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The quarter mark of the NBA season has officially arrived and yet there doesn't seem to be much clarity for the Toronto Raptors. What, for example, does this team look like healthy or at least with the core group intact? Would an answer to that question be too much to ask?

The early part of the season for Toronto has been plagued by injuries. It's not an excuse, per se, injuries happen to every team every year. But there's been a constant churning of the roster with essentially every member of the core missing time. And so, as you'd expect, the Raptors have been up and down this year. They have yet to find chemistry defensively and it's cost them.

"I think we've played some tremendous basketball at times, I think, again, we've had a lot of bodies in and out — which, we've gotta solve that," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said Friday. "I don't know how we solve it, but we've just gotta hope the ball bounces a little better our way on that front. And, again, I think if we get into a situation where we're looking people eye-to-eye our defense is much better. So we've shown we can play some really good defense and we've shown if we're not engaged fully that we can not be so good defensively as well."

Defensive Struggles

Toronto's defense has been the biggest disappointment so far this season. After a hot start to the year, the Raptors have fallen to 27 in Defensive Rating and that's not just bad luck. The defensive rebounding has been a disaster, 27th in the NBA, and it's led to opposing teams racking up 14.8 second-chance points per game, the third most in the league. 

Making matters worse, the Raptors are giving up more corner three-point attempts than any other team in the league and have suddenly become porous on the interior. While their ability to force turnovers has still been impressive, opponents have consistently killed Toronto by moving the ball, finding open shooters, and getting put-back chances.

"I’m always talking about connectivity and that defense has to be connected and I think we lose a little bit of that and some of that’s just, I don’t want to say chemistry, but it’s different people in and out in different positions and different stuff happening kind of continually, it makes that hard to get that chemistry and connectivity," Nurse said.

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Offensive Surprises

For as bad as the defense has been, the offense has surprisingly kept the Raptors afloat this year. They rank 12 in the league in Offensive Rating and while that's not very good by any means, it's much better than expected coming into the season.

Most of that success has come from the Raptors' unwavering pursuit of offensive rebounds, for which they rank atop the NBA, and their ability to stay out of their half-court offense which has continued to struggle this season. Only 75% of Toronto's offensive possessions have come in the half-court this year, the lowest in the NBA. Even though the Raptors' transition offense hasn't been particularly productive this year, a bad transition offense is still far more efficient than even  the very best half-court offense.

What's Next?

The Raptors are going to be at home for the next little while with 17 of their next 20 games coming at the friendly confines of Scotiabank Arena. It's a chance for Toronto — who has somehow gone 2-6 at home this year — to get right, pile up some wins before the midway point of the season.

If the core can ever get healthy at the same time, the next few weeks will be very telling. It should answer an important question: Are the Raptors closer to a middle-of-the-pack Eastern Conference team or is another year in the lottery and a more drawn-out rebuild approaching?

Further Reading

Fred VanVleet shows his value to a young Raptors team in loss to Pacers

Yuta Watanabe shows why he'll have a spot in the Raptors' rotation

It's the easy stuff that's paying dividends for Precious Achiuwa