DARK HORSE OF THE EAST

2022-11-30 · 3 min read · NBA/Basketball
Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports | Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a frustrating season thus far for the Toronto Raptors.Their best player (and an all NBA second team candidate) Pascal Siakam has been out since November 4th.
It isn’t just their star either.Toronto has been without Precious Achiuwa for an extended period, and they’ve dealt with nagging injuries to Scottie Barnes, Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr….You name it.
But despite all the injuries, and the difficult early schedule, Toronto was able to somehow keep their heads above water, and they now find themselves finally getting healthy, with an arrow pointing upwards.
At 11-9, they sit comfortably in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference, and a top 3 seed is well within their reach.Boston and Milwaukee have established themselves as the class of the conference, but beyond that, you’d be hard pressed for a team that would be favoured against Toronto in a seven game series.
How are they doing it, you ask?
Well, as has become the norm with this franchise, it starts on the defensive end. Toronto currently owns the 7th best defensive rating in the league.They’re 7th in blocks and 1st in steals.They use their length and ability to help and recover quickly to shooters, which enables them to disrupt opposing offences in ways most teams can’t.
OG Anunoby has stepped up in a huge way on both ends through all the injuries, and has a real campaign going to make his first Allstar appearance.His play at both ends has been near perfect, and he’s shown an ability to carry an offence, especially down the stretch of games.
Would I want him taking the last shot in game seven of the finals? Perhaps not.But make no mistake, OG Anunoby has risen his game to top 30 in the league status.
If you wanted to pick some nuts, Barnes’ play thus far has been a bit of a disappointment, though as mentioned earlier, he has been dealing with nagging knee and ankle issues.
Also, not having the full compliment of players, especially Siakam, for most of the year has hindered Barnes’ ability to settle into a consistent role.He’s had to switch positions on a nightly basis depending on who’s in the lineup, and he’s also been forced to be more of an offensive focal point in ways that he appears not quite ready for at this juncture of his career.
Barnes should settle in now that Siakam is back into the fold.
Another area for concern is the play of Gary Trent Jr., who the Raptors coaching staff has been disappointed with.Coming off of a year in which he lead the league in deflections and was near the top in steals, Trent’s defence has left something to be desired so far this campaign.
As an impending free agent, don’t be surprised if both sides move on after this season.
Even with Trent and Barnes not playing their best ball, Toronto has plenty of options depth wise to turn too, as shown during their injury plagued November.Juancho “Bo Cruz” Hernangomez and old man Thadeus Young have proven to be steady contributors who don’t fear the moment, and Chris Boucher has turned into a legitimate 6th man of the year candidate despite his sometimes inconsistent play.
Moving forward, Toronto has a nice chance to really make a move in the standings. Three of their next seven games come against the Orlando Magic, with several other winnable games to follow heading into the new year.
Cleveland was the rabbit team in the East to start the season, but injuries have brought them back down to earth.Philly has dealt with injury problems and inconsistent play of their own all season.Atlanta has been solid for the most part, but beyond Trae Young and Dejounte Murray, they lack the depth needed to be a true contender.Miami is just trying to duck-tape it all together right now.You see my point.
The third seed in the East is definitely up for grabs, and Toronto may be in the perfect position to seize the opportunity.
Sports Tree Profile

By: Eddie Huband

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