Philly Front Office - Sixers

Evaluating the East: Toronto Raptors

The 2018 offseason has brought changes to the Eastern Conference. LeBron James moved out west, Kawhi Leonard joined the Raptors, and although it isn’t a change persay, the Celtics will get two All-Stars back in their lineup this upcoming season.

Meanwhile, the Sixers revamped their bench and re-signed some important pieces, but other teams in the East will be looking to improve and move up in the standings.

Over the next few weeks here at Sixers Front Office, we’ll be putting together an Evaluating the East series that dives into the teams that are projected to be in the playoff picture this season. Each column will touch on the team’s key additions and losses, their outlook for 2018-19, and their threat level to the Sixers based on the colors of the US threat level system. The key is below…

In this edition of Evaluating the East, we’ll look at the revamped Toronto Raptors.

2017-18 Results: 59-23, 1st seed in East, Swept by CLE in the ECSF

Notable Offseason Additions:

  • Kawhi Leonard: The biggest addition not named LeBron James of the NBA offseason, Kawhi Leonard will join an already elite Raptors team. Kawhi was a top 3 player in the NBA in his last healthy season and has finished in the top 3 in MVP voting in his last two healthy seasons. Kawhi immediately becomes the clear best player in the East and is a seamless fit with the Raptors roster. Of course, the question of Kawhi’s free agency will loom over the Raptors all season. There is a possibility that it works out great, but the possibility of it becoming a situation similar to the infamous “Dwightmare” saga is very real as well.
  • Nick Nurse: The Raptors fired Dwane Casey following his eight consecutive playoff losses to LeBron James. Casey won Coach of the Year and is a very good coach, but it was clear that Toronto needed a fresh voice. Nurse has been coaching since 1989, including a decade in Britain. He had served as an assistant on the Raptors staff since 2013. Nurse was widely credited for the Raptors’ offensive renaissance in 2017-18, which featured an increase in ball movement and spacing. With DeMar DeRozan gone, expect the Raptors to take even more 3s next season. It wouldn’t be surprising if they are right there with Houston at the top of the league.
  • Danny Green: The forgotten man in the Kawhi Leonard trade, Danny Green is the exact type of player that you will find on championship level teams. He can shoot the 3 ball at a high rate and defend. In fact, he may be the best transition defender in the NBA. That will make Green crucial in a potential playoff series with the Sixers. He will be the perfect fit in Nick Nurse’s system.
  • Greg Monroe: Monroe was just picked up by Toronto on Monday. Monroe will likely fill the Lucas Nogueira role for Toronto. I do not expect Monroe to make an impact in Toronto this season. I would be surprised if he is in the Raptors’ playoff rotation.

Notable Offseason Losses:

  • DeMar DeRozan: This is not nearly as big of a loss as you probably think. The Raptors have been better with DeRozan off the court over the last few years. DeMar is a below-average defender, inefficient three point shooter, and can be a bit of a ball stopper on offense. With that being said, I do think there will be an adjustment period for the Raptors as DeRozan has had such a high usage rate the past few years. Early on, the Raptors’ offense will likely have some bumps as some guys adjust to bigger roles, but in the long run they will benefit. DeMar is a much bigger loss off the court and in the community than on it.
  • Jakob Poeltl: The second piece the Raptors sent to San Antonio in the Kawhi trade, Poeltl isn’t much of a loss for Toronto. He was the 9th pick in the 2016 Draft and has disappointed through his first two seasons in Toronto. Pascal Siakam is better than Poeltl and will likely fill the backup center role. There is a possibility Poeltl develops into a solid rotation player in the future, but I doubt that the Raptors will miss him in 2018-19.

2018-19 Outlook:

The Raptors finished 1st in the East for the second time in three years last season and improved their roster this offseason. So you’d expect that they’d easily finish with the best record in the East in 2018-19, right? Not so fast. The Raptors will likely have their share of growing pains, at least early on as they adjust to their new roster. It should also be expected that the Raptors play it very conservatively with Kawhi, and vice versa, so I’d anticipate Kawhi missing between 15-20 games due to rest and minor injuries. It would not be surprising to me if the Raptors finished 3rd in the East. They are the best team in the East, but often the best teams do not finish at the top of the standings. Their starting lineup on opening night will likely look like:

PG – Kyle Lowry

SG – Danny Green

SF – Kawhi Leonard

PF – Serge Ibaka

C – Jonas Valanciunas

Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and CJ Miles will also play key roles off the bench. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if either VanVleet or Anunoby won Sixth Man of the Year.

Threat to the Sixers:

Even before the Kawhi Leonard trade, the Raptors were a serious threat to the Sixers. But after they added Kawhi, it is clear that they pose a Severe Level Threat to the Sixers in 2018-19. The Raptors match up very well with the Sixers, with an abundance of switchy wings and the best perimeter defender in the game to put on Ben Simmons. One area where the Sixers have an advantage will be Joel Embiid against the Raptors’ bigs. If the Sixers are going to get past the Raptors in the playoffs next season, it will need to be on the back of Embiid.

 

Be sure not to miss the rest of our Evaluating the East series every Monday and Thursday throughout August:

Aug. 6: Milwaukee Bucks Aug. 16: Washington Wizards Aug. 27: Indiana Pacers
Aug. 9: Toronto Raptors Aug. 20: Boston Celtics Aug. 30: Detroit Pistons
Aug. 13: Charlotte Hornets Aug. 23: Miami Heat Sep. 3: Cleveland Cavaliers

 

Mike Chiodo

Trusting the Process since May 10, 2013. Would give my life for Robert Covington. Follow me on Twitter @MHC_76.

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