5. Toronto Raptors
Even though the Raptors set a franchise record with 59 wins this season, questions linger about them heading into the playoffs. Fair or not, their previous postseason performances will be held against them until they prove things are different this time around.
After the Cavaliers swept them in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last spring, the Raptors overhauled their offense, focusing more on ball movement and less on isolations. Between that and increased production from their bench, they became far more predictable on offense, as stopping them was no longer as simple as shutting down Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and daring role players to shoot.
Whether that style of play will translate to the playoffs is anyone’s guess. After all, most teams shorten their rotations heading into the postseason, so Toronto’s bench mob may find itself going up against other teams’ starters far more than usual.
“Why change this because some rulebook somewhere?” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey asked reporters in early March in reference to shortening his rotation. “If you find it, please send it to me, because I have been on some teams where you keep the same rotation, and somebody somewhere in the back of a room says, ‘Well, playoffs, you have to shorten your rotation.’ So, we have to find out unless this group proves us wrong.”
DeRozan and Lowry are the only two Toronto players who averaged at least 30 minutes per game during the regular season, while a whopping 11 players averaged 15 or more minutes. The bench mob of Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, C.J. Miles, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl is one of the most potent five-man groups across the NBA, but again, the quality of competition they’re likely to face in the postseason will rise considerably.
If Toronto can defy playoff convention and stay afloat while using a 10- or 11-man rotation, Lowry and DeRozan will be far more well-rested than their star counterparts on the opposing side, perhaps giving the Raptors an advantage in a lengthy series. If the bench mob strategy falls apart, though, Toronto will be forced to recalibrate on the fly while losing one of the biggest factors in its franchise-best season.
Next: 4. Utah Jazz