Season Preview: Eastern Conference Challengers- Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors won their first NBA Championship last season appearing to end the Golden State Warriors dynasty in the process. It was a great year for the Raptors led by star man Kawhi Leonard, who reminded the entire NBA just how good he is in Toronto.
The Raptors are reigning champs and should be full of confidence heading into the new season but in the off season they have lost two key components of their title win in Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Whether they can still challenge is a question on everyone's minds.
How will the team cope without Kawhi?
Kawhi was without doubt the main man for Toronto last season and without him this year the Raptors will no doubt struggle having been unable to bring in a quality replacement. They will now turn to some of their younger players to come to the front and help lead the team. Aside from Leonard and Green, the Raptors still have the core of their title winning team and in the eastern conference should still be looking for a top six finish.
Will Siakim step up:
Pascal Siakim won the leagues most improved player in 2019 and after Kawhi's exit I think the Raptors will look to Siakim as their main offensive threat. The Cameroonian has had to work hard since being drafted into the league but after averaging 17 PPG last term, I think he is ready to take on the pressure of being his teams main scorer. The power forward shot 36% from 3 point land last season and if can push that percentage up alongside more trips to the line and more shots per game, he could be on for a huge season and could stake his claim to be the franchise player.
Experience the key for Toronto:
How this season turns out will depend on the performances of the experienced players in the Raptors lineup. The likes of Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka & Marc Gasol all had terrific seasons last year but will need to be at that level again to keep this Raptors team in contention. Lowry has signed an extension with the team and he & Ibaka will be important in mentoring OG Anunoby, while Marc Gasol helped Spain to win the FIBA World Cup during the summer to add to the title won with Toronto so he'll be buzzing to get going again this season.
The season won't match up to the last but a big year from Siakim and the old heads keeping up their high level of performance will see the Raptors challenging for a top six finish in the East and could cause an upset in the playoffs.
Season Prediction: 44-38, 5th place in the East
Watch the Raptors get their season underway on Sky Sports @1am Wednesday morning against the New Orleans Pelicans.