Preseason Preview #4: Toronto Raptors

Season Goal: Keep Kawhi

After making the biggest gamble this offseason, the Raptors can’t lose Kawhi. This offseason, the Raptors parted ways with their franchise player, DeMar DeRozan, in a trade that sent him to San Antonio for a potential one-year rental. With this trade, Toronto made a bold move to end their playoff struggles. Getting that big of an upgrade talent-wise should improve their odds of being a champion in the East. But, the rest of the team seems unable to rise to the occasion in the playoffs. If this trend continues, the Raptors will have a hard time resigning Kawhi this offseason.

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Storylines:

Welcome Kawhi

Once they traded one of the most loyal players their franchise has ever had, many people questioned the trade. Some believed that Kawhi is a 1-year rental that is destined to be in LA next season. Although this may be true, I still believe it was a good move. The Raptors had to make a last ditch effort to contend in the East and get to the NBA Finals before the young squads in Philadelphia and Boston fully develop. By acquiring what was a top 5 talent in the NBA last season the Raptors are poised to make a deep run. Their new starting lineup could be Lowry, Green, Leonard, Ibaka, Valanciunas. Leonard’s 102.0 defensive rating is significantly better than Demar’s 108.2 DEF rating. There’s no doubt that adding Leonard and Green to an already elite defense will be fun to watch.

On offense, Demar’s usage rate last year was almost identical to Kawhi’s last full season 2 years ago. At 29.6% and 31.1%, respectively, Kawhi should find plenty of touches in the offense. Additionally, Kawhi is a much more talented all-around scorer than DeMar. In the 2016-2017 season (Kawhi’s last healthy season), he scored 25.5 PPG while shooting 38% from three and maintaining a 54% eFG%. On the other hand, DeRozan scored 23 PPG on a career-best of just 31% from three and 49% eFG% last season. By adding a way better defender and more efficient scorer the Raptor’s managed to push themselves back into contention.

Bench Mob

One of the most underrated factors of the Raptors’ success last season was their elite bench play. The lineup of VanVleet, Wright, Miles, Siakam, and Poeltl was the second most common lineup and had the second highest +/- of all 5-man lineups the Raptors used in over 50 minutes of game time. Basically, this all means their bench lineup was really good.

Even though they lost Poeltl in the trade, they still have enough depth to create a deadly second unit. This year it’s possible that VanVleet, Wright, Anunoby, Miles, and Siakam become the new bench mob. That’s 5 man group has a ton of potential. Besides Miles, all of these bench pieces are 25 or under. Their combination of youth and skill is very promising for the Raptors. As the current starters age out, it’s very possible that the bench pieces will take their place. Of course, if the Raptors lose Kawhi they may decide to blow it all up. Still, the youth of their bench mob will allow them to have a head start on their rebuild and a promising future no matter what.

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Depth Chart:

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright
SG: Danny Green, Norman Powell, Malachi Richardson
SF: Kawhi Leonard, CJ Miles, OG Anunoby
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Greg Monroe

Salary Cap Situation:

~144M of ~101M cap committed

Expiring Deals: Kawhi Leonard (PO), Delon Wright, Danny Green, CJ Miles (PO), Jonas Valanciunas (PO), Greg Monroe

Bad Contracts: Norman Powell (4 yrs, $40M), Serge Ibaka (2 yrs, $45M)

*All salary data via sportrac*

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