This was meant to be the season the Raptors struggled – the season that showed how reliant they were on Kawhi Leonard. They would be lucky to make the playoffs and could even be on the verge of a dramatic decline. Not everyone was so pessimistic but few imagined how the Canadians could pick up where they off after losing their best player while remaining quiet in the market.
Raptors hit the ground running
The defending champions were not interested in predictions and began the new season strongly, breaking the franchise record with a 14-game winning streak. They then suffered a three-game dip before finally confirming their place in the play-offs in March. But how did they achieve such continuity in the absence of their star man?
The Raptors have to be smart. Much of their offensive play ran through Leonard last year and he exploded in last year’s playoffs and finals’ matches against the Golden State Warriors. They won’t have that to fall back on this time so they have changed their approach and have spread the offensive play better than any other team in the competition. After 30 games played, they were the only franchise to have five players with an average of 15 points per game or more. Leading the way was new star man Pascal Siakam but they were by no means reliant on him for points.
On the distribution side, Kyle Lowry rose to seventh in the league for assists and was well supported by Fred VanVleet with both players contributing around 20 points per game. And then you have to long-range shooting where the Raptors are ranked fifth overall in the three-pointer stats and sixth in the three-point percentage table with an impressive 37.1%. All this has seen them rise to +2000.00 to retain the championship in the NBA betting markets.
A well-balanced defence
Defensively, there are no weak links. Like their attack, they are well-balanced and have strength on the bench with the likes of OG Anunoby and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to call upon. They have the second-best defensive rating in the competition behind the Bucks, are second-best in steals and turnovers and they are the best at scoring on the fast break. What’s more, teams have struggled to land three-pointers against them all season.
Still room for improvement
On top of all this, they have great team management. Last season took its toll and they have had to deal with some significant injury lay-offs this term. Yes, there is room for improvement in the two-point shooting area and that could be key as the heat builds in the play-offs but that is where Nick Nurse’s coaching skills will come into play.
But there has been no big drop-off, no sharp decline and the Raptors are still on course to defend their championship at a stage of the season when many predicted they would be out of contention. Don’t be surprised to see them in the finals again once the action gets back underway.