The Toronto Raptors shocked the basketball world when they beat the Golden State Warriors in six games to win the franchise’s first-ever NBA Championship. But the complexion of this team has drastically changed since June when they lifted the Larry O’B.
Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are both in sunny Los Angeles and with that, the aspirations of becoming repeat championships have become slim. That doesn’t necessarily mean that this team will feather away in the Eastern Conference and no longer pose a threat to the top dogs in the conference. Beyond Leonard and Green, much of their core remains the same and there is still plenty to be excited about if you’re from ‘The North’.
Entering the 25th season of the franchise, the Raptors season will be partially mired with celebration as well as expectations for the future and uncertainty about their stars. So, let’s preview what to expect from the Toronto Raptors.
The main attraction of the season for the Raps will be Pascal Siakam. I say attraction because defenses will absolutely swarm the undisputed number-one scoring option. The Most Improved Player of the Year will try to top an already impressive 2018-2019 season where he averaged 16 ppg, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists, all while shooting over 54% from the field. That will be a tough task.
There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding Siakam entering this season. While his agents and camp believe he’s a max player, has he proved it yet? Siakam had an out-of-the-world type of year last season, but how much of that can be accredited to the attention that Kawhi Leonard received on the basketball court? The Raptors went 17-5 when Leonard sat out for Load Management and Siakam’s shooting numbers did trend up. He averaged 19ppg and shot just under 50% from the field.
Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster and the Raptors organization have put their faith in Siakam becoming a star in this league. This season will be the first trial run to see if last season wasn’t a fluke.
The discussion surrounding Siakam is just cracking the surface when it comes to the questions revolving around the Raptors this season. They have three key-rotation players that have been integral to the team’s success, but can they step into bigger roles this season?
Norman Powell, OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet all have massive question marks around their name just because no one knows what to expect. Powell and VanVleet were crucial in the Raptors championship run with Powell being a force in their series against the Bucks and VanVleet dominating from behind the arc. The question will be; can they emulate that throughout an entire season?
Norman Powell will most likely be the starting shooting guard for this team next week when they start the season. He’s been very inconsistent in his time as a Raptor, but one thing that has been consistent has been his shooting. He shot over 40% from behind the arc last season on just under 3 attempts a game. VanVleet has been more consistent than Powell but there are questions of how much better he can get. At 25 years old, his potential to elevate his ceiling could be limited.
As for OG Anunoby, the Raptors organization is hoping that he can start this season on the right track. Injuries derailed Anunoby and family issues added to a less than impactful season, where he only played 67 games. The Raptors are hoping things can change for OG and he can return to form and build on an impressive rookie season where he started 62 games for them.
Tons of ‘If’s’ for the Raptors this season, right? Let’s add some more.
There is the possibility that this team decides to blow it up and move in a different direction. As of right now, they’re a team that can meddle with the pecking order of the Eastern Conference and make games in a lackluster conference more interesting.
However, Masai Ujiri has wanted to do a ‘rebuild’ since he was hired by the Raptors and now, he finally has the chance to do it. Kyle Lowry signed a 1-year $31 million extension, but that doesn’t hurt his trade value this season. Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are both on expiring deals and either of those big-men could be the perfect addition to a fringe-championship contender.
We know that the Raptors are not afraid of pulling the trigger on team-altering trades, just ask DeMar DeRozan. If the Raptors don’t get the season off to the right start, Ujiri and his staff will analyze their choices and most likely, make a tough decision.
The defending NBA Champions may be one of the toughest teams to predict next season. They can either be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference or they could see themselves on the outside looking in. Many have the Toronto Raptors outside of the Playoffs and that has provided motivation to some of these players who just finishing a summer of celebrating a championship.
But now, it’s back to work and the Raptors are back to being ‘underdogs’. A position they’re used to.