Raptors Play-In Dreams Suddenly Not So Far Fetched As They Are Poised In Reaching A Play-In Spot

The Toronto Raptors have won two consecutive games and now have a 10% probability of making the play-in tournament this season.

Training Camp 2.0: Toronto Raptors have crash course over three-day break

What is the play-in for?

Three years ago, around this time, the Toronto Raptors paused their season, shutting down Kyle Lowry and focusing on a top pick in what was then regarded as a strong 2021 NBA Draft class. As Raptors president Masai Ujiri later noted, pursuing a play-in berth and an unlikely playoff run was not worthwhile when a lottery pick might impact the organization’s destiny.

Whether or not you believe in the merits of tanking, the results of the so-called ‘Tampa Tank’ speak for themselves. Toronto jumped up the lottery into the top four and landed Scottie Barnes.

The Raptors now find themselves in a somewhat similar situation, albeit with a complicated first-round pick situation to navigate.

At 21-36, Toronto isn’t fooling anyone into thinking they’re real playoff candidates. The Raptors have the NBA’s seventh-worst record, and if the season ended today, they would have a 32% probability of acquiring a top-four pick. Given that the franchise owes a top-six protected pick to the San Antonio Spurs this season, any slot up or down the standings significantly alters the chances of maintaining or trading that pick.

Jumping the Memphis Grizzlies in the reverse standings, for example, would give the Raptors the sixth-worst record and a 45.8% chance of retaining their choice.

But a pair of wins over the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks during the All-Star break have pushed the team back to the fringes of the play-in conversation.

Toronto is just a half-game behind the Nets for the 11th position in the conference, and 3.5 games behind the Hawks for the 10th seed and a spot in the play-in tournament. That’s a large gap to overcome with only 25 games left, but it’s not impossible. Basketball-Reference, for example, gives the Raptors an 11% chance of qualifying for the play-in tournament.

“It’s very important,” Raptors coach Darko Rajaković said of pursuing a playoff position. “We want to go into every single game competing and trying to catch up for a play-in and try to make the playoffs, and to grow at the same time.”

For the time being, the Raptors will not shut it down. Sure, they will not favor short-term goals over long-term development, but the team’s goal is to complete. They understand that securing a play-in berth would be difficult, but the pursuit itself will be a valuable learning experience for Toronto’s young core.

And if it means sending the eighth or ninth pick to the Spurs this season, so be it. Toronto is willing to let fate determine what happens on lottery night.

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