It’s time for basketball. For deep dives into everyone on the roster, read our player previews here. Before actual basketball blow our theories and projections out of the water, let’s preview the season. Assemble, Raptors Republic writers! Find part one here.
6. Which Raptor do you think will take the largest leap forward this year?
Siakam. He’s the most physically capable athlete on the team with an infinite motor.
Fred Van Vleet and Pascal Siakam, if the off-season is any indicator. I don’t think Van Vleet has come close to his ceiling, because as a worker he’s a grinder like DeRozan. Siakam is, physically, a whole different player at the start of this season and that’s going to add a ton of room to his potential and how dynamic his game can be.
Easy, Siakam. Kid has been beasting all summer capped with a monster pre-season that saw him go toe-to-toe with Anthony Davis. While I’m not as high on him as others, he has all the tools, and has put in the requisite work to take advantage of the opportunity he will get this season.
It’s tempting to say OG as he’s got the most room for growth. I’ll go for JV. The numbers will track usage, but impact will be higher, i.e., more involvement in the offense which hopefully motivates him to bring it more consistently on defense as well. Keep in mind, with JV I’m defining a “leap forward” as being able to stay on the court more because he’s leaner, increasing his point production because his usage will increase, and his face-up game improving (scoring from face-ups and increasing his meager assist totals by finding people from the elbow area).
Pascal Siakam. Even with my own personal skepticism over his “improved” three-point shot, I think he’s going to be in the running for the Sixth Man of the Year award. The other elements of his game will only be enhanced by the players around him.
Pascal. Even if that sounds like it’s the safe pick, to me, he’s the real deal. If OG was going into his 3rd year like Pascal is, I might pick him, but I usually like young players in their third year as their first two years allows them to really feel out their role on a team, and work on specific facets that they can implement. Pascal’s relentless motor has always been there, but his skills from a passing, rebounding and shooting perspective is where I’m really expecting to see some growth. Compared to last year, even a 10-20% upgrade in those categories for Pascal means you’re looking at an absolute stud on both ends of the floor.
Anunoby. He’s fully healthy this year, he’s got a season under his belt, and he doesn’t have to be the one that guards the opposing team’s best offensive option every night (although there will certainly be occasions when he does that anyway). He’ll be given more freedom to explore his game this season under Nurse, and I expect him to flourish under those conditions.
I realize that Siakam and Valanciunas are getting some consideration in these slots both nationally and locally, but I felt they took important and sizable leaps last year. I’ll still go Siakam, just for the fact that he might get to ~35% from three on a few attempts a game – making him an incredible player. I’m less sure there is as much space for Valanciunas to grow into.
Siakam is the popular answer here, and I think probably the correct one. Not only has everyone raved about his improved playmaking, handling, and shooting skills (the last of which we have yet to see unfold), but Nurse also made it evident during preseason that Siakam will have the ball in his hands more often this season, giving him the opportunity to make a leap that, say, OG Anunoby might find difficult to do if he plays the majority of his minutes with the starters. It’s the safe bet, true, but those are usually the best kind.
Siakam, Delon Wright, Anunoby.
This is a tough question, because it’s hard to define that leap. A lot of guys are going to see increased roles, or changes in their role, that could look like a leap, from more usage for Jonas Valanciunas, less of a defensive burden for Kyle Lowry, but I think you’re looking for a young guy here, so I’ll go with Pascal Siakam, who just rolled off a fantastic performance against Anthony Davis, showing aggression and confidence that he needs to take that next step in his game. He should get more opportunities this year with more shooters around him where he can ply his game off the dribble, and with the Raptors looking to have a more aggressive defense, that should open up his transition game more as well, where he was a terror last year already.
It feels to me like the Raptors are, more than ever, a TEAM kind of team this season, where minutes, scoring and responsibilities will vary game to game. Still, the popular opinions seem to point to either JV or Pascal, so barring anyone else pulling a VanVleet out of nowhere, I’ll go with Jonas. He’ll get an opportunity to play a more well-rounded game than he ever has, it’s on him to prove he can make it work.
