The Toronto Raptors may have won the 2019 NBA championship, but they don’t even resemble title contenders heading into the 2019-20 campaign.
Sure, a lot of the pieces from their championship squad still remain. Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol are still on board, and, of course, there is Pascal Siakam, who emerged as the team’s second-best player last year.
But, gone is Kawhi Leonard, who was the Raptors’ everything during the regular season and the playoffs. Plus, Danny Green, who was a significant two-way piece for Toronto, also departed via free agency.
As a result, the Raptors don’t appear to be anything more than a fringe playoff team, and they will need some big efforts from their young guys to assert themselves.
So, here are three Toronto players poised for a breakout season (note: Siakam is not included because he broke out last season):
3. Norman Powell
With Leonard and Green gone, Norman Powell is actually going to take center stage as one of the Raptors’ top backcourt scorers.
Powell has never been a full-time starter, starting just 63 of a possible 255 games over the course of his four-year NBA career. But now, Powell will probably be Toronto’s starting shooting guard.
The 26-year-old has shown flashes in the past. Powell averaged 8.6 points per game off of a true-shooting percentage of 59.6 percent in 2018-19, so he can score.
The question is, can he do it in a larger role?
In order for the Raptors to even be mildly threatening this coming season, he is going to have to.
2. Stanley Johnson
I remember thinking Stanley Johnson would be the next big thing when the Detroit Pistons drafted him back in 2015.
Obviously, that didn’t happen.
Here Johnson is, heading into his fifth NBA season, and no one seems to want the kid. The Pistons traded him to the New Orleans Pelicans for peanuts at the 2019 trade deadline, and the rebuilding Pelicans didn’t even bother trying to re-sign him during the offseason.
The thing is, Johnson is still just 23 years old, and at 6-foot-7, 245 pounds, he has the size, the athleticism and the toughness to guard multiple positions, and he has shown that he is not afraid of anyone.
Maybe I’m the only one, but I still have hope that Johnson can turn into a very useful NBA player. Perhaps all he needed was a better environment to flourish, and the Raptors could provide that for him.
1. OG Anunoby
Two years ago, OG Anunoby was the talk of the town in Toronto, so much so that the Raptors made sure they kept him out of trade talks for Kawhi.
But instead of busting out last season, Anunoby actually took a step back from his rookie year, as his three-pointers stopped falling, and he didn’t look any better defensively than he did during his rookie campaign.
To make matters worse, an emergency appendectomy caused Anunoby to miss the playoffs, so we didn’t even get to see him during Toronto’s run to the finals.
This coming season, however, Anunoby should get his chance to shine, as he will almost surely earn some more playing time (and possibly even start depending on how Nick Nurse handles the frontcourt) with Leonard gone.
Look for a much better year out of Anunoby, who should get more touches and more opportunities in general.