Raptors

Raptors Set to Begin Title Defense Behind New, Yet Seasoned Leadership

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A New Era

After multiple years of intense playoff battles, the Toronto Raptors finally won a championship in 2019. In the summer following their victory, Kawhi Leonard left the Raptors in free agency to join the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite losing their superstar Finals MVP, the Raptors have proven they are still a dominant team.

 

Pascal Siakam has become the Raptors’ new franchise player, averaging 22.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game this season. His best game so far was against the Phoenix Suns on Feb. 21, after the All-Star break. The 2018-19 Most Improved Player finished with 37 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and three blocks. Siakam’s versatility on both ends of the floor shows that he can lead this franchise back to an NBA championship.

Powell’s Discipline

Despite losing Kawhi, the Raptors are fortunate to still have Norman Powell and OG Anunoby. The two wings are vital to the Raptors’ depth, as they too are lethal on both ends of the floor. Early in Powell’s career, his lack of decision making warranted a minutes restriction.

Powell has been extremely focused this season, however, which earned him extended minutes. In the 23 games Powell started, he averaged 16.4 points and shot 40 percent from three. Against the Lakers on Aug. 1, Powell was part of the reason why his former teammate, Danny Green, went scoreless on 0/7 shooting.

Anunoby’s Growth

A former Indiana Hoosier, Anunoby’s game has blossomed in his first three years in the NBA. He came into the league as a very indecisive player, but this season, the small forward has averaged 10.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals off the bench. Anunoby’s best game of the season was on March 1, where he racked up a career-high 32 points and seven steals.

In the latest Lakers matchup, Anunoby had another stellar performance, recording 23 points on an absurd 88 percent shooting from the field. These two performances are great indications that Anunoby will soon flourish into a star.

Lowry and Nurse’s Leadership

Kyle Lowry has played a pivotal role in leading the Raptors to a successful regular season. The 13-year veteran is averaging 19.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 7.5 assists per contest. He dropped 33 points, 14 rebounds and six assists in the win over LA in the Raptors’ first bubble game. Much of what Lowry contributed in this game did not end up on the stat sheet, however, such as his well-timed charges and vocal leadership. There is no doubt that Lowry is the heart and soul of this Toronto team.

Nick Nurse’s experimental coaching methods have created a system where there is mutual trust between him and the players. In the 2019 NBA Finals, he used a box-and-one defense which allowed Leonard to slow down Stephen Curry. Nurse recently used the same tactic against LeBron James, limiting the superstar to just 15 shot attempts in the game. While Nurse’s strategies have not always worked, he has been quick to find strategies that do work against different teams.

Playoff Preview

Get ready for a fun ride, because the playoffs are right around the corner! On Aug. 17, the second-seeded Raptors will play their first game against the seventh-seeded Brooklyn Nets. Although the Nets are a young team, they play with a lot of passion and do not rest on any possessions. Caris LeVert is a star player that the Raptors need to watch because he is a crafty player with a good jump shot. Even though the Nets are inexperienced in the playoffs, they have defeated the Milwaukee Bucks and the LA Clippers this season. The Raptors’ perimeter defense will be imperative, because the Nets love to let it fly.

And though the Raptors have dealt with multiple injuries to their top seven players this season, bench players like Terence Davis, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris Boucher and Patrick McCaw have all stepped up when called upon. Nonetheless, the Raptors have finished the regular season with the second-best record in the league, at 53 wins and 19 losses. The Raptors’ fearless nature and unselfishness is an indication they have tremendous potential to defend their championship.

Follow us on Twitter @RaptorsLead for the latest Raptors news and insight.

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