2019-20 Season Preview: Toronto Raptors

NBA.com Global on Oct 20, 2019 09:38 AM
2019-20 Season Preview: Toronto Raptors
FILE - WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 20: Pascal Siakam #43 of the Toronto Raptors handles the ball against the Washington Wizards on October 20, 2018 at Capital One Arena in Washington, DC. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com

No regrets. The Toronto Raptors traded the franchise's all-time leading scorer for a player who stayed for just one season. But that player — Kawhi Leonard — was Finals MVP as the Raptors won their first championship. Although the Raptors badly wanted Leonard back, they at least know they made the right move in trading for him and did all they could to keep him. Now, they're in a rare situation (Leonard is the first Finals MVP to leave his team before the next season since Michael Jordan in 1998), defending a title without the player who led them to it.

ICYMI

After delivering a championship in his one season with the Raptors, Leonard signed with the LA Clippers … Danny Green followed him to L.A., signing with the Lakers … The Raptors replaced the two starting wings with reserve forwards Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson … Kyle Lowry had surgery on his left thumb … Marc Gasol and assistant coach Sergio Scariolo won their second championship in a little over three months, leading Spain to gold at the FIBA World Cup ... Agreed with Kyle Lowry on a one-year extension that keeps him under contract until the summer of 2021 ... Reportedly agreed to a four-year, max contract extension with Pascal Siakam

THREE POINTS

1. Return to the hub. Gasol saw big drops in both minutes per game and usage rate upon his move from Memphis to Toronto. In the playoffs, his minutes ticked back up, but his usage rate dropped even further as the Raptors depended more on Leonard to carry the offense. With Leonard gone, Gasol could return to being more of a hub for his team's offense, easing the burden on Lowry and Siakam.

2. Familiar position. This team knows how to win without Leonard as it went 17-5 when he sat last season. But only four of the 17 wins came against teams that made the playoffs, and a key ingredient in the Raptors' success without Leonard was Green, who had the second largest on-off NetRtg differential (the Raptors were 17.3 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor than they were without him) among 256 players who played at least 1,000 minutes for a single team.

3. No next wave. While they competed with a core led by Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors' developed a young group -- primarily Siakam, OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet -- behind the vets. Those three are still just 22, 25 and 25 years old, respectively. If the Raptors choose to prioritize the future over the present, there's a lack of younger prospects to develop. They got a league-low 55 minutes from rookies last season and didn't have a first-round pick in 2019.

MAN ON THE SPOT

The Raptors are still a very good team with the remaining pieces from their championship season. The question for Raptors president Masai Ujiri is if all of those pieces will remain after the Feb. 6 trade deadline. Lowry got an extension, but Serge Ibaka and Gasol will still be free agents next summer, when they'll be 30 and 35 years old, respectively. Ujiri's trade for Leonard was more than validated by what happened in June, but you can't put it past him to get what he can for either of his veteran bigs rather than lose them for nothing in July.

STARTING FIVE

Kyle Lowry | 14.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 8.7 apg
His 8.7 apg were a career-high mark, with only 11% of them (63 / 564) going to Leonard.

Norman Powell | 8.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.5 apg
Explosive athlete who shot 40% on 3-pointers in 2018-19. May be the only player in this lineup with issues on defense.

OG Anunoby | 7.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 0.7 apg
The forgotten man, having not played in the postseason after an April appendectomy. Still has lots of room to grow.

Pascal Siakam | 16.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 3.1 apg
Took a huge leap last season and can still get better as a playmaker and perimeter shooter (28% on 3-pointers in playoffs).

Marc Gasol | 13.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 4.4 apg
Had career-best season in both defensive rebounding percentage (22.7%) and assist-turnover ratio (2.25).

KEY RESERVES

Serge Ibaka | 15.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.4 bpg
Move from power forward to center resulted in a bounce-back season. Ranked 4th in restricted-area field goal percentage (74%).

Stanley Johnson | 6.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.3 apg
One of two players who have shot less than 30 percent on at least 500 3-point attempts over the last three seasons.

Fred VanVleet | 11.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 4.8 apg
Shot 30-for-57 (53%) on playoff 3s following the birth of his second child. Two-PG lineups (he and Lowry) have been successful.

THE BOTTOM LINE

In the shallow Eastern Conference, the Raptors have what it takes for a seventh straight season as a top-four seed, especially if Siakam continues to polish his offense. However, two of the most important pieces -- Lowry and Gasol -- are heading toward the twilight of their careers. There remains the possibility that this team, even with a championship in hand, prioritizes the future over the present.

John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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