17 January 2021

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Contender Series: Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors. The NBA’s reigning champions. The only team from Canada in the league. For the past couple of years, the Raptors have consistently been one of the best teams in the East. Last year, they finally took the jump they’ve been waiting for and beat the Golden State Warriors in the finals, gaining their first NBA title. Now, we’re left here pondering with the question, can they pull it off again? Are the Toronto Raptors a title contender?

First, we dive straight into one of the main components of a team, the starting lineup. The Raptors starting lineup is led by the first time all-star starter Pascal Siakam. Followed by Siakam they have veteran point guard Kyle Lowry. Rounding out the starters are Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol and OG Anunoby. This starting lineup has one word to describe it: gritty. These are the type of guys you see on the ground for every loose ball, playing full-court defense, and wearing their opponents down. Pascal Siakam is the type of player to get a bucket on one end then lock up the other team’s best player on the other. Kyle Lowry is arguably the best player at doing things that don’t show up on the stat sheet such as taking screens and grabbing loose balls. Fred VanVleet hasn’t slowed down since his finals tear that he had last year and continues to score easily. A mixture of both OG Anunoby and Marc Gasol’s defense prevents opponents from scoring on the perimeter and in the paint easily. Overall, this starting lineup has a lot of things to like about it.

Some notable names on the Raptor’s bench are Chris Boucher, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Serge Ibaka, and Norman Powell. Norman Powell stepped up this year when Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet got hurt. Players like Serge Ibaka and Chris Boucher have put in good minutes. Overall, this bench isn’t very eye-opening. They go in and get the job done. It should be interesting to see if this bench can step up come playoff time. 

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Now it’s time to look at some stats from Toronto this season. On offense, the Raptors have been fairly balanced. They average 113 points per game as a team which is good enough for ninth (FoxSports.com). They have also been lighting it up from the three-point line, shooting 38% from deep as a team. That is third-best in the league. One detriment to their offense has been their shooting percentage from within the three, which is 46%. This puts them at seventeenth in the league which is not where they would like to be. What’s been the main contributor to Toronto’s success this season has been their defense, being one of, if not the best, defensive teams in the league. Currently, the Raptors have only allowed their opponents to score 106.1 points per game, which is tied for first in the NBA. Opponents of the raptors have been shooting a mere 43%, which is the second-best defensive field goal percentage allowed in the league. On top of all this, the Raptor’s opponents only shoot 33.5% from deep against them, which is the best defensive percentage allowed from deep throughout the NBA. It is clear that when it comes to defense, this team completely dominates.

Next, we have to consider the Raptor’s “it” factors, if there is any. The first candidate is Pascal Siakam. So far this season, Pascal has taken the role of departed Kawhi Leonard and has clearly shown superstar potential. As with Jayson Tatum, it’s very hard to label a young player an “it” factor, because we truly don’t know if we’ve seen a player’s prime yet. Throw in the fact that this is Pascal’s first time being a leader on an NBA team, we will have to wait and see how he does in this year’s playoffs. The second candidate is Kyle Lowry. Honestly, Lowry isn’t truly a candidate. Lowry is a great point guard to have and does a lot of things you want, but he has never been, nor will he ever be, a player who has the ability to change a game in an instance consistently.

Finally, we look at what the Raptors have done this season. So far, Toronto is 42-16, good enough for 2nd in the Eastern Conference. Anybody who said they expected this would be lying. Toronto has exceeded everyone’s expectations and continues to as the season goes on. Losing a player of Kawhi Leonard’s caliber is usually detrimental to a team, and with seemingly no pickups in the off-season, we are left wondering how they do it. Although they have surprised us, they haven’t been exactly perfect. Toronto has struggled with the Milwaukee Bucks thus far, losing both matchups by double digits. They also seem to give up some easy buckets in the paint against good big men. Everyone has struggled with the Bucks this season, but if you expect to make it out of the East, having a gameplan to beat them is mandatory. 

Overall, the Toronto Raptors should be ecstatic with how their season has turned out so far. Pascal Siakim’s development, Lowry’s consistent play, being arguably the best defensive team in the league and playing better than anyone expected is all very impressive feats. There are some concerns about this team, however. Their bench isn’t anything overwhelming, the idea of them having any “it” factors is unclear, and their struggles when playing the Milwaukee Bucks. As of right now, this team looks like a team that can compete with anyone in the east besides the Bucks. If a game plan is made for the Bucks while still being aware of other teams such as the Celtics and the 76ers, there is a chance they make it to the finals. Although, it looks like the cap for this team is the Eastern Conference Finals.

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