Raptors Lead

Raptors Remain Consistent with Non-Tanking Identity

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The defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors (that never gets old) entered this season with the odds against them, and I mean that quite literally. According to OddShark, as of December 1st, the Raptors’ odds to win a championship were +2000. If you are unfamiliar with sports betting, that means if you bet $100 on the Raptors winning, you make $2,000. Not bad right? So, if you believe the Raptors will win it all, I strongly recommend you place your bets now. Anyways, you can look to the Cleveland Cavaliers who in 2018 entered the season without LeBron James and claimed to still be the top of the East. The difference between them, and the Raptors, is that the Raptors actually believe it, and after beating the Utah Jazz, are currently 15-4.

If you follow the Raptors, then you know that this team has been prepared for the post-Kawhi era since he came over, and it stems from Pascal Siakam. Last year’s most improved player has made yet…another…jump. He is already averaging 10 more points (26.2 PPG) this season, making it the third straight season he’s made that 10-point jump. This puts credit towards the Raptors’ development team (see below) because they have been able to turn a 27th overall pick into a dynamic, all-around basketball player capable of bringing the ball up, creating his own shot, and actively playing the pick and roll with either Kyle Lowry or Fred VanVleet.  

What’s Different?

In November 2015, the Raptors introduced their G-League team, the Raptors 905, who within two years would establish themselves as one of the most dominant development teams with a championship in 2017. We have seen Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Norman Powell all build the foundation of their careers with the 905 and are now all current starters on the Toronto Raptors squad. The Raptors have instilled trust into their players, where if you prove yourself here, you can have your shot in the NBA– and these players have done just that.

The new star we look to is Chris Boucher, who recently won both the G-League’s Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year awards. Take your chance, shoot your shot, and the Raptors will pave your way. The Raptors have been able to redefine the rebuild, as they have created a winning culture from their development program.

Beyond that, in 2014, we saw the fire begin, as the Raptors took a tough 1st round exit to the Brooklyn Nets in a seven-game series. Since then, the expectation every time they step on the floor was a championship. This championship rebuild was crafted by Masai Ujiri, who took a winning approach to a rebuild, like that of Danny Ainge. Masai was willing to risk it all and showed us that after firing Coach of the Year Dwane Casey and trading franchise player DeMar DeRozan. Ujiri instilled a new culture in Toronto, and although the expectation had always been a championship, they have done this by developing their current talent.  

Amin Elhassan of ESPN’s The Jump recently discussed this topic in how the G-League has provided the Raptors with an area to mine for “Diamonds.”  The G-League is more than just an area of practice, but filled with individuals who can provide strong minutes into rotation, and their ability to emerge is solely based on the time franchises are putting into the G-League. You can check out this discussion in the video below.

The Rest

Now, this is not a bash to the rest of the league, but I will leave this up for discussion. We have seen the Raptors develop this championship culture, without having to tank, and it is truly admirable.  So admirable, that the Knicks are now looking to snag Ujiri to help their failing franchise.

The idea of tanking has been well known and is something the NBA is trying to dismiss in order to create a competitive culture. The Sixers tanked and decided to put all their money into the draft and have seen some success, but still have some concerns especially with the lack of depth on their roster.

The Right Culture

However, let’s focus on two players on two teams who have proven over the last few years to be bottom-tier squads. John Collins and Deandre Ayton are playing for franchises who have seen years of distraught in their failures. Both the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns have brought in players in hope that they could be the saving grace. Although the Suns have got off to an OK start, this might not be sustainable.

Recently, Collins and Ayton were both suspended due to the use of banned substances and are currently serving 25-game suspensions. Players want to enter this league and be great, and it is commendable, however, the time it takes to be great is where front office staff holds little patience. They want to see results instantly, or they will move on to the next draft and hope that talent will lie there. Players are cut too quick, and we have seen this in recent years especially through D’Angelo Russell, who entered the league at 19, and after being drafted in 2015, is already playing on his 3rd team.

With managers wanting to see greatness overnight, has this mentality fed over to the players? Do players feel the pressure to be great quick, resulting in the use of these banned substances to be in line with the goals of the team, versus their better health? Both Collins and Ayton have expressed they have no idea that what they were taking was banned, but someone had to know, and someone had to be aware of the effects of said substance in order to seek short-term gains.

Players feel the need to be great instantly, but growing pains exist naturally. There is a lack of growth seen because teams like the Suns and Hawks are producing toxic cultures, where losing is getting to them and forcing them to make brash decisions.

Back to the Raptors, they’ve created a farm system designed for sustainable growth in a trusted environment. It is rare that we see development stories as we have with players like VanVleet, and Siakam, and maybe the Raptors are writing the book on what it takes to build championship teams before our own eyes.

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About Uday Saluja

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