NBA Season Preview: Toronto Raptors

2019-20 Regular Season Record
: 53-19 (.736%), 2nd in Eastern Conference, Lost in 2nd Rd.
Head Coach: Nick Nurse

For a team that wasn’t expected to make the playoffs by some pundits, the Toronto Raptors proved everyone wrong. They put together their best regular season by winning percentage (.736%) in team history, and were led by Fred VanVleet’s career year (17.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 6.6 apg & 1.9 spg), Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam’s All-Star campaigns and Head Coach Nick Nurse's inventive playmaking (both offensively and defensively). There were plenty of positives to take from the Raptors season – a franchise record 15-game winning streak, a 3rd straight Atlantic division title, a 6th player in franchise history to make an All-NBA season (Siakam). The Raptors easily swept past the Nets in the 1st round of the playoffs and put up a great fight versus the Celtics – providing one of the highlights of the entire playoffs - before going down in 7 games

How Good is Pascal Siakam?

Siakam made the jump from the 2018-19 Most Improved Player, to 2019-20 All-Star and All-NBA 2nd Team. What can he do for an encore heading into 2020-21? For starters he will have to become more efficient – while his usage went up last year, his efficiency went down. The uptick in usage and corresponding downturn in efficiency no doubt comes from the fact that the Raptors were without Kawhi Leonard last year – Siakam had to do more while defenses were focused in on him. His 3-point shooting was a liability in the playoffs, and there were times when the whole country of Canada groaned when he started his shooting motion. On top of that, he often finds himself playing too fast, resulting in low percentage shot attempts and bad passes leading to turnovers. Siakam needs to find the balance of playing hard and smart, combining unpredictability with his silky, spinning footwork. If he can improve his shooting numbers by a few percentage points and make better playmaking decision making, you can count on Pascal receiving more All-NBA votes. He is only getting better on the defensive end of the court, as evidenced by leading the league in contested 3-point shots. He has a high motor, and is continuing to improve with every season in the league. Will he ever be the go-to scorer at the end of a game? Perhaps - look no further than Kawhi for inspiration. Leonard came into the league as a defensive stopper and has developed into one of the premier scorers in the NBA. With more time and improvement, Siakam can do the same. 

Can OG Anunoby Breakout this Year?

OG Anunoby's 3rd NBA season was by far his best. He started 68 of the 69 games he played in and had career highs across the board – 10.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg on 50.5% shooting, including 1.3 3-pointers on 39.0% shooting. OG will only be 23 when the season starts this year, and with the loss of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, will be counted on more than ever - especially on the defensive end. This is where OG – and the Raptors as a whole – really shine. Anunoby averaged 1.4 spg (with Lowry at 1.4 spg & VanVleet at 1.9 spg) and is the Raptors' go-to defender against the best offensive wings in the NBA, and has the ability at 6'7", 230 lbs. to guard bigs anywhere on the court. OG will be asked to handle more the offensive load, sustain his efficiency, and continue to play high-level defense. 

Tom's Take: OG will be in the running for Most Improved Player, finishing in the top 3.

Can the Raptors get back to Championship Form?

The short-term answer is simple – no. While the Raptors bring back a solid young core from their Championship season (Siakam, Anunoby, VanVleet + veteran leader Lowry) they simply don’t have that big gun to turn a game in their favor in the playoffs consistently. Their defense will enable them to make another run at a 50-win season, but their sights are set on the future. The Raptors were clever with their free agency moves in the off-season, as VanVleet's contract takes an 8% dip in its 2nd year, and they have a team-option on the second year of the 2-year, $14M deal for Aron Bynes. Look for the Raptors to win 50 games again this year and make a serious free agent splash next year. 

What to Expect from Kyle Lowry?

There is a possibility that this could be the last year of Kyle Lowry's excellent tenure as a Toronto Raptor. What should Raptors fans expect from the 6-time All-Star? The same thing that they see every year - the heart and soul of the Raptors, facilitator of the offense, league-leader in charges and yapping at refs, and a likely 7th straight trip to the mid-season showcase. In doing so, he will cement his claim as the best Toronto Raptor of all time.

Photo Credit: NurPhoto/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire