The Toronto Raptors appear to be stuck in no man's land.
It's hard to look at Toronto's recent injury report and not question the organization's desire to make the playoffs this season. Both Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam have missed multiple games rarely with "rest," and fellow starter OG Anunoby was initially scheduled to miss Friday's game with "rest" before his status was later changed to right knee swelling just hours before the game. While there are some legitimate reasons for these players to be missing games, it seems a little too convenient that almost all of Toronto's best players are missing times just as the playoff chance is really heating up.
If the season ended on Saturday, the Raptors would be in the play-in tournament and they'd open their playoffs with a win-or-go-home game against the Indiana Pacers. If Toronto knocked off Indiana, the Raptors would advance to play the loser of the Miami Heat-Charlotte Hornets game. It's quite possible Toronto could string together two wins and sneak into the playoffs as the eighth seed with a chance to play either the Philadelphia 76ers or Brookyln Nets. While the Raptors have looked good occasionally against the NBA's top teams, a playoff series against the Eastern Conference's best might not last very long.
At the same time, however, the Raptors also have a 13.9% chance at a top-four pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and a 3% chance at the No. 1 pick and the right to draft Cade Cunningham, the presumed top pick in this year's draft. Those lottery odds could have been a lot higher if Toronto was a little bit better at tanking. Had the Raptors lost three recent games against the Orlando Magic, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Washington Wizards things would look very, very different these days. Instead of being 23-34 with a 13.9% chance at a top-four pick, the Raptors could be 20-37, sitting pretty with a 42.1% chance of winning a top-four pick and just 0.5 games back of the Magic for the fourth-best odds and a 48.1% chance at of landing a top-four pick.
The problem for Toronto is their bench players are making the most of their extra playing time lately. They've taken advantage of this opportunity to play without Lowry, Siakam, and Anunoby, and the Raptors have knocked off some teams that appear to be just a little bit better at this tanking thing.
A playoff win or two down the road might be nice, but if Toronto is bounced from the play-in tournament early or misses the dance completely, those extra ping pong balls the Raptors missed out on might come back to haunt Toronto when the lottery machine is flicked on in June.