The Raptors have given their fans a roller-coaster ride to start the season. The team holds a 7-3 record over their first ten games, placing them in a four-way tie for 2nd in the Eastern Conference. With the loss of Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard many analysts believed the Raptors would simply fall to the wayside. The lack of wing depth and general star power on the roster was to be extremely problematic and Pascal Siakam was not projected to make yet another big leap.

Siakam’s Ascension

The NBA’s reigning Most Improved Player showed flashes of his greatness last season as he improved across the board earning him respect league-wide. Having him be the feature offensive player on a dynamic team with a plethora of floor-spacers has only allowed him the opportunity to continue to improve. Siakam has increased his production, averaging team highs in points and rebounds with 26.3 and 9.5 respectively, while dishing out 3.9 assists and also improving his free throw shooting to 85.2 percent. His ascension is a significant reason why the Raptors have been in all of their games this season. The attention he demands on and off the ball creates opportunities for his teammates as well. His driving towards the rim forces opposing defences to converge inwards, leaving Siakam’s teammates open for shots on the perimeter. This active style of play is a significant reason for the Raptors shooting an elite 39.4% from behind the arc, ranking them second in the league.

Heavy Minutes 

Siakam’s improved production is definitely thanks to his increase in minutes. 36.2 minutes per game has him ranking fourth when compared to all players in the league. Kyle Lowry ranks just below him at sixth while Fred VanVleet actually ranks above him in second with 38.2 minutes per game. Not only are the Raptors the only team with three players in the top ten in minutes played, but they stand alone as the only team with three players in the top thirty. The NBA season is an arduous grind and as impressive as the team has been, exhaustion is a very real thing that the team risks facing if this trend continues.

The Injury Bug

The injury bug has hit the Raptors hard to start the season. Ten games in and the Raptors are short four key rotation pieces. Patrick McCaw underwent knee surgery after playing two games this season and was joined by Kyle Lowry (fractured left-thumb) and Serge Ibaka (sprained right ankle) after they got injured against the New Orleans Pelicans in the eighth game of the season. OG Anunoby is also out indefinitely after being poked in the eye against the Los Angeles Clippers. While this puts even more pressure on guys like Siakam and VanVleet, bench players like Terence Davis, Matt Thomas, Chris Boucher, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have all stepped up on this west coast trip.

Elite Defense

Nick Nurse has ensured his rotations have players that are willing to buy-in to the team’s established defensive mindset and it has proven to be fruitful this season. The defensive system the Raptors had in place last year has only improved this season, despite having lost both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. The effort on the less glamorous side of the ball can only be described as intense, scrappy and effective. The team’s hustle has been phenomenal. Their 68.5 contested shots rank third in the league and they are leading the NBA by having the lowest opposing field goal percentage at the rim at 51%. They also lead the league with recovering loose balls on the defensive end. This defence only improves their offence as those loose balls convert to a league leading 22.3 fast break points per game. They do this while only allowing an average of 11.9 fast break points from their opponent. Nurse has been candid with the style of play he wants from his team and the players have delivered thus far.

The Raptors have been extremely impressive so far this season, proving doubters wrong and they are playing with what can only be described as championship level pedigree.

The Raptors continue their west-coast swing tonight at 10:00 PM/EST against Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers as they look to get back in the win column.