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Setting The Pick – The Maddening Raptors

Pascal Siakam Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam - The Canadian Press

The inconsistency of this year’s Toronto Raptors is not only frustrating for fans but infuriating for bettors.

They’re 10-8-1 against the spread, 9-10 versus their game totals and 9-10 straight up.

It’s not as simple as beating bad teams and losing to good ones.

Toronto has had some impressive wins – Minnesota to open the season, Milwaukee to start November, and most recently Phoenix on a brutal back-to-back.

At the same time, they’ve gone through some befuddling losses and near disasters like the 23-point comeback win against the lowly Wizards.

Trying to identify rhyme and reason for how they operate on a nightly basis might require a PhD, but here’s an observation worth monitoring over the next few games.

Raptors points in the paint correlation

Across their 10 losses this season, Toronto has averaged 46 points in the paint per game.

In their nine victories, that number jumps up to 60 per game, a 33 per cent lift.

This week’s back-to-back against Brooklyn and Phoenix is the perfect example to paint this picture.

While these two teams are in different tiers, they own a similar defensive rating (Phoenix – 113.9, Brooklyn – 115.8).

Against the Nets, a team with a comparable win total to Toronto, they encountered Nic Claxton, who was a top-five rim protector last season.

No Raptor scored above 20 points and Claxton ended the night with four blocks. Toronto lost the game by 12.

The next day against Phoenix, Toronto went against two of the league’s elite playmakers in Kevin Durant and Devin Booker but had the opportunity to attack Jusuf Nurkic in the paint, a historically mediocre defender.

Jakob Poeltl finished 8-for-9 from the field, Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes both scored 20-plus points and combined for 25 field-goal attempts in the paint (69 per cent of their shots).

It doesn’t directly explain the win, but shooting 38.6 per cent versus Brooklyn as opposed to 45.2 per cent against the Suns made a big difference.

At the end of the day, the NBA is a matchup-based league, and the strengths of Toronto’s offence works better against certain opponents regardless of overall quality.

With the exception of an early season loss to Portland, every team that has beaten the Raptors sits in the top-half of opponent shooting percentage at the rim.

Toronto has faced a bottom-10 rim protection team four times, excluding Portland, and won all four games.

Evaluating the offensive initiators of this team, getting to the paint is critical.

Dennis Schroder brings an element of speed that Fred VanVleet didn’t have last year as Toronto’s point guard.

Siakam is at his best when he can shake off his defender and slither into the paint.

But when the Raps face teams that dare them to shoot from deep, their offence tends to struggle.

Toronto owns the NBA’s fourth-worst shooting percentage from three-point land.

Looking their upcoming schedule, they run into two stout paint defenders in Mitchell Robinson and Bam Adebayo.

I’d consider looking at the under for Toronto’s team total in those two games and pray their defence matches up.

The Hornets welcome in Toronto next Friday and hypothetically are a favourable matchup for the Raps.

But don’t forget, it’s the Raptors. Anything can happen with these guys.

Coach of the year frontrunners

Several up-and-coming teams have made a solid first impression as we approach the quarter-mark of the NBA season.

While Boston, Denver and Milwaukee remain the core title favourites, three unexpected teams in Minnesota, Orlando and Oklahoma City find themselves in the top-three of their respective conferences.

Those three teams are all exceeding preseason expectations and seem capable of sustained success.

As bettors, how do we take advantage?

You can certainly take a stab at them to win their divisions or beat their adjusted win totals, but Coach of the Year is where I’d direct your attention.

On FanDuel, these are the current front-runners:

Jamahl Mosley +400
Mark Daigneault +400
Chris Finch +600

This award is peculiar in the sense that voters don’t actually have any means of evaluating the quality of their coaching.

They’re not in the huddles or the locker rooms, so how do they know if these coaches are good?

More often than not, the Red Auerbach Trophy gets handed out to a coach whose team significantly outperforms the previous season.

Last year’s winner, Mike Brown, led the Kings from a 30-win campaign in 2021-22 to a 48-34 record last season.

Two years ago, Monty Williams and the Suns improved by 13 wins, finishing with a 64-18 record, eight more than the next closest team.

While there’s an element of narrative that comes with COTY voting, a team’s jump in wins ultimately makes this award most years. Let’s use FanDuel’s preseason win totals as a litmus test for where the favourites stand.

Preseason win totals:

Orlando – 37.5 wins
Oklahoma City – 44.5 wins
Minnesota – 44.5 wins

Current pace:

Orlando – 59.2 wins
Oklahoma City – 54.7 wins
Minnesota – 63.8 wins

When betting this award, it’s all about projecting which overachievers can sustain.

Should the award voting happen today, I’d give the nod to the Magic, who only won 34 games last season and now sit second in the East.

They’re on an eight-game win streak, longest in the NBA, and have done so without two of their five starters healthy.

Mosley has them playing defence at an elite level – they’re currently third in defensive rating after finishing 18th last season.

Knockout stage considerations

If you’ve read the previous two editions of this article, you’ll recall that I’ve been banging the drum for longshots in the In-Season Tournament.

Yes, Boston miraculously beat the odds and ended up winning East Group C, but championship contenders like Denver and Philadelphia are officially out of the mix.

Of the remaining eight teams, half of them sit outside the top-10 in odds to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy on FanDuel.

My general theory on the inaugural NBA Cup is that the favourites don’t deserve the same credit as they would over a seven-game series.

We are now in the single-elimination stage of the tournament – anything can happen.

Boston and Milwaukee are the favourites but one of them will be eliminated before Dec. 9.

If I had to recommend a play on who wins this thing today, I’d suggest picking one team from the West you favour.

All four of them have much better payouts than the two East teams above, and in one final game, the outcome should be more 50-50 than a standard playoff series.