Siakam, in part because I’m a believer in his ceiling, and in part due to opportunity. While the Raptors have incredible depth and point guard and on the wing, the front court remains a little bit weaker. They will play small their fair share, but Siakam should get plenty of burn with the second unit and has the freedom to push the ball in transition. If all goes well, it’s possible that we could see him steal starts from Ibaka or OG.
So many of the bench mob guys have that potential to make big leaps, but on a deep team, how many of them will really get the chance to do it in strides? I think Pascal Siakam has that best chance, with his length, shot-blocking ability, perimeter defence, ability to attack the basket, and of course, shoot 3’s. It’s what the Raptors (and any team) will need most.
Pascal Siakam. I think this guy is going to be a problem in the years to come. With all the talk around the league about OG it seems like Siakam flies under the radar for the most part, but while I project OG to be a solid 3-and-D player I believe Siakam’s ceiling is so much higher.
As we have seen, Nick Nurse is trusting Siakam to carry the ball up the floor and initiate the offence and times. It’s important that Siakam is given the opportunity to improve his handle so he can showcase his playmaking skills in the half court, while also continuing to wreak havoc on opposing defences in transition where he is too fast and athletic to be stopped. Defensively, he can switch across five positions and might even be given some minutes to play the five in ultra-small ball lineups that will be super long and fast. Finally, if Siakam ever develops a reliable jump shot, and I don’t expect that to come this season but you never know, he will have all the tools to become a perennial all-star. After all, he is exactly the type of versatile forward modern NBA teams crave.
I think it’s Pascal Siakam. He’ll more than likely get to lead the bench mob into games and he thrives when the floor is open and wacky. Allowing him to play rover on defense and freestyle on offense a bit more could push him further towards Draymond Green comps.
Siakam. The opportunities for point Pascal to lead the break with four shooters spaced will be endless.
It’s a popular pick, but Pascal Siakam is going to have a huge season. His game is just dramatically improved, and he fits so perfectly around the Raptors’ stars. His raw numbers plateaued last year, though his advanced stats shot forward. I would expect both sets of numbers to grow dramatically this year as he handles the ball more, grows more confident on offence, and begins to rebound with more consistency. Per game averages of 12-15 points, 5-6 rebounds, 3-4 assists, 1-1.5 steals, 1-1.5 blocks are a high end, but possible.
7. What problems can you possibly forecast on the horizon for this team? Are there any concerns with the roster?
The roster concerns are that they don’t have a reliable secondary scorer and they lack a defensively sound big. The potential problems with Nurse, Leonard and Lowry are well-documented, but none of them are particularly likely to occur. So long as everyone stays healthy the regular season will be a cakewalk as always, and problems generally fade when the team is winning. We’ll see the real fissures in the playoffs.
Serge Ibaka needs to bring something new to the floor and I don’t know that he has it, or that he could potentially get frustrated if his minutes take a hit. Two years ago I would have been worried about Lowry and Leonard, mainly Lowry’s ability to stay flexible and open when it came to changes in the lineups, in what’s asked of him, how he supports, etc. but he’s the most mature we’ve seen him and as hard as this summer must have been for him, the path for him to step up into leadership and blend the old with the new is clear.
Kawhi’s contract status, and the media shit show that will follow it all season, are the biggest risks to the cohesion and unity of the team. Can’t stop the media from doing them, but what the team can’t let happen is for Kawhi to repeat how last season was handled in San Antonio. Seems like the lines of communication are open, great, but need that to continue to mitigate how his free agency will impact the team.
From a personnel perspective, we’re probably a big man short. Serge Ibaka can be erratic and Greg Monroe’s fit is still questionable, and if either gets injured, we’re down to Chris Boucher getting playing time. I could see the Raptors struggling to score because they’ve been programmed over the years to play a certain kind of offense, and “unlearning” some of the behaviours can take time.
