Written by: Josh Gutbrod
The Toronto Raptors are trying incredibly hard to get people to realize this year is not like years past. As division rival Boston fell to Indiana Sunday, the Raptors were busy scorching a woeful Knicks squad to a 132-106 final. The victory, and coinciding Celtics loss, place another game between the first place Raptors and second place Celtics in the conference and divisional standings giving Toronto a 3.5 game lead coming down the stretch.
Of course, who really cares that the Raptors blew out the Knicks? The Knicks showed promise early on, but with star big Kristaps Porzingis out for the season with a torn ACL it is hard to ask New York to contend with an established playoff team such as the Raptors. No one is handing Toronto the championship after a win over a shorthanded Knicks squad.
Looking closer, the win showed several promising indicators that the Raptors might have evolved after all. Star back court duo Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined for just 27 points on 7 of 24 shooting combined, including 2 of 10 from behind the three point line. The pair average just under 40 points per game combined on the season and are one of the better back courts in the entire NBA. DeRozan did not even reach double figures against the Knicks, finishing with just 9 points.
Yet despite the shooting woes of the starting back court Toronto was able to rack up 132 points and finish with seven players in double figures. Some of the offensive output could be attributed to the defense of the Knicks, but there is something more here. The Knicks were able to keep DeRozan and Lowry to modest games at best. The decreased output from the star duo would have likely crippled the Raptors offense in years past, yet Sunday that was not the case.
Toronto flexed its impressive depth as budding talents Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl and Fred VanVleet and veteran swingman CJ Miles each reached double figures off the bench. Some NBA teams do not even have one bench player that can provide that type of offensive output, and Toronto has four? Yikes. The performance against the Knicks is not out of the ordinary either. The Raptors bench has been dominant all season and comes in as the 7th highest scoring bench in the entire NBA at 41.3 points per game as a unit.
How big of a difference is Toronto’s newly established depth? During the 2016-17 season, which saw the Raptors swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Semis, the Raptor bench came in as the 5th worst second unit in the Association averaging 31.3 points per game. That’s an extra 10 points per game coming from the second unit. Such a dramatic increase in support is a huge lift for a guy like DeMar DeRozan who had grown used to shouldering the entire offensive load come playoff time.
The Raptors still have to prove the team can keep it together come playoff time, as impressive regular seasons have been a theme in the North in recent years. That being said, Dwayne Casey has the team playing at the same high level as always and this time, there’s no complete bottom out coming should Lowry or DeRozan have an off night. Watch for the Raptors to pose a much more serious threat as they look to be crowned the new kings of the Eastern Conference and compete for an NBA title.