The Toronto Raptors are just a few weeks into a new season, but already things are taking shape. Here are five extremely early takeaways for the team.
1) Kyle Lowry's demise was greatly exaggerated
The early season hot takes about Lowry have been crazy, and according to some on NBA Twitter, the Raps franchise player was washed up through four games. Lowry bounced back with an 11 point/10 rebound/12 assist triple-double in a win against the Lakers and was instrumental with a 19/10/6 in Toronto's win versus Portland. Lowry has played like an elite point guard for the past four seasons, so there could very well be a dip in his play at the age of 31. However, it's unwise to make such rash judgment on a player of his caliber so early in the season.
2) The defense is growing
Through five games, Toronto had the 5th-best defensive rating in the league (97.4 RTG), and followed it up by holding the Blazers to 85 points on Monday. Portland came into the game with the 3rd-best offense in the league (109.9 RTG), and the Raptors completely shut them down. The Blazers hit one field goal in the 2nd quarter, and it came on a crusty put-back layup with 5 seconds left! Watching OG Anunoby defend a big boy like Caleb Swanigan on the block and then corral a shifty guard like Damien Lillard on the perimeter was a promising sight. Having a Swiss-Army knife of a defender is a tool that can't be understated, and it says a lot that Dwane Casey trusted OG to play crunch time minutes despite shooting 0-for-5 from downtown. Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam are mobile big men who look comfortable playing outside of the paint. Despite offensive struggles, Norm Powell and Delon Wright have competed on defense. It's still early, but the youngsters are playing an essential role in the team's defensive identity.
3) Business as usual
His style of play makes him a polarizing player in Raptorland, but if anything, Demar DeRozan is consistent in his game. DD still doesn't shoot threes, and his defense can is questionable, but he is scoring consistently from the field and free throw line (23.4 PPG on 48% FG, 80% FT). He set the tone in Portland and emptied the clip for 15 points in the opening quarter. With the way this Raptor team is constructed, they will need him to be that guy, especially on the road.
4) Still, can't beat the elite
Last year the Raptors went 0-for-11 against the NBA's elite teams in the playoffs and regular season (CLE/GSW/SA), and that trend has continued. The Spurs sans-Kawhi bullied the Raps with their size and discipline in a 101-07 home win and blew a late-lead at Oracle against the Dubs. What made the loss to the Warriors was particularly crushing was Toronto blowing a 5-point lead in the final two minutes. Losing close games to teams of that pedigree is no shame, but at a certain point, you have to win those to get into the conversation of an elite squad.
5) Surviving an early storm
When the NBA schedule came out, it was clear the Raps would faces tests early. A six-game, nearly two-week adventure to some of the toughest barns in the West is a quick way to test a team's mettle, and at worst Toronto is coming home a .500 team with arguably the toughest stretch of its schedule done. Sitting at 4-2 with games still to play against Denver and Utah, the team has handled it's business early. The season is long, but winning early never hurts and is always helpful to avoid burning out during the grind.