If we decide to run our offense out of Leonard too often, we might run into the same issues of predictability as we did with DeRozan, so it’s imperative we mix it up. The scouting report on FVV is out as well, and he’ll have a more difficult time getting to his comfort spots – the NBA adapts quickly, especially in the age of data. The sophomore wall for OG is a distinct possibility, and one that we may not have sufficient backup for (unless you think CJ Miles is something).
Is too much depth a problem? The chemistry seems to have picked up from when it left off last season despite the demise of two of the league’s best locker room bromances but you can’t help but wonder — will someone lose patience with if they’re played out of the rotation or never figure in any opening lineups? I don’t envision it happening because of the incredibly strong culture, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility.
Probably two things – injuries and coaching. Guys like Kyle, Danny, CJ (and even JV) are vets that have shown that they can get injured. That’s an easy answer, but quite honestly, it’s a legitimate risk. From a coaching standpoint, I think the Raptors have a bit of an unknown quantity. History has shown that “The Mad Scientist” aura that Nick Nurse seems to exude, while encouraging, can yield varied results. There’s no doubt the guy knows his basketball – but how will his voice resonate in the locker room? And how will he channel the best out of Kawhi?
The problems would mostly centre on the unpredictability of Nurse’s approach. It’s one thing to want to play around and keep the team’s lineups flexible, but athletes are creatures of habit, and not knowing if you’re going to start, or play heavy minutes, or play at all on a night-to-night basis can wear on a team, especially if they hit some rough waters in the early weeks of the season.
So many players had career years for Toronto last year. The jumps that Van Vleet, Wright, Siakam, Valanciunas, etc… made were crucial. Anunoby almost instantly became a crucial part of one of the best starting lineups coming off of an intense rehab process in his rookie year as a purported non-shooter and then defied expectations. If some of those guys fall back to more reasonable performances, they could have some issues. But in reality, they have insane depth and CJ Miles, Danny Green, and possibly Norman Powell would have opportunities to to buoy them.
This roster is really good. Like, really good. It’s tough to pick out issues without getting at least somewhat nit-picky. Even so, here are the two I see: a) certain lineups just won’t bode well in the long run (i.e. Serge Ibaka at center), and one hopes that minutes aren’t allocated wholly based on which players are more willing to come off the pine; b) the front court is fairly thin (hence why Toronto signed Chris Boucher as their second two-way player), and a potential injury to Jonas Valanciunas could herald some difficult times for the team. Again, these are minor concerns, but reasonable ones.
If Kawhi’s injury re-emerges, it’ll be interesting to see who steps up and fills that offensive void. No glaring weaknesses on this roster I can think of. I’d say rim protection if I had to pick one particular area the Raps could improve in.
I’ll go with the easy answer here and say health. Kyle Lowry needs to maintain his to be in shape for the playoffs, Kawhi Leonard obviously needs to recover fully from his injuries, and they need to maintain that throughout the season, which is easier said than done, but if they can win games off their depth that should help here.
It pains me to say this, but I’m still a little afraid of how Lowry will approach each game this year. Despite Leonard being the best player on the squad, Lowry is still the captain and the beating heart. The team needs him to focus on being a positive vet for the youngsters, be the floor general that we know he can be at his best, and forget about the zebras. If Kyle is all in this season, I will officially have nothing to worry about with this squad. What a time to be a Raps fan, my goodness.
Rebounding would be my biggest concern. While Jonas is one of the league’s best rebounders, the Raptors will need a big effort across the lineup, especially during the minutes Jonas sits.
I feel a bit weird about Kyle Lowry this season. He turned his demeanour on a dime since DeRozan was traded and I’m not sure how I feel about that. My hope is the sudden “all-business” approach doesn’t affect team chemistry and fun spirit that this group seems to carry. I hope he’s still open and loose with the guys behind closed doors, but I haven’t seen it on the court yet this preseason.
Other than that, because the team has so much depth and a handful of these guys have the theoretical potential for big improvements, it’ll be hard for all of them to get the chance to take those big leaps.
And obviously, Kawhi’s health will be an 82-game concern.
This roster is so deep and so well constructed I really don’t have any concerns with the roster. However, Kawhi Leonard did only play nine games last season and has had lingering quadriceps issues for years. If he is unhealthy the Raptors ceiling becomes significantly lower.
