Way Too In Depth Toronto Raptors Season Preview
Our NBA season preview continues, moving on from the Eastern Conference Central Division to the Atlantic Division. Starting with the new-look Toronto Raptors.
About Last Year:
The Raptors continued their tradition of a rampaging successful regular season followed by a quiet wet fart in the playoffs as they were swept by the LeBron-led Cavaliers. The Raptors did boast a revamped offense featuring more passing and three-pointers than ever before and they were an elite team on both ends of the floor, finishing in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
DeMar DeRozan took another step, Fred VanVleet emerged as did other members of a killer bench-mob, and they were one of the best teams in basketball. With all the changes to the team last season was the last of an era for the team, and it will always be an open question how they were able to be so effective as a regular season team and so useless as a playoff team. That’s a question for another time though.
Eric Moreland (lol he isn’t actually important but he’s my guy so I gotta show him some love)
Nick Nurse (promoted to head coach)
The Raptors made the biggest splash this side of LeBron in making a blockbuster deal to acquire Kawhi Leonard from the Spurs (as well as Danny Green) in exchange for DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl.
Beyond the big move, the Raptors decided to retain the services of bench-mob extraordinaire Fred VanVleet, and picked up Greg Monroe in free agency.
Oh they also fired long-time coach Dwane Casey and promoted former assistant coach Nick Nurse. Nurse was given the lions share of the credit for the offensive transformation last year.
The Good News:
If he comes back in even close form to what he was prior to injury, the Raptors added a top 5 player to their roster this off-season. As popular as DeMar was/is in Toronto, and I personally have always been a fan of him as well, there is no denying that Kawhi is on a different level in terms of quality. Add on the fact that the Raptors did this without giving up their best young asset in OG Anunoby and even got a quality player along with Leonard in Danny Green.
Beyond that, the fact that they essentially replaced DeRozan with a better player and then return all major pieces from a really good team last year suggests that this year should be another romping campaign.
Kyle Lowry started to show some signs of aging last year (which is understandable) but he remains brilliant. His defense is good, a high-level passer, and launches off-dribble threes at high volume and accuracy. Serge Ibaka is not what he once was, and likely not all that the Raptors hoped he would be, but he is still a plus defender who does enough on offense to be a useful tool. Jonas Valanciunas continues to get better every year and may even get to play starters minutes this year.
OG Anunoby had a good rookie campaign and should only build on his path to become a great swiss-army-knife two-way wing the bench mob returns in full-force other than Poeltl. Pascal Siakam is a switchy defender with some off-bounce game and good instincts on offense. CJ Miles is a relentless chucker from deep, but the good kind. Delon Wright is long, athletic, and does a bit of everything at either guard position. Eric Moreland will please Raptors fans with his high-energy defending and rebounding, Greg Monroe still has more left in the tank than was shown last season. We could go on and on here.
The Raptors were already a good defensive team last season, but with the addition of Leonard and Green (especially with them essentially swapping in for DeRozan) the difference on the defensive end should be night and day from last year. DeRozan is not a terrible defender, but he certainly isn’t much good. Kawhi may be on of the most destructive defensive forces in history and Green is still a very high-quality defender even as he ages.
On offense, in addition to Kawhi Leonard and Green providing some extra fire-power, a fully empowered Nick Nurse should give the Raptors more creativity and innovation than they ever had under Casey.
Simply put, this team has two-way power at almost every position, they have a great mixture of youth and veterans, a smart coach, and great depth. They will have to make it happen in the playoffs to kill off a lot of the criticism of the franchise, but this team is as complete as they come.
The Bad News:
There isn’t much. The biggest worry has to be the potential that Leonard isn’t all the way healthy or has whatever on earth ruined his relationship with the Spurs crop up in Toronto. This would be especially painful given that, for all his flaws, DeRozan was hugely popular. Leonard, and the way the entire San Antonio drama unfolded, does have to weigh at least somewhat on the minds of the Raptors, but as of now all indications are that Kawhi is happy and ready to go.
Other than that, it is tough to find holes here. There is some possibility that Nick Nurse’s impact as an assistant coach was over-stated and he ends up in over his head, in theory they could end up very thin at center if any real injuries happen. But once again, almost every issue is purely theoretical. This team is awesome, and unless some real strange stuff happens they will be awesome.
Biggest Wild-Card for the season?
Pretty much has to be Kawhi. If he’s healthy and all the way back in form then the Raptors would unquestionably be as good a chance to beat the Warriors as anyone. If he isn’t healthy or other shenanigans happen then this could be a bit of a disappointing season. But even if Kawhi is out a lot/isn’t as good as he once was, there is so much depth here that they should still be very good.
Best Case Scenario: 64-18
Kawhi is the MVP, everyone meshes, they are truthfully the great team from last year just revamped with one of the best handful of players alive. Their bench remains elite, the starting lineup is untouchable and impossible to score on, Nick Nurse’s offensive changes cause them to take another leap on top of what was done last year. The Raptors route their way through the Eastern Conference before meeting the Warriors in the finals and winning a toughly contested 7 game series. Kawhi remains in Toronto and a new dynasty is formed.
Worst Case Scenario: 48-34
Kawhi isn’t right, physically and/or mentally. The rest of the roster continues to plug away and winning games, but has clearly lost some of the magic that the team had from last season. The bench mob isn’t quite as deadly, Kyle Lowry shows more signs of age, Serge Ibaka looks more and more like he’s almost 40, Nick Nurse as head coach isn’t some revelation.
They continue to use the formula on their way to winning a lot of games, but they flame out in the playoffs again, Kawhi leaves, and it is time for a total re-boot around the young guys.
For good measure, DeRozan has huge success with the Spurs and the trade becomes on of the more infamous in the modern NBA.
So What's the verdict? Line is 54.5.
I’m a little hesitant to take the over, 55 wins is a lot. That said, I REALLY love this roster. I picked the Raptors to have the best record in the East last year (and they laughed at me) and I still fully believe in the roster and organization. As such, I’ll take the over. It won’t take much going wrong to go under that, but I’m going to trust the team’s depth to cover up most normal curve-balls that teams may encounter. I also fully believe that Kawhi is going to be incredible with Toronto.
What did you think of the trade?
On one hand, I fully believe in the emotional power and benefit of a franchise like the Raptors having a guy like DeRozan. If it doesn’t work out, it will be a sore-spot for the Raptors for a long time. That said, it is a risk you kind of have to take given what the terms ended up on. The Raptors got Kawhi and Green, while giving up DeRozan and Poeltl. That is not much to pay for the chance to land a top 5 player. That said, my heart does still go out to the Raptors and their fans to an extent, it sucks to see your guy leave no matter what the circumstances. But once again, it probably is a deal you have to make as Toronto.