have the stat in front of me, unfortunately-- but the defensive rating of their starting lineup is very, very good.
And when they're on the containing and testing, the stunt and recovery, the weak side help, the mucking up driving lanes and just being long, when they're low men-- I mean, this has been a process too for like, a Scottie Barnes, for instance-- is that they're not overcommitting, they're reading and adapting on the fly. He specifically is doing a much better job of that. And when all this stuff is happening, they are a scary team on the defensive end. And I think, to your point, I think they can get back there. There's obviously a lot of good defensive teams this year, I feel like. Even if It was just me, I was looking at the ranking.
YASMIN DUALE: No, I agree. I think that that's correct. Like, um, yeah. No, I think that the NBA this year is very competitive. I don't recall it being like this for a while. Night to night, I feel like there are very few guaranteed wins. I feel like before, half the season was a guaranteed win for the Raptors.
Perhaps that speaks to the competitiveness of the team or how good the team was, but I feel like night to night, we could be playing the Pistons, and I'll be like, y'all better watch out for that Cade! Cade Cunningham is really good! He may single-handedly beat you. I just feel like that's become the norm. Like, there's no safe win. The Bucks just lost twice to the Hornets, and the Hornets are not a bad team, but the Bucks are better. And before, I feel like those were guaranteed situations. That's not been the case lately.
AMIT MANN: Mm mm. Yeah, and all that considered, I think, because their 20th right now and because there's so many good defensive teams, an injury happens and all of a sudden the Raptors could have, they could be a little bit lackluster now. I'm not sure if they get back in the top 10. Maybe they don't, but I think my hot take is that their offensive rating will stick around the top 10 area. Because I think they're really starting to figure out how they're going to be able to take advantage, night in, night out, against different teams.
And, you know, Gary Trent being out there, or being out of the lineup yesterday, kind of exposed some of their weaknesses. That they just don't have, like, that shooting guard who can hit shots. When you don't have a shooting guard who can actually hit shots, it's really a problem. Like Svi is being up and down, Yuta was 0-4 yesterday, I believe. He's missed a few games, yada yada.
But they really need that shooting guard to hit shots. And I think they're probably to get to a point, maybe, or they're going to probably just throw a lot of those guys to the side. And they're going to say, all right, we're going to move OG to the two, Pascal to the three, or Scottie to 3, or whatever, and they're going to put Khem Birch in there, because they just, they need that shooting guard to hit shots. It's such a problem for their offense. It takes away all of its mojo.
YASMIN DUALE: Yeah, those droughts become very prominent. When they're at full health, the offense is just very, they have that read and react style. I feel like they go into sets. If it doesn't work, they go into the next one immediately. It's very taut. Like it's just very--
AMIT MANN: Fluid.
YASMIN DUALE: The flow is amazing when you're watching it. They have an overabundance of play-makers on the court. They have shooting, they have tough shot makers in Fred, in Gary Trent, and in OG when he know when he's choosing his shots correctly. Yeah, when all hands are on deck offensively, I feel like that passes the small test. It's prominent, yeah.
AMIT MANN: The read and react is so important too, because you can't teach it. I was watching, I'm not sure if you saw the Celtics and Pacers game the other day, but the Celtics, like, I don't know what their deal is right now. But when it comes to reading and reacting, like late in games, all it was, like, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, they were going-- Lance Stephenson, who's been awesome for the Pacers, comes over in doubles-- all of a sudden, everyone's panicking. You got Josh Richardson sending, like, random flare screens. And you're like, what are you, like, why are you doing that? You're just like, clogging the lane.
YASMIN DUALE: Yeah, I saw that.
AMIT MANN: Yeah, and that intuitive nature that the Raptors are gaining through just having high basketball IQ players, and just playing together. Like, they've had such little time with their starting lineup together, and they're learning so fast. And so, I think with all of these things considered, I think they're going to stay around the top 10. Because they're that good offensively, and they're going to read and react, and they're going to adapt on the fly, and they have really talented players. And that can't be dismissed.
When you have so many players who are willing and capable of working in the pick and roll, and driving, and hitting 3's, and making the next pass, and being a good cutter, that's rare! It's a very rare starting lineup. Outside of the size that we're talking about, what they have when it comes to the basketball IQ in the starting lineup, isn't something every NBA team has. And that should be-- that's kind of a low key part of their success.