Toronto Raptors: The Rap Up

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State of the Raptors

Jan 3, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry (7) dribbles past Washington Wizards point guard John Wall (2) during the second half at Verizon Center. The Raptors defeated the Wizards 101 – 88. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Raptors had a successful week in beating the Bulls, Wizards, and Pacers. The first two teams represent the type of team that the Raptors will have to defeat consistently.

The Pacers meanwhile. are the type of team that the Raptors should strive to become. The question is whether the current Raptors core are on that level.

GM Masai Ujiri must be in a state of shock after seeing this team transform as it did in the wake of the Rudy Gay trade. This is especially pertinent when you look at the shape of the Eastern conference.

Only four teams, of which Toronto is a bubble member, are at .500 or better on the season. This includes the aforementioned Pacers, the Heat, and the Hawks. The teams at the bottom of the conference are not in a hurry to get better, and for good reason.

The draft this year is one for the ages, and may rival the vaunted 2003 draft that featured Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. So it might have made sense for Ujiri to tip the scales in the favour of losing, but with a purpose.

Now though the reality is that the Raptors are a near lock for the playoffs. If you look at ESPN’s John Hollinger’s playoff predictor, you will see that the Raptors have a 99.9% probability of making the post season.

You can throw out the dreams of Andrew Wiggins, at least until he becomes a free agent. There will be no Julius Randle or Joel Embiid, or a Marcus Smart or Jabari Parker. And that’s okay, I guess.

With a look to the future we can safely say that Demar Derozan, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson, and Jonas Valanciunas represent the core, with Kyle Lowry’s precarious standing (trade rumours, last year of contract) taken under consideration.

Derozan is looking like an All-Star and Ross has shown an ability to get open for knock-down threes, an important aspect for any offence.

Johnson remains one of the most underrated big men in the league and Valanciunas is one of its most tantalizing talents.

Yet it is Lowry who is leading this ship. It is his ability to break down his defender, draw help and facilitate the evolving games of Ross and Derozan that have given the Toronto Raptors a rejuvenated essence.

So will Masai Ujiri look to cement a five-man group that shows promise, or does he view the Raptors as needing significant improvement before it can call itself a legitimate contender to win the championship?

That is the key question heading forward. The season will be played out just as much on the floor as it will be in the boardroom.