The reigning NBA champs are in a weird position.
After loaning Kawhi Leonard for the season, they accomplished what no Raptors team has ever accomplished before in NBA history – they won the Larry O’B Trophy.
Now after Kawhi’s departure, the Raptors seem to be in a state of limbo. With an aging duo in Gasol and Lowry but a strong young core in Siakam, VanVleet and Anunoby, it’s a strange predicament for Masai Ujiri and Nick Nurse.
Do you trade Lowry and Gasol? Do you centre the offence around Siakam? Do you build a statue for Kawhi already?
Whatever direction the Raptors decide to go with this season, their fans are sure to still be riding a euphoric high for a while to come after the most recent NBA Finals.
2018-19 Regular Season Record: 58-24
2018-19 Regular Season Standing: 1st in Pacific Division, 2nd in Eastern Conference
2018-19 Playoff Result: NBA Champions
Notable Additions: Stanley Johnson, Cameron Payne, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
Notable Losses: Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green
2019-20 Predicted Regular Season Record: 46-36
2019-20 Predicted Regular Season Standing: 3rd in Pacific Division, 5th in Eastern Conference
2019-20 Predicted Playoff Result: First round exit.
Their Best Player
Despite the fact that Kyle Lowry is coming off an All-Star season last year, the title of the Raptors ‘Best Player’ has to go to their young Cameroonian gun in Pascal Siakam.
After an amazing breakout season in the 6ix, Siakam really took the NBA by storm his entire way through the playoffs. Scoring in double-digits for every finals game – which was capped off by a pivotal 26 points and 10 rebounds in game 6 to close out the series – Siakam has shown himself to be much more than just a defensive presence for Toronto.
His length, speed and agility have given Siakam a genetic advantage over his competition. These untrainable assets allow Siakam to be productive, and even dominant, on both sides of the ball. His jump from his 2nd to 3rd year in the league saw every one of his statistical categories rise and this trend will surely continue once he is given the keys to Nick Nurse’s offence.
Hopefully he does not try to avoid as much contact on his way to the bucket this coming season as this will unlock plenty more scoring opportunities for him at the line.
By being the true transition menace he has the potential to be, we may see a new All Star this season for Toronto.
Their ‘Golden Nugget’ Player
OG Anunoby has a rare opportunity to fill the minutes left vacant from Kawhi.
This past season saw only a minor rise in his production. This can be drawn from the fact that he was playing behind in the rotation to Kawhi or his niggling injuries that seemed to pester him for the duration of the year and into the playoffs, but this season he does not have the same excuse.
Siakam will need help on both ends of the floor, and Anunoby will be more than happy to lend his hand on the defensive end. During his rookie season he was inserted into the starting line-up numerous times to guard opposition superstars such as James Harden and LeBron James (I’m sure he’d like to forget one of those times), and Nick Nurse still seems quite confident in his young wing to continue this trend in the 2019-20 season.
Anunoby will need to solidify parts of his offensive game, most notably being his free throw shooting and 3-point shooting, which will be paramount in this off-season. Despite these lacking areas, Anunoby has a very Jaylen Brown-like build that can help him cement his spot in the Raptors’ starting line-up for seasons to come.
In my opinion, the fact that Nick Nurse was not nominated for Coach of the Year this past season was an absolute travesty.
Nurse led the Raptors to the 2nd spot in the Eastern Conference with his best player managing his load the whole season.
After the departure of Dwayne Casey and DeMar DeRozan, the overplayed and tired Raptors roster seemed to get a bit of a makeover. Nurse’s ability to lead this newly constructed roster all the way past the Warriors showed just how special of a coach he really is.
The Raptors have struck gold ever since promoting Dwayne Casey’s assistant, and now Nick Nurse deserves to be considered one of the best coaches in the league. With a strong young trio and his willingness to experiment with playstyles and line-ups, Toronto are in safe hands.
Although there is no way for Toronto to do better than they did last season, they will be no pushover. A young energetic core allow them to make plenty of moves to set themselves up for the future.
The big problem is the loss of Kawhi (obviously). After such a historic playoff run and some of the most iconic playoff moments in history, Toronto will take a step back.
Keeping their heads above water and out of ‘No Man’s Land’ will be of upmost importance for the front office, but don’t be surprised if we see Lowry or Gasol in different colours during the year.
We will see a competent team this year in Toronto, but a 5th place finish in the East and a quick first round exit may also be on the cards.