Roughly 10% of the season has been played, but we haven’t learned too much about who and what these Toronto Raptors are.
From opening-night winners to kick off the Darko Rajakovic era, to losers of three straight, to winners of three-of-four — including the past two in impressive fashion in Texas — we don’t yet know what they can be.
But with two games against title-contending Boston in the next week, including Saturday night in Beantown, we should get a better sense of the true potential or potential limitations of these Raptors.
Sandwiched in between will be home dates with Washington — perhaps the worst team in the league — and a Milwaukee squad that will be looking for revenge after getting humiliated by the Raptors once already.
But we’ll focus on the Celtics, a juggernaut that rang off five straight wins to start the season — only one of them all that close — before dropping two straight heading into Friday night’s home game against Brooklyn.
Before that back-to-back opener, Boston ranked sixth in the NBA in points scored per 100 possessions and third in the defensive side of that metric. The team’s overall net rating (the difference between its offensive and defensive efficiency) led the league. So yes, this team so far has lived up to its pre-season hype as the main title threat this side of defending champion Denver.
What has gone right for the Celtics? A reasonably easy first five games (all wins) allowed them to get comfortable.
MVP candidate Jayson Tatum has once again been ultra elite (28.4 points per game, 9.1 rebounds, 1.6 steals and an outstanding .537/.411/.811 shooting line) while Kristaps Porzingis has fit like a glove, averaging 20.9 points, 1.6 blocks and 41% shooting from beyond the arc).
Only three teams are hitting more three-pointers per game by Boston and only one is grabbing more rebounds.
Derrick White has been tremendous and Jrue Holiday is fitting in well. There probably isn’t a more fierce defensive backcourt in the NBA than those two.
The Celtics don’t let opponents get to the free-throw line too often, don’t let them hit the offensive boards and don’t give up much in the paint.
To put it simply, they are a load.
It’s going to be interesting to see how the Raptors do against them in the two looming contests. It might be wise to bet the under, as the teams rank No. 3 and No. 4 in the NBA in limiting opponent’s field goal percentage. Opponents also have oddly struggled from outside against both teams (32.5% from three against the Raptors, third-lowest amongst all teams, 33% against Boston, which is sixth-worst).
For the Raptors, this early season stretch has been revelatory where Scottie Barnes is concerned. He has played at an all-NBA level to begin his third season in the league and seems on the way to wresting away Pascal Siakam’s long-standing status as the team’s best player.
Siakam has been mostly quiet offensively, other than a couple of big performances, including most recently when he was the best player on the court in Dallas — even better than MVP candidate Luka Doncic. He also has been good defensively, even if the counting stats (steals and blocks don’t show it).
Siakam’s averaging his fewest points since 2018-19, he isn’t getting to the free-throw line much and has been way off with his shot.
The all-star has been outstanding against very good Boston teams (23.6 points per game on 51% shooting in his past 11 meetings with them), so it’s possible he can keep building on the form he showed in Dallas.
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OG Anunoby has played at an all-star level (if voters looked at all-around play), shooting a career-best 55%, including 41.7% from three. He’s also averaging more points than ever before, despite averaging his fewest minutes in four seasons, all while providing defence as good as anyone else in the NBA.
Point guard Dennis Schroder has exceeded expectations and veteran Otto Porter Jr. has returned to action to help stabilize a bench that has missed Precious Achiuwa and Christian Koloko. Jakob Poeltl has been good defensively, but not as consistent as he’d like to be yet on offence.
The Boston battles will be good measuring sticks for a Raptors team that is still just figuring out what Rajakovic wants from it and what is possible this season and beyond.