OG’s 3 point shot, Kyle Lowry’s health, and Kawhi’s intensity. I have no answers, but those are my primary worries.
The front court rotation is fairly shallow. If a multitude of injuries forces Chris Boucher into minutes, things could get rocky.
I actually see a more problems than most, but all are theoretical. The Raptors are good enough that they won’t have any issues over an 82-game season. In specific scenarios in the playoffs, they may run into some walls. Unless Siakam’s preseason rebounding rates are real – and he learns to defend the rim with his body instead of simply volleyball spiking blocks – the Raptors don’t have a small ball center who can switch 1-5 on defence. That is important in very specific situations, especially in a series against elite point guard scorers like Steph Curry or Kyrie Irving.
Kawhi Leonard’s jumper is also a worry. His numbers were catastrophically bad this preseason, but much of that is explained away by rust and conditioning. He hit short rim on so many shots – that’s a good thing, and when his legs are there, the problem should dissipate. But what if it doesn’t? If Leonard isn’t an elite shooter, the Raptors have a real hard ceiling on their offence in the playoffs.
Lowry taking a step back due to athletic decline, or Anunoby’s jumpshot falling apart, are other worries, but those are low-risk.
8. The 905 will once again rebuild almost entirely, even if familiar faces like Malcolm Miller will spend time in Mississauga. What are you excited about for the 905 this year?
I’m excited for Blake Murphy to relax a bit instead of trekking out to Mississauga twice a week blasting “Break from Toronto” on repeat during 401 rush hour traffic. But seriously, I want to see if Chris Boucher can become a fringe NBA player, because you gotta love and respect his compete level.
Jama Mahlalela, baby.
Jama’s enthusiasm is infectious as hell so there might not be a better guy to get you riled up for the 905. From a player perspective, it’s got to be Chris Boucher, that moment he had in Montreal was incredible and it should be fun to see far down the well the Raptors can tap into his potential.
Chris Boucher hitting 3’s from all corners.
Ummmm… that they don’t have any Raptors first-round picks so that I don’t have to pay attention to what they’re doing .
Jama Mahlalela is getting a chance to be a head coach and that’s exciting. Both Jerry Stackhouse and Jesse Mermuys were successful and then found jobs elsewhere and were highly sought after. Hopefully Mahlalela similarly thrives.
You said it: Malcolm Miller! It will take a bit since Miller is still rehabbing his torn labrum, but I’m a big fan of his game. He’s a 3&D-type prospect, who plays with energy and intelligence. Remember when he was called up last season to play in the March matchup against the Houston Rockets (OG Anunoby was out that game) and hit three big shots during his few minutes on the floor? Because I sure do. Long live Malcolm Miller.
I’m really excited for Jama Mahlalela getting the chance to be a head coach with the 905, and looking forward to watching if he can sustain the success of the G-League franchise and how he can develop young talent there. It’s a phenomenal program they’ve built up, and Jama has been a great assistant for the Raptors.
Chris Boucher’s development will definitely be something I’ll be following throughout the season.
Two words: Malachi Richardson. I want him to have the green light. In both Summer League and preseason he was surprisingly feisty on defence with quick hands on the ball, but his calling card will be offence. He has the chance to put up some great numbers in the G-League and could turn into a small trade sweetener. I think we’ll even get at least one rest game this season with the Raptors that we’ll refer to as the Malachi Richardson game, which is the boldest prediction I’m willing to make.
I’ll be most excited to follow Chris Boucher’s progress. I think for many players who compete in the G League, you’re not that certain what level of potential they have. But with Boucher, it almost seems definite that he has that NBA DNA (with his 3’s and shot-blocking), and it’s only been a series of unusual circumstances that have not landed him on a roster yet.
Secondly, I’m also excited to see our new head coach Jama Mahlalela in action. He seems much more publicly vocal than Stack, which I think will help develop a closer relationship between the 905 and the fans/media. Jama’s also been with the parent club for a long time as well so his approach to developing players – knowing what the Raptors look for, might be different.
