We’re only two weeks and eight games into the Raptors’ 2011-2012 season, so a lot of early numbers and stats will be tossed out the window as inflated beginning of season jumble.

But with a lockout-shortened schedule, we’ve actually completed 12 per cent of the season already, so while some early numbers seem a little skewed, they also have a greater chance of standing than they would in other seasons.

I thought today would be a good time to look at the Raptors’ defensive numbers, as it would give us a much more realistic view after being blown out twice over the weekend than if we had looked at the numbers last week when the Raps looked like a team that could over-achieve.

Here’s how the Raptors D stacks up so far. Note the improvements from last season.

Points Allowed Per Game: 92.9 (11th in the NBA)

2010-11: 105.4 (26th)

Opponents Field Goal Percentage: 40.2 (Second in the NBA)

2010-11: 48.2 (29th)

Defensive Efficiency (Points Allowed per 100 Possesions): 101.3 (20th in the NBA)

2010-11: 110 (30th)

The numbers simply prove what watching this team reveals, and that’s that their defensive effort, intensity and focus is exponentially better than it has been in at least five years. Other than a game and a half against the Nets and 76ers, the Raptors defence is barely recognizable if you watched this team last season, and yet Dwane Casey is using most of the same players.

I’m hearing a lot of people mention a perceived “easy” start to the schedule as the catalyst for the defensive improvement, but I just don’t see it. The Raptors have played five of their eight games against playoff teams, have played five of eight on the road and already have a couple of back-to-backs under their belt, including the aforementioned disaster this past weekend.

I don’t know what to attribute the drastic defensive improvement to. Does Casey just have a better understanding of defence? Are his defensive schemes and game-plans that much better or that much easier to understand? Is it a simple case of Casey just having the players’ respect and therefore having their ears?

Who knows for certain? But I do know this, if this team finishes the season in the Top-20 in defensive efficiency and their overall defensive numbers end up looking even remotely close to what they look like now, Andrea Bargnani should retire the “Il Mago” nickname and hand it off to its rightful owner, because the only magician in Toronto right now is Dwane Casey.

Now obviously, skeptics will point to a slower pace, a more “boring” style of play and an anemic offence to criticize Casey, but at the end of the day, I’ll take my chances trying to win a basketball game 70-69 over trying to win it 120-115. And really, no matter how much fans and media members might talk about style and flair, they won’t be talking about anything other than the W’s if Casey can turn this “program,” as he often refers to it, into a winner.

I like the idea of building a defensive culture and defensive mentality with a young core and letting them grow, rather than letting them play and score all they want when they’re young and then trying to teach them how to play defence when they’re supposed to be ready to compete.

It’s a lot easier to find ways for professional basketball players to score than it is to get notoriously absent-minded offensive players to lock down on D. Dwane Casey seems to have figured it out with this below average collection of talent.

Imagine what he can do if the Raptors eventually assemble a defensively talented roster?