The Toronto Raptors achieved something special last season. Early on, this was a year that many had already chalked up as another championship going in the favor of the powerhouse side that was the Golden State Warriors — and for good reason. However, in truly an amazing series of events, the Raptors somehow upset the odds to emerge as the league’s undisputed champions, and in the process knocking down the Warriors dynasty.
At the end of the day, one man stood tall: Kawhi Leonard. The Raptors had a pretty formidable lineup coming in, but it is without question that it was Leonard who led this team to the promised land. And with the reigning Finals MVP now out of the picture, this leaves Toronto in quite a predicament entering the new season.
It’s nearly impossible to recover from losing one of the best players in the league today, but despite parting ways with Leonard over the summer, big things are actually still expected from the Raptors in the coming season. Some experts have even placed them as a Top 4 seed in the East, and this will, for the most part, be highly-dependent on how these three players below perform in the 2019-20 NBA season.
Kyle Lowry represents one half of the tandem (alongside DeMar DeRozan) that for many years, was considered as the franchise’s cornerstone duo. The Raptors moved on from DeRozan last summer, while opting to keep Lowry on board, and obviously this paid dividends.
However, it’s going to be a whole different story for Kyle Lowry this coming season. He will still remain to be the team’s vocal leader on and off the floor, and his veteran presence will be expected to steady the boat, so to speak. The 6-foot-2 point guard will be turning 34 this coming season, and is on a contract year, so needless to say, there’s definitely going to be a lot of pressure on him in the coming campaign.
Fred VanVleet was one of the unsung heroes for the Raptors last season. Not many are able to fully appreciate just how much of an impact VanVleet provided for the team’s second unit. In the Finals, the 6-foot guard showed his mettle, and absolutely upped his game when the stakes were the highest. The 25-year-old capped off a tremendous postseason run with an unforgettable Game 6 performance in the Finals against Golden State, as VanVleet logged a playoff career -high 22 points, five three-pointers, two rebounds, and a steal in the championship-clinching contest.
VanVleet won’t be operating under the radar anymore this coming year, and he should definitely expect more attention from opponents on the defensive end. Like Lowry, Fred VanVleet is also entering the final year of his current deal with the Raptors, so he too will have a lot riding in the upcoming season.
There is no question, however, that the most pressure will be on the shoulders of last season’s Most Improved Player winner Pascal Siakam. With Kawhi out of the picture, the 25-year-old Cameroon international is fully expected to take over the reigns, and the fate of the Raptors will pretty much rely on how well Siakam performs as the team’s new number one option.
The 6-foot-9 power forward shocked the world last season with how astoundingly he upped his level of play from the previous campaign, but this certainly won’t be the case this coming season. Siakam will now be the center of attention, and surely, he will be opponents’ number one defensive assignment on every given night. Pascal Siakam has some extremely big shoes to fill, and whether or not he is able to live up to all the hype will definitely have a significant impact on how deep a run the Raptors are going to be able to make this coming season. Pressure much?
Logically, by losing their star player in the summer and not being able to bring in a potential replacement/s should mean that Toronto are going to have an ill-fated season. However, such is the level of talent on their squad, that despite this tremendous loss, they are still expected to perform well sans a Top 5 player in Kawhi Leonard.
It’s not going to be an easy road ahead for the Raptors this season, and with so much that has happened this summer, they’re not even close to being considered as favorites to defend their crown in the coming year. Nevertheless, it’s still going to be a very exciting season ahead for this squad, and how the Raptors fare in the 2019-20 season — both collectively and individually — should be a good indication of how this team will be moving forward in the years to come.