Something wacky and unexpected has happened this basketball season.

A Raptors team expected to be in the hunt for Andrew Wiggins and the five or six other elite prospects in this summer’s super-draft both before the season and following the trade of Rudy Gay, instead has taken off like a rocket in the opposite direction.

Instead of the smoke and ashes of a blown-up roster and a torpedoed season, there’s just smoke and exhaust fumes from the good ship Raptor rising into the stratosphere.

What gives? Rudy Gay was Toronto’s leading scorer last season, No. 2 this year and the closest thing to an all-star the franchise had known since Chris Bosh took his talents to South Beach. Don’t you need top skill to succeed in the NBA?

Well, sure, but Gay was neither a top talent or a superb fit here. Instead, he was sabotaging his own game and value by playing a historically selfish brand of ball marked by massive turnover numbers and horrid shooting accuracy. He cared about his teammates, just not on the court where he was content to shoot the Raptors in — but mostly out — of contests.

Once Gay was moved for a solid backup point guard in Greivis Vasquez, an intriguing young forward in Patrick Patterson and a pair of veterans past their prime in John Salmons and Chuck Hayes, the thinking was the team would briefly improve, largely because of addition by subtraction.

Everybody was waiting for the other shoe to drop, the trade of Kyle Lowry or others elsewhere, putting the march to the lottery in motion.

Instead, with teams unwilling to pay Masai Ujiri’s asking price, the general manager decided to stand pat for a while longer. Now the team has basically forced his hand, playing so well that breaking up a group that legitimately should be able to win the first seven-game playoff series in franchise history would be impossible to sell or justify.

A number of factors have come together to propel the Raptors to a .500 record, the top of the Atlantic and in sight of the East’s third-best mark.

For one, this is now a team in all senses of the word. Together, unselfish, greater than its parts might appear on paper. This is a group that believes in itself, enjoys playing together and oozes confidence.

All agree the major change for the better has been making the offence more effective by moving the ball around. Casey has said unlike before, the ball is now moving because players know if they pass it, they’ll get it back. That didn’t happen earlier in the year. The league’s lowest assist team by a comfortable margin earlier in the year is now surging closer to the middle. After compiling at least 20 assists just three times in 18 games before the trade, with the nadir being a double-overtime loss to Houston in which the Raptors somehow managed just 10 assists — Toronto has done it in 9-of-10 games since, culminating in a season-best 27 assists against Indiana, one of the league’s best defensive units, on Wednesday.

Lowry, in particular, has gone to a whole different level, setting a new career-high for consecutive games with at least six helpers. He had 14 against just one turnover against Indiana.

Lowry has been putting pressure on defenders through his drives to the basket and has wreaked havoc from deep with his marksmanship. Either he’s putting Raptors in positions to get easy baskets, or they’re swinging it back for even better options. Sophomores Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross have become featured performers now that they actually get the ball — and have responded.