Through 25 games, the Toronto Raptors have the best record in the NBA and are off to the best start in franchise history.
The former matters far more than the latter for a team that's spent the last several seasons breaking franchise records and wracking up regular season wins. Looking inward is no longer the barometer for success as the Raptors have raised expectations and started thinking much bigger.
So at 20-5, do the Raptors fit the profile of a team that can win the whole thing?
In taking a look at the last 25 NBA champions through 25 games, we can develop a better sense for how far along Toronto looks heading into the middle third of the season.
What does a 20-5 record mean?
Let's get one thing out of the way.
Having the best record 25 games into the season doesn't mean a whole lot. This isn't rocket science: there's a long ways to go.
In looking through recent history, only 10 of the last 25 eventual champions had the NBA's best record at this point in the season.
Last year's Warriors, all three of LeBron James's title teams, four of the five San Antonio teams to win it... just some of the examples of teams that did not have the NBA's best record 25 games into the season that would go on to win it all.
The good news for Raptors fans, however, is that this team is right on schedule. On average, eventual champions over the last 25 years have had a 19-6 record through 25 games.
|Through 25 Games|
Of course, there's far more to a team's overall profile that merely wins and losses. Would one shot at the buzzer to swing one game in November really change your overall perception of that team? Probably not.
Overall scoring margin
It's been proven time and again that scoring margin - not overall W-L - is actually a better indicator of how good a team truly is.
Although the Raptors have the league's best record, they have the second-best scoring margin at +8.3, behind the Bucks who are outscoring teams by an average of 10.1 points per game. By this measure, the Raptors are closer to third (Thunder, +7.6) than they are to first.
While that might temper your expectations, the good news once again for Raptors fans is that based on scoring margin, Toronto still fits the profile of a championship team.
Over the last 25 years, eventual title winners had an average scoring margin of +7.8 through 25 games.
Some teams that Toronto compares favorably to at this same stage?
Two of the three Shaq and Kobe's championship teams.
Michael Jordan's final championship team in 1997-98.
Both of Houston's back-to-back title-winning teams in the mid 90s.
It's easy to get swept up by the memory of the truly all-time teams like the last two Golden State squads, but the truth is those are more the exception than the norm.
What happens next?
After last week's overtime win over the two-time defending champions, Kyle Lowry was adamant that it was just another game. A back and forth with a reporter that harped on it being simply the 23rd game of an 82-game grind, the post-game exchange might be more significant than the win itself.
This isn't a team focused on winning 60 games. Or finishing with the best record in the East. Or making too much of anything that happens between now and at least May, if not June.
There's a different degree of focus for this group, even if it chooses to downplay the significance of the chase.
But just because the calendar might say November or December or January, doesn't make those games meaningless. Like it or not, championships can be won or lost in the margins, a product of playing Game 7 at home or on the road or dodging a bad match-up due to playoff seeding.
It's certainly early, but here's why winning games now matters for a team swinging for the fences:
- The Bucks are 4-5 on the road with a history of minimal success away from home.
- The 76ers are 13-1 at home an 4-7 on the road, the largest disparity in either conference.
- The Celtics will likely work themselves into form but come playoff time, will surely remember going 1-7 on the road in last year's postseason.
- Even the Warriors, who have shown resilience on the road in the playoffs and have seen almost everything, do not know what it's like to enter the Finals without home-court advantage.
There's real value in Toronto keeping up it's winning ways.
20-5 might not be a reason to celebrate, but it's certainly nothing to sneeze at either.