The playoffs are upon us and with that comes questions for all teams involved.
The defending champion Toronto Raptors are no different.
Finally healthy and ready for a title defence, NBA.com's Carlan Gay, Scott Rafferty and Gil McGregor took a look at the biggest questions for the Raptors this postseason.
Can the offence be effective in the halfcourt?
We know the Raptors have the personnel to slow down the best teams in the league. It's on offence where I still have some concerns.
On the season, the Raptors rank 13th in the league in offensive efficiency, wedged between the Phoenix Suns and Oklahoma City Thunder. They've been dynamite in transition - no team scores more points than they do in the open court and they rank in the 93rd percentile in efficiency on those plays - but they've struggled to score consistently when the game slows down. As Blake Murphy of The Athletic noted, Synergy Sports had the Raptors ranked 16th in the league in points per halfcourt possession heading into the season restart.
In other words: Toronto is perhaps the best team in the league at turning missed shots and turnovers into quick points, but their offence is around league average when the game slows down.
Not that you ever want to overreact to one game (especially one that didn't have much bearing on seeding or anything), but that came to a head in Toronto's recent loss to the Boston Celtics. The Celtics, who are one of the best teams in the league at limiting transition opportunities, were able to prevent the Raptors from getting out on the break, forcing them more into their halfcourt offence. The Raptors struggled as a result, scoring only 37 points in the first half, by which point the game was all but over.
The player to watch is Pascal Siakam. While the Raptors aren't a one-man team, Siakam is their most versatile scorer, capable of scoring as both the ball handler and screener in pick-and-rolls, in the post and in isolation. His efficiency on those plays has wavered throughout the season, but he's Toronto's best hope at solving some of their halfcourt woes in the postseason.
- Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles)
Can the role players find their roles?
The Raptors have had to have the next man up mentality all season long. We know the stat, we've heard it a million times - the fifth-most games lost to injury in the league.
Now that the Raptors are healthy, the assumption has been that those who have been asked to step up all year will be able to provide the same type of impact in their normal rotational spot. That hasn't been the case so far in Orlando.
Serge Ibaka, Terence Davis and Norman Powell have all seen dips in their play now that they're each back coming off the bench exclusively. They've seemed to struggle to get in the flow of games coming off the pine. When they were asked at different points of the season to step up and start, all of their numbers took large leaps.
Finding that rhythm with 10 fewer minutes has been tough on all three of them. The solution, however, isn't to start them, as the starting lineup should stay intact. But it will be on Ibaka, Powell and to a lesser extent Davis to prove they can find ways to impact the game as reserves.
- Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay)
Is Pascal Siakam ready to be the guy in a playoff series?
I know, this question has been asked a number of times, which is probably a reflection of how pressing it truly is.
Pascal Siakam has been great this season, making another leap in his development to average career-highs across the board with 23.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game on .454/.359/.801 shooting splits.
As great as he's been, there have still been some concerns surrounding some of his struggles against some of the league's better teams, more specifically playoff teams in the East.
The playoffs are about game planning and adjustments and, for the first time in his career, Siakam will be the No. 1 option opposing teams scheme and game plan to shut down over the course of a seven-game series. He experienced it in spots last postseason but largely benefitted from Kawhi Leonard being the No. 1 guy that defences keyed in on.
As we saw with Kawhi, sometimes those schemes and game plans don't matter - he was able to make plays and get crucial buckets despite what other teams tried to throw at him. Every championship team has a player capable of doing that, and that's the leap I'm looking for Pascal to take.
Seeing how he's only two years removed from being the ninth man in the Raptors rotation, I think Siakam is more than capable of eventually becoming that guy. Will it happen as soon as this year? That remains to be seen.
If not him, then who else? As Scott said above, he's by far the team's most versatile scorer.
- Gil McGregor (@GMcGregor21)
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