Why I Can’t Love These Raptors

By: Nikolas Theodorakidis | @nikolastheo

It’s not a secret that I love Toronto sports. In fact, talking about them is one of the only ways my family connects with me. I have an opinion on every team–except the freakin’ Argos–and I’m usually willing to share them with you.

But I do have a secret. One that I don’t like to talk about. That secret being that I don’t really like the Raptors in their current form.

I know, I know, blasphemy. Believe me, it hurts me to say it. Some of my earliest sporting memories include the 2000-01 Raptors run and my first taste of Toronto heartbreak was Vince Carter’s missed shot in Game Seven against the Sixers. The team holds a special place in my heart, so when last year’s squad set a franchise record for wins in a season and I could only think of their flaws, it was disheartening.

My biggest complaint is that as the play of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry goes, as does the team. They have the ball in their hands on almost every possession, and often the possessions end late in the shot clock with a contested mid-range jumper. If you look around the NBA, this isn’t a style that the most successful teams use.

To see how this style of play might not work, you have to look at last year’s playoffs. Yes, I know, they made the Eastern Conference Finals, but in how many of their games were the Raptors actually enjoyable to watch? I remember pulling my hair out watching the playoffs and seeing possession after possession of missed shots and broken down plays. Yes, they made the Eastern Conference Finals, but it all could’ve gone much worse. The Raptors struggled to put away the Pacers in the first round, and got through the Heat after they had lost their two top big men.

The team was very close to another playoff disaster and could’ve been a very different looking team this year. We know that head coach Dwane Casey would’ve been fired if the team had lost to the Pacers, and who knows if DeMar DeRozan would’ve left in free agency or if the Raptors would have let him. And this year has come, and the Raptors are playing the same way.

However, there is a possibility that I’m wrong and that’s mostly due to the play of DeRozan. Through seven games of the regular season, DeRozan is scoring 34.1 points per game, enough to lead the league in scoring. Inspired by a less than flattering ranking from Sports Illustrated that saw him listed as the 46th best player in the NBA, DeRozan has put up 30 or more points in six of the first seven games, something that only Michael Jordan and Bernard King have done before.

But I have to wonder if DeRozan playing this well can last forever. There are still so many shots that he takes where I find myself grimacing, only to relax when he makes them. If he slows down, the Raptors could be in trouble. That happened in the Raptors’ game against Sacramento this past Sunday, where DeRozan went 7-for-20 from the field and resulted in a five-point home loss to a team that is not expected to do much this season.

I won’t go as far as to say the Raptors are a bad team. That’s simply not true. They have the seventh best Net Rating in the NBA this season and look poised to fight for the division title again this year. But my point is that they might not be good enough and don’t show enough growth in their playing style to warrant belief that they will be able to make it to the Finals or even a repeat appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals.

So while the season is off to a great start, I can’t shake the feeling that it will have a disappointing ending like it has the past three years. I can’t shake the feeling that when it comes down to it, my head will be in my hands lamenting bad possession after bad possession.

For my sanity and the sanity of Raptors’ fans everywhere, I hope I’m wrong about these Raptors.

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Featured image via Sportsnet

What to Watch Now That the Jays are Gone

By: Nikolas Theodorakidis | @nikolastheo

It’s official: the long cold baseball-less winter is upon us.

Despite any amount of hope fans may have had, the Blue Jays were unable to rally back from a 3-0 deficit in the American League Championship Series last week.

But the end of the baseball season means we can now turn our collective attention to the other teams in this city. And, for what it’s worth, this is turning out to be as good a winter in Toronto as we’ve had in a few years.

Raptors

Let’s start with Toronto’s most successful team as of late. The Raptors ended last year on a high having made it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Although the team was outmatched by the Cleveland Cavaliers, there was some joy found in taking two games from the eventual champs in between four blowout losses. Winning a playoff series was the main goal last year, and, though they struggled to do so, they won two of them.

This year, gauging the team’s success might be a bit more difficult.

A repeat trip to the Eastern Conference Finals would be appreciated but can hardly be expected. Multiple teams in the East have improved in the offseason, including division rivals Boston and New York, so the Raptors shouldn’t be considered a lock for anything like last year.  But a first round elimination would feel like a step backwards for a team that overcame so much in terms of shaking the franchise’s monkeys off their backs.

Perhaps the team’s success will be determined by the actual product on court, rather than the mile markers the team passes on their way to being eliminated. The team, and particularly newly minted Olympic Gold Medallists Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, have been criticized for playing “hero ball” in the past that has been a detriment to the team. If the team can play in a more effective way – one that doesn’t leave fans burying their face in their free giveaway t-shirt – elimination won’t feel as bad and might provide more hope for the future.

Leafs

The Leafs have not been must-see TV for a few years now. If you opened up the fridge of Toronto sports and all you saw was the Leafs, you’d complain that there was nothing to eat. But this year’s version of the Buds is already way more appetizing.

The only thing the Leafs have won in recent memory was the draft lottery at the end of last season. With that came the arrival of Auston Matthews. The 18-year-old American centre has been anointed the saviour of the Leafs and so far, he’s lived up to the high praise. In his first NHL game, Matthews scored four goals, a feat that had never been accomplished before by anyone in their first game.

And he’s not the only youngster getting in on the action. Mitch Marner has also been turning heads, notching three points through five games, including a great goal against Boston in the Leafs home opener. And William Nylander has nine points through six games, including a two-goal night against Chicago this past Saturday.

Unfortunately, the goal scoring has not led to success for the Leafs as of yet. They have just one win this season and have blown third period games in four of their six games so far this season. But at least they are starting to look relevant again, right? A team that scores goals but can’t prevent them is more enjoyable than the opposite any day of the week.

Toronto FC

And finally, we have TFC. The butt of many jokes in Toronto sports, TFC have actually put together their most successful season to date. Gaining a franchise high 53 points, the Reds have secured a home playoff match for the first time in the team’s history. They will take on the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night at BMO Field in a win-or-go-home match with a spot on the Eastern Conference semi-finals on the line.

Once again, it has been a spectacular season for Sebastian Giovinco. If it wasn’t clear after his first season with the club, we can say for sure that he is the best player in team history after his second. He scored 17 goals and racked 15 assists without even playing a game in September.

A win on Wednesday and a somewhat deep playoff run could finally give TFC their fair share of the media attention. It’s hard to think that a team sitting near the top of their conference for most of their season and an MVP candidate on their roster – kind of like the Blue Jays of the last two years – would be relegated to the middle of the sports section or to the latter part of a Sportscentre broadcast, but that’s where TFC often find themselves. TFC have the best chance to bring the city a championship and deserve to be treated that way.

Featured image via Toronto Star