Vegas gives the Toronto Raptors the second-best odds to win the NBA Championship this year, after the Warriors of course. But could they really do it? Are they that good? Coming off a franchise-best season last year, the Raptors switched up their coaches and players because team owner Masai Ujiri decided they could be even better than that. Now with new coach Nick Nurse and new players like Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, can they win a title? At 25-10, the Raptors are currently first in the Eastern Conference even though most say they aren’t quite at the top of their game just yet. So does that mean danger for the rest of the league if the Raptors can turn it up a notch? Maybe. Here’s what we think about the Raptors this season.
The Raptors Roster
Despite a having a few key players out with injuries lately, head coach Nick Nurse has managed to make the Raptors work. With new lineups and a little creativity, they’re still winning game after game. For instance, it might not have been pretty when they were losing by 17 against the Indiana Pacers and shooting 40% from the field. But despite missing three starters, the Raptors made a dramatic comeback to end the Pacers’ seven-game winning streak and remind everybody why they’re (probably) the best in the East. Star player Kawhi Leonard’s powerful dunk to get the fans back in the game was just icing on the cake before Fred VanVleet was able to tie it up with a three.
The Raptors made some waves in the offseason when they traded star player DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard. Despite a nagging quad issue, Leonard is playing at an MVP level. After the new year and a bit more resting up – he won’t be starting Saturday – it’s reported he’ll be playing more back to back games. This point guard is one of the best players in the league. As a key component of the Raptors’ success, they’ll want Leonard healthy if they hope to go deep in the playoffs and take on Lebron in the spring.
Standout player Pascal Siakam hit a career-high 26 points against Philadelphia (even if it was an L for the Raptors) and he does a solid job offensively while Leonard is resting. He’s one of the most improved on the team – with four double-doubles this season – providing great return on investment for the owners.
After taking a fall in their game against their Warriors, guard Kyle Lowry has been riding the pine a lot recently but it looks like he and the newly acquired guard Danny Green will be playing Saturday in a rematch against the Philadelphia 76ers. Another key Raptors component, Lowry is averaging just over 14 points, 10 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game, but he’s been out with a thigh injury. Recovering from a sore knee, Green has 9.7 points, 4 rebounds, and 3.5 assists.
Don’t sleep on point guard Fred VanVleet though. They call him Steady Freddy for a reason. He consistently scores about 10 points per game and does a solid job filling in for Lowry.
More Issues and Injuries Abound for the Raptors
Almost everyone agrees that the Raptors need to score more from the outside if they want to reach their full potential. They’ve been in a three-point slump as of late and their losing record over the last 11 games (including a loss to the injured Nuggets) reflects that. They’re also averaging 13.5 turnovers per game, evidence that they struggle with decision-making on the court. No doubt Raptors owners are going to be looking at potential trades to fix these issues.
Another problem is all these injuries. Center Serge Ibaka is still out with a knee injury while backup Jonas Valanciunas is still resting after thumb surgery following their game against the Warriors. Ibaka leads the team in blocks and puts up an average of 16.7 points and 7.5 rebounds. Needless to say, there’s a shortage of big men in Toronto.
In spite of all this, however, they’ve still got the best record in the league.
According to Raptors owner Ujiri, “On paper, we feel we have a team that can compete in the East and hopefully compete for a championship in this league. That’s why we play sports, is to compete for championships… You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over… We got to the level where this opportunity came to us, and we had to jump on it.”
The Raptors might’ve been snubbed on Christmas Day – not getting to play on that primetime stage and all – but we’ll keep watching to see if they keep performing throughout the season. Their next several games are against teams with a losing record, including the Magic and the Bulls over the weekend. And after all, springtime is what really matters.