On a non-basketball level I’m also looking forward to see the ongoing investment MLSE has in continuing to build the 905 organization and its fanbase in Mississauga.
Another year of showing off the culture the 905 has built. We’re bathing in the fruits of their labour (VanVleet, Siakam) and hopefully that continues.
Malachi Richardson. If he’s going to prove he can play in this league, he needs to bounce back from last years dreadful season in a big way. Otherwise he’ll be on the Guangdong Tigers within 12 months.
I’m excited for the guys we don’t even know yet will be contributors. Midway through last year, Shevon Thompson was plucked away from his own couch to become a double-headed hydra along with starting center Kennedy Meeks. Thompson has incredible size and length, and he dominated at the G-League level. Who else will pop up onto the radar throughout the year?
9. Call the season – how many wins in the regular season, and where will the Raptors finish in the playoffs?
62 wins. ECF loss to Boston. Hopefully they can avoid Philly in the second round but Milwaukee is just as scary.
I have been throwing 62 wins around because it sounds right. I think Toronto is going to best Boston for the East, I don’t think the Raptors are taking the Warriors anyplace past 2 wins but it’s still gonna feel good getting there.
64 wins with an appearance in the eastern finals.
55 wins. NBA finals. Fuck Boston.
63 and they’ll finish further than they’ve ever finished before.
I think the regular season could be a struggle at times, especially before the all-star break. I’ll say 51 wins. But I think with momentum on their side in the latter half of the season, and behind arguably the best player in the Eastern Conference…I’ll go all in and say an NBA finals appearance in the playoffs.
54 wins, strong possibility of going to the Conference Finals with an outside shot of getting to the Finals.
As a pessimist that probably undershoots their win-total every season – 57. However, I think they will be a significantly more talented playoff team than a typical high-50 win team. I say they get to the conference finals and lose in 6 or 7, as I am still a pessimist and can’t predict that good things ever happen.
I have the Raptors pegged at 60 wins. I think they’ll finish as the runner-up in the 2019 NBA Finals.
Let’s say 62 wins during the regular season, the first seed, and losing in the Finals in 6 games to the Warriors. That’s about what I see happening for this team, which would be a great season.
58 wins, just edging out Boston in the regular season, and an epic 7 game series in the Eastern Conference Finals against the greens. Where it goes from there, I dare not say.
I feel like making these predictions will be a curse of some kind…but 59 wins and an appearance in the NBA Finals. If we can get there and steal a game against the Warriors then I’ll be a very happy man.
61-21, NBA Finals.
58 wins (2 seed) and an Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Celtics.
57 wins. A finals loss. Hopefully more than 4 games.
If Leonard returns to form they should hit 57+ and reach the finals, even if there are growing pains at the start. 2015-2017 Leonard with this deep of a roster is certainly capable of winning a series versus Philadelphia or Boston.
I’m less bullish on the Raptors’ regular season than some, as their unfamiliarity should cost a few games. Furthermore, last year’s Raptors were buzzsaws against bad teams – can a new coach with a new star immediately fall into a pattern of such consistency? I say 56 wins in the regular season, but playoff success: a finals loss to the Warriors.
10. Will Kawhi Leonard stay in Toronto? Should the season be an extended audition for Toronto?
Depends on if his family is comfortable, so please be nice to them.
I don’t think he is staying. It doesn’t mean this season can’t be the best yet, and it shouldn’t hinge on him staying. For fans, writers, it can’t dampen what the potential is. He’s a sure thing for the bulk of the season at least so let’s approach it like that and going all in now—it’s better for all of our hearts.
Jeff Van Gundy called it in a recent podcast with Zach Lowe: players are about getting paid! If Kawhi doesn’t force a trade mid-season (unlikely) then he would be walking away from like $40+ million dollars on his deal; that’s a lot of risk for a guy who missed a full season with injury. There are always ways to get his money (he takes a 1 and 1 in LA so they get his bird rights and he opts out of the 2nd year and gets paid) but that also comes with injury risk as well. If I had to bet my money, it would be on him resigning, then forcing a trade by trade next season at the trade deadline….don’t want to think about that though…
The season is definitely an audition for Toronto. If my prediction comes true, he’s absolutely staying. If we lose in anything but the Finals, he’s out.
