The firing of Mike Brown in Laker Land today got me thinking about the premature panicking coming from Raptors fans right now, or at least from a lot of the Raps fans on my twitter timeline.
Obviously in Toronto, Dwane Casey’s job isn’t on the line, and a 1-4 start for a team expected to finish either just in or just out of the playoffs is a lot different than a 1-4 start for a team with championship or bust expectations, but from what I can gather, panic is slowly creeping in here.
My moment of panic came, like so many others’, when Kyle Lowry crumpled to the floor in Oklahoma City screaming in pain, but once it was determined that the injury was a low ankle sprain instead of a dreaded high ankle sprain or break of some sort, my hope for the season quickly returned.
As frustrating as the opening effort and overall game in Dallas was, I don’t think anyone can say that 1-4 is far off from where they expected this Raptors team to be after five games. I predicted that they’d be 2-3, because I thought the Raptors could take their home opener against a Granger-less Pacers team, but once that game was lost, 1-4 seemed to make the most sense.
In fact, I’d argue that the only reason a 1-4 record seems so disappointing right now is because of how close the Raptors came to stealing a few more of those games. The fact that Toronto had the opener in their pocket before a late collapse, the fact that Andrea Bargnani was a missed wide open jumper away from tying the game in Brooklyn in the final minutes and the fact that the Raptors could have stolen the game in Dallas had they decided to show up even five minutes earlier provides a tease of a much better record.
Take away the 20-point loss to the Thunder and the 19-point win over the Timberwolves, and you’re left with three losses (two of them on the road) by a combined 14 points. I’m not going to say that the Raptors “deserve” a better record or could be 4-1 after five games, because “what ifs” don’t amount to anything in the standings, but at the very least, how close the Raps have been to grabbing a few more wins should remind you that it’s still too early to be panicking.
For the most part, this team has been what I thought they’d be this season en route to about a 39-win campaign. Remember that I predicted a ninth place finish in the Eastern Conference and a 19th place finish overall. Well if you look at NBA point-differential right now, the Raptors’ differential of -3.0 ranks seventh in the East and, what do you know, 19th overall.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see basic point-differential as some sort of future telling super stat (the Knicks are NOT the best team in basketball right now, as their +19.3 differential would initially indicate), but it does give a better indication of overall performance early in a season than strictly wins and losses, as does looking at strength of schedule.
Basketball Prospectus’ 2012-2013 preview had this to say about it:
“differential tends to predict future records slightly better than actual wins and losses because of the role of randomness in the outcome of close games and the predictive value of winning in lopsided fashion.”
Digging deeper, basketball research website NBAstuffer.com uses a statistic short-termed “ACH” to analyze “Achievement Level In Terms of Wins.” The metric is designed to weed out teams who are overachieving (and will likely come back to earth) and to reveal under-performing teams who should have more wins (who will likely pick up their pace). The Spurs (4-1), Bucks (2-1) and Kings (2-3) are at the top of the list of overachievers, while near the bottom of the list, the Raptors sit 29th with an “ACH” rating of -0.215.
According to ACH, the only team whose record is more negatively skewed from what it should be is the clearly underachieving Lakers.
At various levels, the numbers suggest that the Raptors are a better team than their 1-4 record indicates, and while that obviously doesn’t mean anything if the team can’t start producing actual victories as opposed to moral and statistical ones, it is a small comfort for already worried fans.
For me, a big indicator will be the next couple of games against the 76ers on Saturday night and the Jazz on Monday. Neither team is a pushover by any stretch of the imagination, and when everyone’s healthy on both sides, Philly and Utah are probably both better basketball teams than the Raptors. But considering the 1-4 start and a little bit of desperation setting in with two home games on the calendar before heading out to Indiana and Boston, these are two games the Raptors have to look at as opportunities to build some positivity and momentum.
If they can take both contests at the ACC and head out to Indiana with a 3-4 record, I’ll be pretty confident that this is exactly the team I envisioned. If they split the two games, I’m sure we’ll all still have plenty of questions. If they lose both and head into another difficult stretch at 1-6, then I’ll be ready to panic over what could quickly become a disastrous and inescapable start to the season.
Suffice to say, these next couple of games will be big. For now, though, things aren’t as bad as they seem, especially if Lowry returns sooner than expected.
Raptors guard Kyle Lowry will be a game-time decision vs the 76ers Saturday. thesco.re/SAzPdf
— The Score (@theScore) November 9, 2012