Additions: Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Greg Monroe
Subtractions: Demar Derozan, Jakob Poeltl
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Danny Green
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: Serge Ibaka
C: Jonas Valanciunas
Key Bench Players: OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Greg Monroe, Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell
I will say this now: Kawhi Leonard is a top-five player in the NBA when healthy and there is no debating it. Do not try. When healthy, The Klaw is the best perimeter defender in the entire NBA and is a legitimate number one option on the offensive end. He can guard every position, he scores from all three levels efficiently, shoots well from the free throw line, rebounds well for a wing, and can dish out a few assists per game. His game has no holes or weaknesses. I would only rank him behind LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, and Steph Curry. In his last healthy season, he averaged 25.5 points on 48.5/38.0/88.0 shooting. The season before that he slashed 50.6/44.3/87.4 en route to 21.2 points per game in Tim Duncan’s final season. He is an immediate upgrade over Demar Derozan and immediately turns this Raptors team into a contender in the Eastern Conference along with the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. Kawhi Leonard rant over.
Kyle Lowry continues to age, and while declining in the scoring column, is still an extremely valuable point guard in the NBA. He is no Curry, Westbrook, or Kyrie Irving, but he is able to contribute in every statistical category across the board. He can shoot the three, pull up in the mid range, score at the basket, operate as a primary playmaker, rebound well for a guard, and defend the opposing point guard adequately. Like Leonard, there are not many weaknesses in the Philadelphia native’s game and still continues to play as a top 10 point guard in the NBA.
The rest of the starting lineup provides enough support that Leonard and Lowry do not have to do everything by themselves. Jonas Valanciunas is one of the strongest men in the entire league and is a capable scorer in the low post and mid range, while being a strong rebounder. He doesn’t block many shots, but that’s what Serge Ibaka is there for. He is no longer the shot blocker he was when he was on the Thunder, but is still capable of swatting shots away in help defense. Part of this is the evolution of the NBA where most power forwards predominantly play on the perimeter, which has drawn out Ibaka from the paint often. Offensively, Ibaka has the ability to step out and knock down threes, making 36% last season on 4 attempts per game. Danny Green has proven to be a reliable 3-and-D specialist throughout his years in San Antonio, and will continue to embrace that roll North of the Border.
The Raptors bench was one of the best in the Association last season behind Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam, CJ Miles, and Norman Powell. This second unit only got better. With the acquisition of Leonard and Green, OG Anunoby will move to the bench after starting 62 of 74 games as a rookie. At 6’8, the Indiana product owns a 7’6 wingspan that allows him to play both forward positions. It would not be surprising to see Anunoby steal minutes from either Ibaka or Green for his defensive value and 37.1% shooting stroke. They also added Greg Monroe via free agency who has the ability to score from the low post and rebound effectively. New head coach Nick Nurse will have a plethora of lineups to choose from off the bench, depending on matchups and the team’s approach.
Under a new coaching regime, the Raptors should be just fine. With a top-five player in the NBA and a deeper bench, Toronto will battle for the number one seed in the East once again. Will they choke this year? LeBron isn’t there to stop them, but both the 76ers and Celtics have more star power to overcome them. I guess we will find out soon enough.
Picture Courtesy of Sports Illustrated
*For yesterday’s article on the San Antonio Spurs, click here
Up next tomorrow: Utah Jazz
University of South Carolina ’21