The Top-10 Reasons Why the Toronto Raptors Will Repeat as Champions
At long last, the NBA is set to return this month, meaning it is finally time for the reigning champion Toronto Raptors to defend their title.
Early on, the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers, and Los Angeles Lakers have separated themselves as title favourites, and the Raptors have seemingly not been receiving nearly as much attention as they should be. Very much a part of the title conversation, we figured we’d list the top-10 reasons why the Raptors will defy the odds yet again and repeat as NBA champions!
10. There is More in the Tank
While the defense has been exceptional all season long, the Raptors have yet to really peak offensively.
Ranked 12th in points per game and 14th in offensive rating, the Raptors have shown glimpses of an explosive offense, especially with many players enjoying career years. The issue has of course, been the enormous amounts of injuries that has stalled their offense from reaching its true potential.
Ranked sixth in the league in three-point percentage, there is definitely more to come from this group once they all get on the same page.
9. Ready to be the Man
Pascal Siakam has consistently improved with each passing season. This year was no different as the Cameroonian forward reached new heights cracking his first ever All-Star team.
Fact is, the Siakam was one of the biggest All-Star snubs last season, but this year, there was no question that he belonged. Averaging 23.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 36 percent from long range and playing well above average defense, Siakam has become one of the best players in the entire Eastern Conference alongside the very underrated perennial All-Star that is Kyle Lowry.
Siakam’s length, explosiveness, and ability to handle the basketball and show off some range on his shot have all played huge roles in his development into the star he is today. The Raptors will rely heavily on Siakam to be the man in these upcoming playoffs and moreover, they believe he is ready to lead.
8. Lean Marc
As the defensive anchor of a top-five defensive team in the league, Marc Gasol was a crucial part of the Raptors’ championship run in 2019.
That will not change this time around as the Spanish big man is entering the bubble strong, lean, and quite possibly in the best shape of his life. It is only a matter of the time before the Raptors face a team of the calibre of the Philadelphia 76ers or Bucks that pose incredible length and athleticism. The Raptors will count on Gasol to be that secondary line of defense against MVP favourite Giannis Antetokounmpo and being the primary man on players of the calibre of Al Horford, Joel Embiid, or even Bam Adebayo.
It seems far too many Raptors fans were down on Gasol for his inconsistent level of play on the offensive side of the ball this season, but the impact Gasol provides on the defensive end cannot be understated.
7. Coach of the Year
A list will be incomplete if it fails to credit the exceptional work of Nick Nurse and his coaching staff.
The Raptors were expected to experience a major decline in play with the departures of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, and yet, they sit second in the Eastern Conference with a 46-18 mark – a record very similar to what the Raptors boasted last season through 64 games.
The Coach of the Year favourite Nurse has pulled out all the stops this season, showing great attention to detail, the ability to make the right adjustments both in-game and from game-to-game, and has been a true player’s coach in every sense of the word. The Raptors play loose but hard, and deserve to be viewed as legitimate contenders.
6. The Secret Weapon
Now, don’t roll your eyes at me and just think about it.
Patrick McCaw has won an NBA championship in each of his first three seasons in the league. Now, in his fourth year, it is fair to assume that McCaw is a lucky charm that can sway the balance of power in the postseason. An element of luck is involved in winning any championship and with McCaw, the Raptors have luck on their side.
It’s analytics, don’t question it.
5. Championship DNA
There is something to be said for a team that’s been there done that.
Entering an unorthodox environment, it will be the veteran, experienced teams that rise to the occasion. For a team like the Raptors, this will be nothing more than another obstacle that they will be required to overcome. While that is by not means meant to discredit the difficulty of competing in this new environment, it is more so a tip of the cap to a team that has established themselves as an Eastern Conference powerhouse over the past decade.
The Raptors are the reigning NBA champs for a reason and it is to be expected that they will enter the bubble ready to work and carry themselves in the professional manner that we have become so accustomed to seeing.
This one is pretty simple.
While a team like the Philadelphia 76ers have struggled getting on the same page, the Raptors look like they genuinely love going to work and playing with one another.
It all starts with the right leaders at the top and a good culture, and the Raptors have both. This is a mature group of guys that loves competing and playing together, and it is incredibly evident on the court. On top of that, with veteran players like Lowry, Gasol, and Serge Ibaka, everyone is held in check and is pushed to perform at their absolute best.
3. The Key to Slowing Down Giannis
The Toronto Raptors showed that they could slow down Giannis Antetokounmpo last season by placing Leonard on the young Greek superstar.
With Leonard now gone, the Raptors still have a number of different players they can throw The Greek Freak’s way. After dominating the Raptors early on in the season, the Raptors were able to slow Antetokounmpo down in the second matchup, holding him to just 5-for-14 shooting. With Gasol down in the paint and the likes of OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at Nurse’s disposal, the Raptors have incredible defensive depth, which will undoubtedly force Antetokounmpo into some difficult offensive possessions.
As dominant as Antetokounmpo has been this season, he has shot the three at a 30.6% clip and it will be up to the Raptors versatile wings to force Giannis to be a shooter for the majority of a potential playoff series.
2. Defense Wins Championships
Building off of the last point, if there is one thing you can say about this Raptors team, it’s that they can absolutely defend and lockdown their opposition.
Effort is a big part of playing good defense and there may not be a single team that grinds and hustles harder than the Raptors. Many times throughout the season, the Raptors looked like they were simply out-working teams and that is a credit to their professional level of play and how well they are coached. They are long, savvy, athletic, and more often than not make the correct reads on defense which has helped them boast the second highest defensive rating in the entire NBA.
Entering the bubble, the Raptors have been giving up the fewest points per game, and while the offense hasn’t been completely there just yet, and granted, with the lack of continuity due to all of the injuries, the defense has not skipped a beat.
1. Full Health
What has plagued the Raptors the most this entire season?
Every member of the Raptors rotation has faced at least one injury this regular season, while players like Norman Powell and Gasol have dealt with an entire litany of nagging injuries. If anything, this hiatus has been most beneficial to a team like the Raptors who have consistently played deep into each of the past few NBA seasons and have seemingly needed some time to reload and recover.
Now, they are healthy, fresh, and ready to roll. On top of that, with a comfortable three game edge over the third-seeded Boston Celtics, the Raptors are not a team that will need to over-exert themselves during the final stretch of regular season games, meaning their entire focus will be on entering the postseason healthy.
The Raptors are ready to compete!