As the regular season draws closer, we all enjoy soaking up the plethora of individual projections and team predictions formulated by “experts” around this time of year.
Before the start of last season, I made a game-by-game prediction of how I saw the Raptors’ schedule shaping up and where I saw them finishing from a win/loss standpoint. I’ll do the same thing this year closer to our Halloween night tip-off, but while I haven’t sat down and hammered out any official predictions yet, one thing I am fairly certain of is that this Raptors squad should win more than 33 games, so if you’re looking for a safer bet than whether they’ll make the playoffs or not, perhaps you should be looking at the over/under (33) of their win total.
When you actually look at the over/unders for each team, where the Raptors rank at 33 makes sense. According to the projected totals, that would place them 10th in the Eastern Conference, ahead of the Bobcats (20), Magic (23.5), Cavaliers (31), Wizards (31) and Pistons (32).
It’s not that I think the Raptors should be projected as a playoff team or even as a 40-win team, and an over/under somewhere along the lines of 35-39 wins would have scared me off from betting on it at all, but I figure even if this team slightly disappoints, they’ll still find a way to win 34 games or more.
Part of the reason I think the Raptors should eclipse 33 wins is because they’ve been handed what appears to be a favourable schedule.
In the NBA, schedules barely vary from year to year. You play the other four teams within your division four times each (twice at home, twice away) and the 15 teams in the opposing conference twice each (home and away). The only thing that changes from year to year is whether you play the 10 other teams in your conference (but not in your division) four times or three times.
For my money, the only four non-Atlantic Eastern Conference teams that I’m convinced are better than the Raptors are the Heat, Pacers, Hawks and Bulls, and even Chicago could be very vulnerable without Derrick Rose. And while the Raptors will have to play Indiana four times, the rest of their Eastern Conference schedule should be to their liking.
In the Central, Toronto will play the Pistons and Cavaliers four times each, but only play the Bulls and Bucks (two teams that should be better than Detroit and Cleveland) three times each.
In the Southeast, the Raptors really lucked out, as they’re scheduled to play surefire playoff teams Miami and Atlanta three times each, while getting a fourth game in against weaker teams in the Wizards, Magic and Bobcats. Playing an extra game against Charlotte, Orlando, Washington, Cleveland and Detroit instead of Miami, Atlanta or Chicago could be the slight yet crucial win-boost the Raptors need, whether you’re talking about playoff qualification or talking about simply surpassing 33 wins, as we are today.
Even if you look at the four teams Toronto will play just three times, things set up nicely for the Raptors again. Between the Bulls and the Bucks, the Raptors get the extra home game against Chicago, while getting the extra road game against Milwaukee, where it’s not exactly the toughest place in the NBA to grab a win. Between the Heat and the Hawks, the Raptors get an extra home game against Miami (if the Raptors have any chance of stealing a game against the Heat, it will come in one of two tries at home, not their lone game on South Beach) while getting the extra road game in Atlanta, where they actually pulled out a win last season.
So yes, the Raptors will be forced to play in what could be the most competitive division in basketball this season, but their non-divisional Conference schedule is just about as good as it gets.
This is still a very young team, there aren’t any superstars on the roster and whether there’s even a potential 2012-13 All Star on the team is debatable, but they should be deep enough and good enough defensively to provide some value for those betting the over if the line remains at 33, which is only one game better than a 50-loss team.
And before anybody begins to complain about a perennial 35-40 win team being the worst spot to be in, which I agree with, understand that I’m not saying you should celebrate this team because they’ll be better than 33-49. I’m simply stating that deep teams who play defence tend to avoid flirting with 50 losses, especially when their schedule seems to line up in their favour.
I should point out for you superstitious gamblers, though, that 33 is the most common win total in franchise history, with the team finishing on that mark three different times (2003-04, 2004-05 and 2008-09) in 17 years.