The 2019-20 Toronto Raptors season is just this close from officially kicking off.
As defending NBA champions, the Raptors will surely be hungry this season to prove that what they did last season wasn’t just a one-season, Kawhi Leonard-fueled, fever-dream, flash-in-the-pan kind of year.
But the desire to repeat is awfully different from the actually being able to, which then begs the question: Just how good will the Raptors team actually be this season?
Sportsnet assembled a group of some of its basketball experts to answer five burning questions about the Raptors ahead of the new season.
Q: Where will the Raptors finish in the standings this season? If you believe the team will reach the post-season, how far in the playoffs do they go?
Donnovan Bennett, Staff writer and digital host:
Fourth in the Eastern Conference.
Ashley Docking, Host of Sportsnet 590 the FAN’s Lead Off:
I think the Raptors will be good. May get off to a slow start but will figure it out. I put them as the No. 4 or 5 seed in the East and I think they lose in the second round.
Brad Fay, Host of Sportsnet’s Raptors television broadcasts:
Third in the East with about 52 wins. They will lose a long second-round round series to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Michael Grange, Senior basketball insider:
Third in the East; second round.
Steven Loung, Section editor:
I see the Raptors finishing as a No. 4 seed in the East, exiting the post-season in the second round in a tough series with with either the Sixers or Milwaukee Bucks.
Arden Zwelling, Senior writer:
Provided everyone remains healthy, the Raptors finish fourth in the conference, win a hard-fought series, and bow out of the playoffs in the second round.
Q: How many all-stars will the Raptors have? Who are they?
Two. Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam.
The Raps are going to get one all-star but two players in the festivities. Siakam, clearly, is the frontrunner. His nomination will depend on his ability to create his own shot while being a focal point of the defence. As for the other other all-star-weekend nod, Matt Thomas will be in the three-point contest — and win. He’s an assassin.
Lowry and Siakam.
Toronto will only have one all-star this season: Siakam. Lowry, as great as he has been for this club, is a fading star and if the Raptors are going to stay relevant they’ll need to see the emergence of a new one take his place.
I’d bet Siakam is Toronto’s lone all-star. Lowry will be the Raptors’ most important player overall, as usual, but he’s coming off surgery and could have a slow start — in terms of both games played and production — which would lead voters elsewhere.
Q: The Raptors have a lot of new faces. Who of this group of newcomers will make the biggest impact this season (can include Boucher if you’d like)?
Terence Davis II.
I’d like to cheat and pick OG Anunoby. A tough year for the kid in 2018-19. Injuries and family tragedy kept him off the court and he was never able to find his stride. This year, the Raptors not only need him, but he has the opportunity to live up to the hype that he generated two years ago.
Chris Boucher and Davis.
I’ll go with Thomas because he’s almost guaranteed to get a good amount of burn this season in a multitude of lineups. You can never have too much shooting on the floor these days and Thomas provides an ample amount of it.
We probably won’t see anything too impactful from the newcomers. Davis could be a fun underdog story, Thomas should have a few hot shooting nights, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson could string together some good performances, but nothing that blows you away.
Q: Will the Raptors trade a key rotation player this season? If so, who would it be and why?
Yes, Marc Gasol. He can do for a championship contender what he did for the Raptors last season.
If Toronto takes a nose dive and decides to yard sale this group, the two things that contenders always covet at the deadline are size and scoring. As such, Gasol will be attractive for his passing, occasional offensive outburst and his championship résumé where he simply dominated opposing bigs. It’s why the Raps got him halfway through last season.
I’m copping out but it depends on where they’re at in the standings at the deadline. Masai Ujiri could just as easily bring in a big name.
Only if they run into injuries and end up mid-pack in the East. If so then it could be anyone other than Siakam and Anunoby.
I don’t believe the team will trade any of their key rotation pieces this season. Serge Ibaka and Gasol are the most likely to traded given the fact they’re veterans on big expiring contracts, but you can use that same argument for why they won’t make a deal. The more money on a contract the harder it is to match in a trade. The team may as well just let the deals expire and have a lot of flexibility in the summer.
Depends entirely on results. If Toronto’s a top four team in the East I’d expect them to keep everyone through the deadline. If they aren’t, I’d bet they try to flip one or both of Gasol and Ibaka — provided they’re healthy — to a contender.
Q: Who, besides Siakam, is the most likely player to take a Siakam-like leap this season?
I hope it’s Norman Powell as he’s proven that he can shift series in the past. He’s a player who can make an impact — and not just in the generic energy way that is often sold. The issue with Powell is that he needs to build up his floor. There is too much disparity from his best to his worst. A little more consistency and the three remaining years on his contract will prove to be money well spent.
Powell or Anunoby.
Anunoby has a chance to make the kind of leap Siakam made between his rookie year and his second season.
I’m going to go off the board a little here and say Boucher. He’s a six-foot-10 inch centre with guard skills and gives the Raptors a much-needed shot-blocking presence. It’s obviously going to take a lot for Boucher to take the kind of leap Siakam did, but he has the raw physical tools to potentially do it. So why not him?
No one’s taking a leap like Siakam did last season. What he accomplished was rare and exceptional. That said, Anunoby should improve substantially on his disappointing sophomore season and be on the floor late in close games guarding one of the opposition’s primary threats. And, with increased usage, Fred VanVleet should post bigger numbers than he has over his first three seasons.