The Toronto Raptors, coming off a disappointing season, will be trying to get back to the NBA finals after an early playoff exit last season. Although the Raptors won 53 games a year ago, they lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Boston Celtics in seven games.
The Raptors remained a reliable defensive team last season despite losing Kawhi Leonard to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Raptors finished second in the NBA in total defense, giving up 105 points a game. Where the Raptors will need to improve this season is perimeter defense. The Raptors led the league in limiting the number of two-point shots but gave up more three-point shots than any other NBA team.
The Raptors lost two key players in the frontcourt from last year’s team, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. The Raptors replaced those players with Aron Baynes and Alex Lin. It will be a challenge for Baynes and Lin to match Ibaka and Gasol’s defensive play from last season.
The Raptors did sign Fred Van Fleet to a new contract. Van Fleet will be in Toronto the next four years at an average of 21.25 million a season. Van Fleet, Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoby will be counted on to be part of Toronto’s core future. Anunoby signed a four year 72 million dollar extension this off-season. The Raptors also signed Chris Boucher to a two year 13 million dollar contract.
The Raptors will go with Kyle Lowry, Van Fleet, Aunnoby, Sikkim, and Baynes as their starting five. The bench is not as deep as in season past, but Norman Powell is an excellent player off the bench. Nick Nurse has done an excellent job navigating this team through the challenges of the last few seasons, and this season there will be more of the same. The defense should remain strong. Kyle Lowry will be 35 and can’t be counted on to play 36 minutes a game like he did last season. Nurse will have to try to be more effective in managing his minutes.
One key person in the Raptors organization that must be re-signed is general manager Masai Ujiri. Ujiri was the architect behind the NBA championship team and has yet to sign a contract extension with the Raptors. The sooner the Raptors can get Ujiri under contract, the better. The Raptors did sign head coach Nick Nurse to a multi-year contract extension this off-season.
Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Boston, Indiana, and Miami should all finish ahead of Toronto in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors coming off a 53 win season a year ago, will be lucky to win 40 games this season. The Raptors will make the playoffs, but it will be another early exit for the Raptors this spring.