In February, the Toronto Raptors were on the brink of collapse, sitting seven games below .500 and aggressively shopping franchise cornerstones OG Anunoby, Fred Van Vleet and Pascal Siakam. It was bleak—Nick Nurse, once the consensus top tactician in basketball, looked like he'd lost control of the team; the roster, masterminded by Masai Ujiri, contained too many redundant and poor-fitting parts. But, at the deadline, Toronto curiously chose to trade for Jakob Poeltl and make a final desperate playoff push—and it's worked! Now sitting 39-39, the Raptors have clinched a play-in tournament bid and have put the top teams in the East on high alert.
“”I always say that once we get into the playoffs,” Pascal Siakam said during an interview on the Monday afternoon edition of SportsCenter on ESPN, “we can kind of make some noise and I don't think it would be fun for a lot of teams to play us.”
Since adding Poeltl, the Raptors have gone 13-8, scratching back to .500 for the first time since early December. With Poeltl on the court, the Raptors outscore opponents by an eye popping 8.84 points per 100 possessions. For reference, when Poeltl is on the bench, the Raptors net rating sinks all the way down to -.27 points per 100 possessions.
Beyond just the arrival of Poeltl, the Raptors have sneakily been a pretty good team all year. Even at their lowest points, they maintained the point differential of an unlucky team rather than an outright bad one. In this sense, their net rating differential of +1.4 suggests that the Raptors are severely underseeded, ranking above the likes of the seventh-seeded Miami Heat and the sixth-seeded Brooklyn Nets.
To wit, Siakam remains one of the league's most underrated players. Despite averaging 24.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and a career-best 6.0 assists, he's barely on the fringe of the All-NBA discussion. Even so, Pascal Siakam is an outstanding player and is part of the reason why the Toronto Raptors could shock the world in the playoffs. After all, there's a very real possibility that the Raptors could have the best player and the best coach in any given series or play-in game, which alone would make them dangerous.