The Whiteboard is The Step Back’s daily basketball newsletter, covering the NBA, WNBA and more. Subscribe here to get it delivered to you via email each morning.After a disastrous 2-8 start, the Toronto Raptors are finally starting to look like the fringe contenders they were assumed to be at the start of the season. A 15-point pounding of the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night gives them nine wins in their last 14 games and four in their last five.That last five-game stretch has also coincided with the most efficient stretch of offense we’ve seen from them this season — an average of 123.5 points per 100 possessions. Admittedly, they’ve been running up the score against some of the worst defenses in the league — Brooklyn and Orlando (twice) but they desperately needed to get right and they’re finally there.This stretch includes Fred VanVleet’s outlier 54-point explosion but he’s not just riding a one-off hot streak. His 3-point shooting has actually been below average other than his 54-point game but he’s been relentless off the dribble, totaling 34 free throw attempts in the last five games.Pascal Siakam also seems to have shaken off whatever funk he was in to start the year, working his way out with increased aggressiveness. He’s driving slightly more often than he did early in the season but with much results. Over his last five games, 59 percent of his drives have produced a scoring opportunity — an assist, a shooting foul or a shot attempt for Siakam — compared to 50.8 percent in his first 16 games. It also helps that he’s been finishing better, shooting 65.2 percent on drives over his last five. And it’s worth noting that the Raptors have put this run together without OG Anunoby, one of their most consistently positive offensive players all season, who has been out with a calf strain.Can the Toronto Raptors push their way back towards the top of the Eastern Conference?The Raptors still have a long way to go but they’ve legitimately turned their season around in the past three weeks. They’re still below 0.500 but they’ve moved up eighth in the Eastern Conference. The problem is that most of the progression to the mean has come at the offensive end and their defense has largely still been a mess. Over the larger 14-game stretch in which they won nine games, they’ve still been allowing 111.7 points per 100 possessions which would rank 19th in the league if stretched across the entire season.Their defensive ceiling may ultimately be more of a limiting factor for the Raptors and this end is where the loss of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol is being really felt. Their interior defense has largely held up but by virtue of aggressive rotations that have often have given up a lot of corner 3-point attempts. Getting Anunoby back will help but even that and some positive development may not be enough to push the Raptors into the territory of a true contender — top-10 in offensive and defensive efficiency at both ends.Still, what could have been a lost season has been found.#OtherContentThe Jazz have surged to the top of the West with Rudy Gobert moving to the front of the Defensive Player of the Year race. Is it enough to win an NBA title?NBA highlights for sale on the blockchain? If you haven’t heard about it yet, NBA Top Shot seems like it’s about to become the next big thing.
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