Can Toronto Surprise Books Again?

Can Toronto Surprise Books Again?

Canada’s only NBA team, the Toronto Raptors, will begin their 2022-23 campaign on Wednesday night when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers, but will they be able to replicate the impressive numbers they posted last season?

Last year, Toronto exceeded the expectations of oddsmakers by cruising to a respectable 48-34 straight-up record and a 47-35 mark against the spread. Most oddsmakers had the team’s season win total somewhere between 36 and 38 wins, making Toronto one of the surprise teams in the Eastern Conference from a betting perspective.

Nobody expected Scottie Barnes, who opened the season with around +800 odds to win the Rookie of the Year Award, to be as good as he was. The only rookie to rank in the top five in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks, Barnes, the No. 4 pick in the 2021 draft, shockingly beat out Cavaliers big man Evan Mobley for the honor, handsomely paying off sports bettors.

People who wagered on the long Raptors’ odds to win the Atlantic Division and NBA title were disappointed, though, as the team finished third in the Atlantic Division and then later bowed out in the first round of the playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers. This year, the Raptors are running it back with the same core of players after a relatively quiet offseason. Let’s take a look at some of the futures odds for Toronto ahead of its regular season opener.

All odds in this article courtesy of FanDuel, unless otherwise noted.

Moderate expectations

Key additions: SF Otto Porter Jr., PF Juancho Hernangomez
Key subtractions: SG Svi Mykhailiuk, SF Yuta Watanabe, SF Isaac Bonga
Draft picks: C Christian Koloko (33rd)

The Raptors are seemingly constantly underestimated by oddsmakers, having gone over their projected season win total in 10 of the past 11 seasons. But oddsmakers are tightening up their lines for the Raptors this year after being way off on the team’s season win total a year ago.

FanDuel has posted a season win total of 46.5, suggesting the Raptors will post a nearly identical record as last year. Toronto has -250 odds to make the playoffs, +130 odds to make the Eastern Conference play-in tournament, +4600 odds to win the NBA title, +2100 odds to win the Eastern Conference, and +850 odds to win the Atlantic Division.

The Raptors have hit the over on their projected win total in FIVE out of the last SIX seasons!

With this year’s total set at 46.5 on @FanDuelCanada, will Toronto manage to hit the over yet again? @chengwesley breaks it all down:

— TSN EDGE (@TSN_Edge) October 18, 2022

In an Aug. 15 press release, Caesars revealed that Toronto was the only team whose win total had increased from its opening number to that point, swinging from 45.5 to 46.5 wins due to action on the over.

The Raptors’ 48 wins was enough to finish a solid fifth in the Eastern Conference standings behind the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, and Philadelphia 76ers last year. Those four teams all have higher projected season win totals than the Raptors this year, as do the Brooklyn Nets (51.5 wins) and Cleveland Cavaliers (47.5), which suggests Toronto is a playoff bubble team in the East.

As of Tuesday morning at BetMGM, 3.5% of tickets and 4.9% of the handle were on the Raptors to win the NBA title, while 6.9% of tickets and 13.9% of the handle were on Toronto to win the Eastern Conference.

One of the reasons the Raptors may have caught the league off guard last season was due to the quirky lineup head coach Nick Nurse deployed for much of the season. And it looks like this year’s roster is constructed pretty much the same way.

Of the 15 players most likely to make the opening day roster, only rookie center Koloko is taller than 6-foot-9, but nine players stand either 6-foot-8 or 6-foot-9, and the 6-foot-7 OG Anunoby plays bigger than his stature. The Raptors often played without a conventional center for much of last season, and the unorthodox strategy featuring a crew of mobile, lengthy defenders was effective.

Toronto had the ninth-best defensive team rating last year (109.9) and held opponents to just 45.1 points in the paint per game, which ranked seventh in the NBA. The Raptors also averaged nine steals per game, the second-best mark in the league.

The team’s intense pressure on defense earned high praise from 76ers guard James Harden following Philadelphia’s opening-round series playoff win over the Raptors in six games last season.

”That was one of the toughest series I’ve played in just because of their switching and their athleticism, their length,” Harden said about Toronto’s lineup. ”They throw different defenses at you, box and ones and zones. They just mess up the game.”

Success defensively again this year will likely depend on Nurse’s ability to continually evolve his players and come up with new schemes. With much of the roster unchanged, defense will once again be the focus of the team.

Players in potential contract years

A common handicapping strategy in any sport is to bet on players entering the final year of their current contracts to put up massive statistics when considering year-long player props.

Both point guard Fred VanVleet and guard Gary Trent Jr. have player options they’ll likely decline for next season to become free agents, which means they’ll have extra motivation to put up big numbers in order to land big contracts next summer. Of course, both players could still sign contract extensions to remain in Toronto.

Fred VanVleet won’t be talking publicly about his contract: “I can give you a cliche answer: I love the Raptors, I love playing here. I love Masai & Bobby & Mr. Tanenbaum, & coach Nick & all my teammates … our focus is on the Cavaliers & starting off the season on a good note.

— Michael Grange (@michaelgrange) October 17, 2022

Following the departure of franchise point guard Kyle Lowry, VanVleet blossomed into an All-Star last season, posting averages of 20.3 points per game, 6.7 assists per game, and 37.9 minutes per game. The 28-year-old logged some heavy minutes, which resulted in nagging hip and knee injuries following the All-Star break that ultimately pulled down his stats.

Trent Jr. is one of the team’s best shooters (41.4% field goal percentage,  38.3% 3-point field goal percentage, 85.3% free-throw percentage) and he’s sneaky quick on the defensive end of the floor. In fact, both VanVleet (+1800) and Trent Jr. (+1800) have great value as longshots to lead the league in steals per game this season. The duo finished in a tie for sixth in the league (each with 1.7 steals per game) last season and should log heavy minutes for the Raptors once again.

As far as other season leaders props go, it’s unlikely any other Toronto players will excel in any particular statistical category.

Pascal Siakam, the team’s top scorer (22.8 points per game) and rebounder (8.5 per game) a season ago, has long +13000 odds to be named league MVP, and even longer odds to be the NBA’s top scorer (+25000). And despite the team’s defensive prowess, there isn’t a single player on the roster with reasonably short Defensive Player of the Year odds, with Barnes and Anunoby priced at +11000 and +12000, respectively.

Photo: Perry Nelson/USA TODAY

Author: Ryan Gonzales