Yes, Kawhi Leonard will remain a Raptor.
Nobody will know if he stays – but I sense that he will strongly consider it (take that as a yes, I guess). One aspect I don’t think people talk about enough is that he’s finally got a role now as the unquestioned leader of a team, on both sides of the ball, and with all eyes on him. Toronto life, while not at all like Los Angeles, is still more dynamic, interesting and multi-faceted than San Antonio. Who knows how he’ll react when he sees some of that stuff for the first time?
I’ll play the optimist and lean yes. The Raptors are a great fit for his personality and how he likes to play, but the club should not do anything markedly different to keep him. They played that game back in the day for Vince Carter and Chris Bosh and, in the end, it made no difference. They wanted a winning team, and left when they didn’t have one.
Realistically, no one has a clue – though I am very receptive to the argument that he could easily be in the MVP conversation and even win, in addition to potential for huge playoff success with an awesome mix of up-and-coming prospects that are useful now, as well as veterans that are all very useful. That seems like a good recipe to keep a high-level free agent, in which case I say he stays.
It’s impossible to know if Leonard will stay, of course (I’m not taking the bait, dammit!), but I think the Raptors have a really great shot at retaining him. If they manage a strong season, and especially if they wind up in The Finals, that should certainly factor into his decision come free agency. It’s also important to remember that the Raptors can offer him the most fiscally, that the city tends to win over people when they stay long enough, and that, aside from Toronto, Boston, and Philadelphia, the East remains a rather feeble counterpart to the cutthroat nature of the West.
Depends on if the Raptors succeed in the playoffs. By all indications. Kawhi cares about winning, first and foremost. If this team reaches the Finals, Masai Ujiri’s pitch for Kawhi remaining a Raptor will go that much smoother.
I’ve got it about a 40-45% chance for him to stay right now, and I don’t see the season so much as an audition as I do the playoffs, where success there will probably affect his decision more. That might seem like a low chance, but it’s enough to build on, and a nice starting point for the team given where he was said to be at the time of the trade.
I may be in the minority, but that’s one thing that will stay far from my mind for the most part. We have an incredible team itching (and ABLE) to get to the NBA Finals. I’m going to sit back (or stand up, or clap, or yell in jubilation and frustration, etc.) and enjoy this exciting season, and worry about next summer next summer. LET’S GET THIS PARTY STARTED!
Toronto sells itself, and the Raptors organization is top tier. They can be themselves and win lots of games which is audition enough. I’ve been optimistic all along, and I will remain optimistic. He’s staying.
I interpret the signs so far (comments from Danny Green, his first meeting with Nurse, even just seeing him play basketball again and doing it as a Raptor) that Toronto has a fair chance of keeping Kawhi.
Although it’s impossible to say whether or not Kawhi will stay, considering no one really knows what the guy wants or if he already has his mind set on going to L.A., my money is on him staying. The Raptors are simply too good and are built to last and be competitive for years to come. They have an excellent organization with quality staff, facilities, fans, and a president who isn’t afraid to take risks to try to win a championship. Furthermore, Leonard has the opportunity to be the face of not just a franchise but basketball in Canada. Once he steps into the Scotiabank Arena and experiences the passion of this fan base it will be really hard for him to walk away.
As long as Blake Murphy is around Kawhi most days, I expect him to stay. The most lovable guy.
When July 1st hits and Leonard is forced to choose between the uber-deep 57+ win Raptors where he had a First-team All-NBA season and the 9 seed Clippers, I think he stays. Regardless of if they reach the finals or not.
I don’t think Leonard is particularly likely to stay in Toronto, but that won’t make this year any less special. I’m going to enjoy the season in the moment and not worry about potential free agents. That is to say, no, this season should not be an extended audition to sell Leonard on Toronto.
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