Top-four Toronto Raptors storylines of 2019-20

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Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) and teammate forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (4) celebrate defeating the Dallas Mavericks in Toronto, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. (Frank Gunn/CP)

As things stand now it’s unclear when, or even if, the 2019-20 NBA season will resume.

Should the worst come to pass and this season ends up getting cancelled, as sad an outcome as that would be, there’s still some solace knowing that this season did come feature some incredible moments.

In particular, the Toronto Raptors were in the midst of an incredibly fun title defence, exceeding nearly all expectations set out for them and overcoming potentially devastating injuries without missing a beat while looking primed for another Finals run.

We’re obviously hoping for more this season, but if the season doesn’t come back, here are four of the best storylines that were taking place during the 2019-20 Raptors campaign.

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Pascal Siakam becoming the guy

The most prescient Raptors question leading into the 2019-20 season was if Siakam, who had just signed a max contract extension, could take the next step and become a true No. 1 scoring option?

The departure of Kawhi Leonard left a big hole to be filled and expectations were sky-high for Siakam to fill that void because of the Cameroonian’s meteoric growth arc that saw him not even playing organized basketball a decade ago to becoming a breakout star in the NBA Finals.

Player development can be a fickle thing, though. Another season doesn’t necessarily mean steady improvement over the last one for most players.

Luckily for the Raptors, however, Siakam isn’t like most players.

With career-best averages of 23.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists, Siakam was enjoying the best season of his NBA career before the league pressed pause. He was named a starter for his first career All-Star appearance and looked every bit worth that contract extension he signed.

Granted, it hasn’t been perfect for Siakam as he’s tried to adjust to his new role. Near the beginning of the season, he struggled identifying double teams quickly enough and making the right pass, and while the volume of his shots has increased, his field-goal percentage has never been lower.

These are all correctable things, however, and can be seen as growing pains more than anything. This was likely the first time in Siakam’s life he was called upon to carry the scoring load as the primary option and it showed.

As the season progressed, though, he’s looked a little more comfortable finding the right pass out of doubles. And while his shooting percentages are lower, the volume of shots he’s taking are better overall, as he’s more than doubled his attempts from three-point range from a season ago and has even added an above-the-break three-pointer to his arsenal.

It’s always been fun watching Siakam figure things out and then explode, but this season more than any other before, with the weight of expectation pressing down on him, it was that much more enjoyable seeing him rise to the challenge head-on, going from a good player to a bona fide star.

Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam. (Alex D’Addese/Sportsnet)

Terence Davis’s rookie campaign

If there’s one thing the Raptors are good at, it’s finding diamonds in the rough.

Davis is just the latest such success story.

An undrafted rookie who refused to be taken in the second round (when he was expected to be drafted) and declined two-way offers, Davis followed the creed of another former undrafted Raptors rookie Fred VanVleet and decided to bet on himself in Summer League to catch NBA teams’ attention.

After exploding for 22 points on 8-for-13 shooting from the floor and 5-of-7 from deep with the Denver Nuggets’ Summer League squad in his NBA summer debut, the Raptors immediately scooped him up and offered him a guaranteed contract for a season with a team option on a second.

And since then, both Davis and the Raptors have never looked back on that decision.

An egregious snub from the Rising Stars Challenge at NBA All-Star Weekend, Davis has put together a solid rookie campaign, averaging 7.7 points per game while shooting an outstanding 39.6 per cent from three-point range.

Granted, the scoring average doesn’t look that impressive but keep in mind that Davis was only playing 17 minutes per game, and if you blow out his numbers to a per-36-minutes basis you see a more impressive scoring average of 16.4.

And perhaps most notable about Davis is he was making these kinds of meaningful contributions on one of the best teams in the league.

Watching Davis blossom into a consistent role player for the Raptors was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the season and imagining how he would step up in the post-season was even more fun.

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The team’s never-say-die resilience

In pro sports, it’s a cliché that players and teams as a whole will play out every possession, trying to win at all costs.

It’s a cliché because given how long seasons are there are times, no matter how upsetting it might be to watch as a fan, that teams just don’t have it for any number of reason and are more likely to wave the white flag early and come back stronger another day.

And it’s because of this reality that the 2019-20 Raptors were shaping up to be such a special group. No matter the circumstance, no matter how much they were down, this was a team that was going to give max effort and play right to the final buzzer no matter what.

The Raptors were among the league leaders in man-games lost to injury before the seasons was suspended, but never used that as an excuse as they still managed to climb their way to No. 2 in the Eastern Conference and become one of four teams that had already clinched a playoff spot.

The resilience of this Raptors team is best exemplified by their thrilling Dec. 22 victory over the Dallas Mavericks, when they came back from a 30-point deficit to win, fuelled by the heroics of Kyle Lowry and, surprisingly, Chris Boucher.

Toronto only had a 0.2 per cent win probability entering the fourth quarter of that game, but they never gave up and came away with one of the most thrilling victories in franchise history.

This is huge reason why these Raptors were so likeable. If you were tuning in on any given night you knew you were going to be in for a competitive game, no matter what.

The Raptors are damn good

Lastly, though it’s very obvious, it’s worth pointing out that the Raptors were really, really good before this season suspension.

Even if you strip away all the circumstances listed above that have made up large chunks of this season’s Raptors narrative, the simple fact this team has been awesome won’t go away.

The playoffs were going to definitively prove that, but there’s no guarantee that we’ll even see that this year, so if this moment in the season really is it for the 2019-20, you can take small comfort knowing that this team was great.

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