The Toronto Raptors
I could not resist the comparison. At the same time, it makes sense. Just like the song from their most famous fan, the Raptors are a nice pleasant team and subtly entertaining to watch. They execute well. They have two stars surrounded by competent professional players. The Raptors are very good. However, at the end of the season and five years from now, this version of the Raptors will likely be forgotten because just like nice guys, they are essentially unmemorable and will not win anything of significance.
Drake's "Hold On, We're Going Home," is a very good pop song. It can be both classified as a mellow club jam and a yacht rock song in modern R&B disguise. The heavily programmed production is perfect, simple with subtle melodies that not too dumbed down. It is lite-sophistication without pretensions. Drake's talk-singing work, as does the background vocals and the ending keyboard lines. The song is definitely "nice," but there is nothing memorable, classic, or great about it -- once you get pass the novelty of Drake executing a pop/yacht rock song for youngish hip-hop fans. Five years from now, since everything moves at warp speed these days, people may say, "That was a cool song," or "I like that track, it was nice." But no one will mistake it for a classic. Just as you have to credit Drake and his producers for creating the song, I give credit to Raptors GM Masai Ujiri for constructing a contender out of the mess that former GM Bryan Colangelo made even if the team, as constructed, will not make the Conference Finals.
You may ask how can one compare a very good NBA team to a disposable pop song. They have beaten some very good teams, including the Clippers. Of course they did. This is equivalent to a top 50 tennis player, beating Nadal, Federer, Djokovic or Murray in a best of 3 sets, non-Grand Slam match. A top 50 professional tennis player would kill any top college tennis player and are just a few lucky shots or sports psychologist sessions from beating top ten players about half of the time. Any team besides the bottom five or six in the NBA can beat another team on any given night in a one game setting. There are variables like rest, injuries, motivation, pacing and scheduling involved. And these are NBA Players, the best basketball players in the world, 50 times better than good college basketball players and generally 500 times better than the best player you saw in your high school. Very good teams with NBA Players on them will beat championship contenders in a one game setting. This does not mean the Raptors can win two rounds in the Playoffs involving seven game series. They won't.
As common sense as it sounds, you need superstars or at least three stars to win an NBA title or to get to an NBA Finals. A superstar or a group of stars (more than two) are the difference between winning and losing in a seven game series with better scouting and more rest days. That is why the Bulls and the resurgent new look Cavaliers are the favorites in the Eastern Conference. That is why the Grizzlies, Clippers, Rockets, Spurs, and Trail Blazers are still championship contenders. Most of these aforementioned teams have at least one superstar, some have two and the Spurs have four stars. The two teams lightest on superstar/star power to win a title in recent years -- the 2011 Mavericks and the 2004 Pistons -- had amazingly innovative coaching (Mavs) and a cohesive identity and incredible defense. (The Mavericks also had one superstar and surrounded him with perfect pieces.) The Hawks appear to have an innovative free flowing offense and the Wizards have a very good defense and a unique identity. The Raptors are an above average offensive team, and 19th in defensive efficiency with nothing that really stand out.
In my opinion, for a season or a team to be memorable in a positive light, the team has to reach at least the Conference Finals. That is why I am rooting for the Clippers to get to that round this year. (Last year was memorable, but it was memorable for the Sterling scandal, the meltdown/bad officiating in game 5 against OKC, and game 7 against Golden State, in a series that would have been won in 5 or 6 without the scandal.) The Raptors are a very good team. They are nice like the guys women age 20 to 28 do not want to date, because at the end of the day, the current Toronto Raptors will not win anything of significance and they are just not memorable.
Raptors' Watchability Essay
The Raptors are a skilled team who are top 5 in offensive efficiency, even if they are in the bottom half of the league in terms of pace. Watching the diminutive Kyle Lowry take over a game is always entertaining, as is DeMar DeRozan's old school mid-range and getting to the foul line game. DeRozan has not been himself this year due to injuries but a healthy DeRozan is a sight to behold for those who misses the late 80s and early 1990s NBA. Watch for the random Terrence Ross 51 point game, it will happen again. (Probably not, okay, maybe a Terrence Ross 35 or 40 point game.) Greivis Vasquez and his overconfidence will scorch your team for 18 or 21 points and make 4 out of 6 threes, and then you check the box scores in his next two games and he goes 2 for 10, and 0 for 6 in threes in each game. That is why he is a back up point guard. Patrick Patterson is a professional shooter. The stretch four's efficiency is beautifully boring. James Johnson is equally effective, but on the other end of the spectrum. I always tune in to see if the neck tattooed martial artist will do anything crazy. The Raptors are full of entertaining characters whether you want subtlety or overconfidence or just plain crazy. They also have a mini-Jamal Crawford in Lou Williams, and lastly, watch Chuck Hayes and Tyler Hansbrough before the NBA start phasing out non-shooting undersized power forwards and centers.
Paul Tee's Prognosis
The Raptors are a classic Conference Semi-finals team. They have two stars, Lowry and DeRozan, who are surrounded by a bunch of very good players. The Raptors are young enough to be Eastern Conference contenders for years, whether they can win the Eastern Conference with their current roster is the key question. The Cavaliers and Bulls have superstars. The Wizards play a rough and tumble style and have one of the best passing point guards in the league. The Hawks are trying to copy the Spurs. I can see the Raptors beating the Hawks in a seven game series, but I do not see them winning a series against the other top teams in the East's upper echelon. They need one superstar to join the team which is not likely since superstars tend to leave Toronto instead of clamoring to got there in free agency. Perhaps, more likely, they need two of their players to develop into star level players to join Lowry and DeRozan. Jonas Valanciunas could be the guy, but it looks like he is about two or three years away. We are all waiting for Terrence Ross to be an 18 points per game scorer and a lock down defender, but maybe that will never happened. At worse, the Raptors will make the conference semi-finals every year for the next five years. With some luck, the right match up and maybe a key injury to a rival, the Raptors will make the conference finals two or three years from now toward the end of Kyle Lowry's prime.