Raptors’ 2021 NBA Championship odds continue to slip
Basketball is a game of adjustments, and no team has had to make more of them this season than the Toronto Raptors.
Not only are the Raptors playing their "home" games 1,342 miles from Toronto, but they’re doing so without Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, a pair of pivots who fled for greener pastures in the offseason. Their departure, combined with the loss of Kawhi Leonard the year before, has led to a dire reversal of fortune for the 2019-20 Atlantic Division champs, who began the year by losing six of their first seven games.
The Raptors’ fall from grace is reflected in their 2021 NBA Championship odds, which have slipped precariously from +2500 on Jan. 6 to +4500 on Jan. 20.
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Let’s examine three key reasons why the Raptors are reeling.
The Raptors didn’t restock the cupboards
The Raptors ultimately did the right thing by not overpaying for Gasol and Ibaka, both of whom are on the wrong side of 30. Unfortunately their long-term financial prudence has had devastating short-term implications as Toronto has been getting pulverized in the paint. The Raptors rank 25th in opponent second chance points and defensive rebounding percentage, and have done everything but roll out a red carpet for rival big men.
To say that Gasol and Ibaka’s replacements have been duds would be putting it mildly. Aron Baynes and Alex Len are averaging 6.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks per game combined. No, that’s not a misprint. The two centers have been so underwhelming that you’re far more likely to spot a Sasquatch than you are to see Baynes and Len in crunch time.
Siakam has been slumping
Toronto’s centers aren’t the only ones who have underperformed this season. Pascal Siakam has also struggled to live up to expectations one year after posting career highs in points, rebounds, and assists and making his first All-Star team.
"Spicy P" has been limited to 10 points or less twice this season, and showed his frustration on Dec. 29 when he stormed off the court with 25.6 seconds remaining in a disheartening loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. That outburst resulted in Siakam being benched for Toronto’s subsequent game on New Year’s Eve.
Siakam is too talented to experience a season-long slump, but it’s been troubling watching him transform from a low-maintenance, team-first player into an inefficient high-volume chucker.
Toronto’s defense has been abysmal
A year ago, Toronto led the league in opponent scoring at 106.5 points per game. This season, the Raptors have slipped to 17th place at 110.7. Given the fact that Nick Nurse’s squad has already lost three games by four points or less, that 4.2-point differential is significant.
Forward OG Anunoby is one of many Raptors who has admitted the team needs to clamp down defensively. "Sometimes we don’t play hard on defense," he said. "We just (need to) keep our focus for a whole 48 minutes."
Raptors facing uphill climb
The good news for Toronto (yes, there is a little bit of that) is that the Raptors showed signs of life in recent wins over the Charlotte Hornets and Dallas Mavericks. "Canada's team" still has a championship DNA, but it simply hasn’t done enough to retool in the wake of major defections.
Given the Nets’ splashy acquisition of James Harden and Kemba Walker’s return in Boston, Toronto remains a longshot to win it’s own division, yet alone another NBA championship.