The Toronto Raptors are steadily getting the respect they deserve, after winning the title last season.
The Canadians are an incredibly good team despite not having Kawhi Leonard and, lately, the two most experienced players of their squad, Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, at their disposal.
The most important aspect of Nick Nurse’s plan is their defense, especially against the superstars of their opponents. The Portland Trail Blazers conceded a loss in their homecourt by the Raptors, while the Canadians limited Damian Lilard at just 9 points on 16.7% FG%.
Moreover, LeBron had his worst scoring night this season (13 points in 35 minutes of play), while the Lakers came up short in the 113-104 loss. Also, Leonard shot a poor 18% in his first game against his former team, but the Clippers eventually won.
The Raptors have faced some of the most “deadly” scorers of this season (so far), however they kept them under control.
Kemba Walker had an 8-22 performance against Toronto and Brandon Ingram (25.9 points so far on 53% FG%) had 40% and 42% games against the Canadians.
Only Giannis Antetokounmpo scored efficiently in the win of the Milwaukee Bucks against Nick Nurse’s team, having a 36-point performance on a 14-20 shooting night.
The roster was built upon a plan based in the defensive versatility of the players. Namely, OG Anunoby, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry may be the best defensive squad we will see this season.
They are “long”, they can guard multiple positions and some of them are great positional defenders,who know where to stand defensively on the court and they can switch… everything in defense without creating the usual mis-matches.
The prospect of having a great season so far and helping the defensive direction of the team is laid up on OG Anunoby. The young wing is averaging 11.1 points on 55% in FG% and 52% from the three point line, while averaging a 59% TS%,which is the 4th best in his team.
Moreover, the lineup of Siakam, Lowry, Gasol, VanFleet and Anunoby is averaging a +15.4, when they are on the floor and it was coach Nurse’s most used five-man lineup in the first 8 games of the season.
In the last game, the Raptors lost to the Mavericks in a close-fought battle, but the season is long and the team is not quite healthy as Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry are remaining in the sidelines.
The Raptors were the unanimous NBA champions last season and could easily become a great example of continuity, on how you keep being competitive after the departure of a superstar like Kawhi Leonard.
The Eastern Conference is as open as ever and the Toronto Raptors can become the “dark horse” of the East and claim a place in the NBA Finals by “crushing” their opponents with their defensive intensity.