It’s fitting that the Raptors wore their camouflage jerseys on the weekend because they’re unrecognizable.
Frankly, we don’t know who they are.
In the Bosh-Bargnani-Bryan Colangelo years, the Dinos were known around the league as a team that scored, scored and scored again, but didn’t do much of anything else. They were going to score, but they were also going to be scored upon. If you wanted to win, you needed to come to the court with your guns ablaze.
That was the Raptors’ identity: a team that could score with the best of them and defend with the worst of them. Kind of a Suns-lite in the Steve Nash MVP era, if you will.
Suffice it say that style of play was unsuccessful for the Raptors, whose most successful season of that era resulted in a first round defeat at the hands of villain number one, Vince Carter, and the Nets.
Bryan Colangelo, in his penultimate year as the Raptors President and General Manager, tried to reshape his team’s identity to be more defensive-minded. Who better to hire than the coach who designed a defence that stopped the human Juggernaut himself, LeBron James, in a best-of-7 playoffs, Dwane Casey.
In year one of the Casey experiment, the Raptors were a relentless defensive team. The coach even had Bargnani playing respectable defence, an achievement in and of itself! The Raptors were top-10 in opponent FG% and opponent PPG, but struggled offensively. Still, it was something for the historically defensively inept franchise to build on.
Last season, thinking they were already ahead of the curb defensively, Casey decided to focus on their bottom-10 offence during training camp. That, among other things, resulted in a return to the all-offence little-defence mold the Raptors have been following over the course of the Colangelo era. Another case of What's My Identity bingo the Raptors have been playing over the duration of, at least, my interest in the franchise.
This season, the Raptors are back to defending with the best of them, limiting their opponents to less than 94 ppg, good for 4th in the league. They are limiting 3-point FG% as well, which is a good sign for those who emphasize advanced metrics. On the surface, it seems defensive focus has taken precedence once again.
The limiting of the 3-point FG% could be just smoke and mirrors, though. After all, the sample is small and they’ve had games against the Celtics, Bobcats and Jazz, not exactly elite-shooting teams.
Overall, though, they are a bottom-20 team in total FG%. If they don’t keep the tempo of the game slow, they are going to have some significant regression in terms of opponent PPG. Generally, the Raptors don’t run and keep the FG attempts/game low, which contributes to the low-scoring totals of their opponents.
If their opponent 3-point FG% rises, and they don’t find a way to having an efficient, flowing offence, the Raptors will be some dangerous territory as a dubious team, both offensively and defensively. There are a lot of things that can go easily go wrong that can turn this Raptors season into another nightmare, and so little that can break right that would make the Raptors JUST an above-average team in the Eastern Conference.
It’s not absolutely necessary for a team to be labeled with an “identity”, though it would be nice if an opponent came into the ACC fearing – er – ANYTHING! Whether it be a tough, tenacious defending team or a high-octane, efficient offense that rained 3s.
More and more, unless the defence keeps tight and the offence dramatically improves, I'm talking myself into supporting Tank City.