After hanging their first banner last year, the Toronto Raptors leapt into the 2019-2020 season without their star player, Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. When one of the best players in the NBA took his talents to the Los Angeles Clippers during the offseason, the Raptors were left to make do with the guys who remained. When asked about defending their championship title this year, Raptors President Masai Ujiri said, “We’re going to die trying, that’s for sure.”
Instead of tearing down and rebuilding this team with a bunch of new players – as many suspected they would – the Raptors are going for it this season with their veterans… and they’ve actually been very successful so far. Here’s a look at the Raptors this season without Kawhi and potential trades in the upcoming weeks before the deadline.
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Who has stepped up in Kawhi’s place?
Everybody. Don’t forget that the Raptors also lost Danny Green in the offseason too. Still, this team is 29-14 and third in the Eastern Conference – only a game away from catching the current second-place team, the Miami Heat. And the Raptors are outperforming critics and fans’ predictions every step of the way. Only the Milwaukee Bucks have been more impressive in the East.
Pascal Siakam is one obvious choice for fan favorite and powerhouse on this Raptors team. He played excellent at the start of the season but exited due to a groin injury in mid-December. Players like Kyle Lowry (hand), Fred VanVleet (hamstring), Marc Gasol (hamstring), and Serge Ibaka (ankle) who all part of the heart of this team have also missed time due to injuries. When you take that into consideration, it makes the Raptors’ record even more impressive.
Lowry has been their top scorer with an average of 20.4 points per game, even at the ripe old age of 34. Lest we forget, he’s helped lead the Raptors to the postseason every year since 2014. Siakam, who has played fewer games and fewer minutes this season, is also a top point scorer for the team with 23.7 on average per game.
Outside the starters, Norman Powell has been called the “6th Man of the Year” with his explosive play as of late, particularly with VanVleet out. Powell is a difference-maker, playing 28 minutes a night and averaging 24 points per game in his last 10 games. What’s even more crazy is that he’s also shooting 53% from the three-point line and 60% from the floor. Powell hasn’t been without his own injuries though, missing 11 games due to shoulder issues this season.
Now with the team back at full strength for the first time since November, head coach Nick Nurse has to decide what to do with all this talent. He’s played around with 10 different starting lineups while waiting for his players to recover from injury, and they all performed well (averaging over .500). In his first two games with every player healthy, Nurse initially started VanVleet, Lowry, OG Anunoby, Siakam, and Gasol, but he says that he’ll be rotating the lineup throughout the rest of the season.
Nurse said, “My thought is this: I think we’re going to be on constant shuffle here for the rest of the year … I know there’s a lot of season left, but I just feel that there’s different reasons and scenarios to move the lineup around a bit, and there’s a lot of guys that are worthy of a starting spot.”
Apparently his decision to shuffle players around hasn’t met with too much resistance from this Raptors team.
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Will the Raptors make any trades to improve their chances?
It’s possible. Although they’ve kept the core of last year’s championship team intact so far, if there’s one thing we’re certain about when it comes to this organization’s higher-ups, it’s that they are aggressive and cut-throat about making trades to win titles. (Just ask DeMar DeRozan.) There are already rumors swirling that big names like Lowry, Gasol, and Ibaka could be on the table. If this happens, word is the Raptors would try to build around Siakam going forward. Guess we’ll have to wait until the February trade deadline to see what goes down!
The Raptors take on the Philadelphia Sixers tonight at home in Toronto, which won’t be an easy contest – the Eastern Atlantic Division is tight right now. On Friday, they head to Madison Square Garden to face the Knicks, and then on Sunday, they fly to San Antonio to play the Spurs. We’ve got tickets to all the Raptors’ games if you want to check them out live!