Reflecting on a Magical 2019-20 Toronto Raptors
This past season was an absolute joy to watch as a long-time Raptors aficionado. Going into the regular season, many pundits didn’t give the Raptors much of a chance to replicate the success they had in the previous season. Everyone remembers the now-infamous NBATV segment where Dennis Scott and Sam Mitchell were forecasting their East standings.
The departure of Kawhi Leonard (and Danny Green) left a bitter, but sweet taste for a fanbase that had just won it’s first-ever championship, while also losing out on the franchise’s most dominant player. In the most Canadian way possible, fans greeted Kawhi farewell with no ill-will, and the Raptors had to get moving.
How were the defending champs going to fill the pieces that Kawhi and Danny left?
They did it by committee.
Young Guys Stepped Up
With Leonard’s departure, 20-something shots suddenly opened up for the entire team, and it showed with career production years from Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, O.G. Anunoby, and Norman Powell.
It was exciting to see these young guys succeed this season, especially after watching them come off the bench in previous years, to now see them in starring roles for a good team. It was like watching the kids grow up. The bench mob had graduated.
While the end of the season still looms large among Raptors fans, and Pascal’s performance in the bubble was sub-par to put it lightly, Siakam had taken another leap this season. It’s almost hard to believe how good Siakam was this year, just take a look at his highlights to remind yourself.
Siakam took the momentum he built in his breakout 2019 postseason, and carried it over throughout the first-half of the regular season. He showed flashes of an improved three-point jump-shot, pulling up in transition and swishing those attempts. He also continued to show glimpses of his two-way potential, and when defensively engaged, looks to be one of the top defenders in the league.
Siakam also showed his vulnerabilities this season. It’s not easy to be the top scoring option in the NBA, and against defences that regularly game planned for Siakam, he struggled. Siakam’s best is surely to come. At 26 years old, some may say he’s already entering his prime, but for a late-bloomer like Pascal, he still has plenty of room to develop his game.
Fred VanVleet was spectacular for the Raptors this season as well. In his new starting role, he averaged career-highs across the stat sheet. He was among the league leaders in deflections, and was consistently one of the best defenders in his position. As a pending free-agent, his career year will almost certainly yield a large payday from any team that wants to pick up a steady, reliable point-guard with a win-first mentality.
O.G. Anunoby also took a step forward this year. Everyone will remember his miraculous series-saving game-winner against the Celtics in game three of the east semis, but he had standout performances this year against top competition. The biggest signs of encouragement Anunoby has shown is in his handle.
While it’s not quite at an elite level yet, his ability to take the ball off the dribble has improved greatly compared to previous years. His defence and shot-making had also taken a step forward. It will be interesting to see where OG’s development takes him.
Lastly, Norman Powell was an absolute spark-plug for the Raptors this year. At times, he looked like he was unstoppable. In past years, the biggest knock on Powell was his consistency. He showed this year that he’s capable of being a legitimate scoring option throughout an entire regular season. The next step for Norm will be in his ability to produce consistently in the playoffs.
A season of Franchise Bests
Ironically, this Raptors team was even better than last year’s championship squad in the regular season. The Raptors went on a franchise-best 15-game win streak from mid-January to mid-February.
It was not only a franchise-best, but also a Canadian-best win streak for any pro-sports team in the country.
The team also finished with a franchise-best mark in winning percentage with .736 percent. Granted, the season was shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the team was already on track to surpass this mark in the regular season anyway.
How we should remember the 2019-20 Raptors
Remember them for the times they were doubted. Almost no one gave the Raptors a chance to be the team they ultimately were this season. Expectations were admittedly low for a team that retained most of its championship core.
Remember the team that blew those expectations right out of the water. The team found production from un-drafted rookies like Terrence Davis II and Matt Thomas. Picking up guys like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson proved to be crucial in the team’s overall depth. Canadians Chris Boucher and Oshae Brissett even had their moments.
Remember them because they were so fun to watch. Their team-based approach to the game made the Raptors even more fun to watch than last year’s title winning team. While they lacked one premier player that could drop 25+ a night, instead the Raptors had a number of guys that could be that guy on any given night. Whether it was Kyle, Fred, Pascal, Norm, or Serge. Any one of those players could step up in a heartbeat, and it was fun to see someone new step up every game.
Remember this Raptor squad because it could be the last time they play together. The pending free agencies of VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol are certainly a dark cloud looming over the Raptors’ front office. Ibaka and VanVleet in particular are due for larger paydays coming off career-years, and there are plenty of teams that would love having one of those guys on their team.
Lastly, remember this Raptor team for never giving up. They went out like true champions. When all hope seemed loss, on the brink of going down 0-3, they made us believe. They made us believe, one more time, that we could win.
While it didn’t end the way many Raptors fans hoped it would, you can hang your jerseys and hats easy knowing they fought to the bitter end. This Raptor team exhausted every ounce of heart, talent, and effort on the court, and as a fan, you can’t be any happier.