With Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green both leaving for Los Angeles in the summer, the Toronto Raptors aren’t being considered a legitimate threat to repeat as NBA champions.
That much was apparent in NBA.com’s annual general manager’s survey looking ahead to the 2019-20 season, the results of which were published Thursday.
“The GMs responded to 50 different questions about the best teams, players, coaches, fans, and off-season moves,” the survey explained. “General managers were not permitted to vote for their own team or personnel. Percentages are based on the pool of respondents to that particular question, rather than all 30 GMs.”
Among the questions posed, the GMs were asked to rank the top four teams in each conference as a way to predict which teams will qualify for the post-season and where they’ll finish.
Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet are all returning to the Raptors lineup, while rising star Pascal Siakam and youngster OG Anunoby are only expected to get better. However, based on the results of the survey, GMs around the league expect the defending champs to participate in the Eastern Conference’s No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchup in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Raptors have earned home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs in each of the past six years, although these results illustrate that GMs don’t even feel home-court advantage is a given for Nick Nurse’s group this time around.
With the Raptors winning their first Larry O’Brien trophy and Kevin Durant leaving Golden State, the Warriors dynasty is over and there seems to be more parity heading into the 2019-20 season.
With that in mind, here are some other notable findings from the GM survey:
• After reshaping the franchise and bringing in both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Clippers were listed as the favourites to win the NBA Finals with 46 per cent of the vote. The Bucks and Lakers finished second and third, respectively, with the Warriors and Trail Blazers the only other teams to receive votes.
• Giannis Antetokounmpo is far and away the player GMs would want to build a franchise around and The Greek Freak was also the runaway favourite to be named league MVP for a second consecutive season.
• Canadian Jamal Murray was among the leading vote-getters (seven per cent) for the player most likely to have a breakout season. The 22-year-old Denver Nuggets guard averaged a career-high 18.2 points, 4.8 assists and 4.2 blocks per game in the regular season then averaged 21.3 points over 14 playoff contests. Sacramento Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox led the poll with 19 per cent of the vote heading into his third season.
• Nickeil Alexander-Walker is considered the biggest steal of the 2019 NBA Draft after the Canadian was taken 17th overall. It’s little surprise his New Orleans Pelicans teammate Zion Williamson, taken with the No. 1 pick, is a runaway favourite to win Rookie of the Year. Williamson was also voted the NBA’s most athletic player despite not yet making his regular-season debut.
• Warriors point guard Steph Curry, Rockets shooting guard James Harden, Clippers small forward Kawhi Leonard, Bucks power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nuggets centre Nikola Jokic were each voted the best player at their respective positions.
• Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James isn’t the most popular player in the NBA at the moment, and for good reason, but he was voted the league’s best passer as well as the player with the best basketball IQ.
• San Antonio Spurs bench boss Gregg Popovich was voted best head coach as well as best manager/motivator of people, while Portland Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard was voted best on-court leader.
• The Utah Jazz trading for Mike Conley was voted the most underrated off-season player acquisition, while Paul George being dealt to the Clippers was named most surprising transaction. Conley was also voted the active player that would make the best head coach someday.
• GMs feel the Nuggets are the most-fun team to watch and that the Pepsi Center gives Denver the best home-court advantage.