Intriguing new era for Raps begins now
One of the most intriguing off-seasons in Toronto Raptors history is finally over. The 201819 edition of the club gathers Monday for the first time before heading to Vancouver for training camp.
We have five big questions heading into the Kawhi Era:
What’s Kyle Lowry’s state of mind?
Nearly every advanced stat indicates Lowry has been Toronto’s best performer for years now, but he hasn’t said a word since his best friend, DeMar DeRozan, was shipped to San Antonio.
Lowry can be cantankerous and some league insiders believe Lowry’s attitude could have a huge impact on whether these Raptors meet sky-high expectations.
Lowry has more help than ever before with Kawhi Leonard, the top overall player in franchise history, on board. DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl might have left, but in gaining Leonard, strong defender and shooter Danny Green and offensive-minded big man Greg Monroe, the team is on paper quite better than previous editions.
The betting here is Lowry will keep his focus on winning (a lot of ) basketball games, though we predict, based on past precedent, he will decline to discuss the big trade Monday.
Is Leonard ready to reassert himself as an MVP candidate?
When at full strength, Leonard is the premier two-way player in the NBA and arguably the best defender (as two defensive player of the year awards attest).
But is he 100 per cent healthy and eager to prove himself with only a season standing between him and a massive payday?
Leonard suited up for only nine games in his Spurs swan song, averaging just 23.3 minutes in those contests. A right quadriceps injury was the main culprit and it might be concerning that he first had an issue with that right quad in March of 2016. Leonard has also had calf, hand and ankle issues and a partial left shoulder tear.
Though he missed only 18 games total over the previous two years before his lost 201718 campaign, Leonard missed an average of 18 games over the three prior seasons. Some of that is San Antonio’s ahead-ofthe-curve approach to resting players. Some of it is a failure to remain 100 per cent.
This is a huge year for Leonard, who has much to prove now that he’s out of the revered Spurs system and away from the guidance of Gregg Popovich, widely regarded as the best coach in the business. 3
How different will Nick Nurse be from Dwane Casey?
The answer is surely quite a bit. Nurse wants his team to play faster and be far more aggressive defensively than what we’ve seen.
Toronto was only 11th in the NBA defensively post all-star break and flat-out stunk against elite opponents at the defensive end. Nurse and his new staff have a lot of ideas about how to field a disruptive defensive group.
There are a lot of athletic, long, smart players at Nurse’s disposal.
Pascal Siakam, the poster child of that list, said at Summer League in Las Vegas that while many might wonder how different Casey’s longtime assistant really can be, “It’s a change, he’s his own man and he does things his way.”
How tough will managing egos be?
This will take some time to play out, but there’s never been this much talent and depth on one Raptors team.
With more experience and a summer of development, last year’s NBA-best bench should be even better. Nurse talked up OG Anunoby all off-season, but the sophomore might have to become the sixth (seventh? eighth?) man if Nurse does the expected and keeps Serge Ibaka at power forward and opts for veteran Green at shooting guard.
Monroe is a former No. 7 overall draft pick and has averaged 29 minutes of floor time in nearly 600 career games. He’s going to be playing a lot less and might not be used at all some nights if Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas are both in the lineup and the opponent is relatively small.
C.J. Miles might not see a ton of time, despite his shooting ability, while Norman Powell’s role is unclear. And how do they balance Lowry, hard-charging Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright’s minutes at guard (plus Lorenzo Brown is back and was the G League’s MVP)?
This is a pretty mature, downto-earth group, but there will surely be some unhappiness.
Who will the media rely on for quotes and analysis?
As the conduit to the fans, the media, particularly the beat writers who are around every day, are tasked with getting quotes, analysis and backstory from the players. We can provide our own thoughts, but that’s wasting our access if done all of the time.
DeRozan stepped up to the plate whenever needed and Lowry played off of that. It’s been well-documented that Leonard would prefer to just let his play do the talking. Anunoby is laidback off of the court and won’t go too in-depth with his answers. Ibaka rarely speaks.
VanVleet, Miles and Green will be relied on heavily, along with Valanciunas. The hope is one or two others get increasingly comfortable with the process.
It won’t be as bad as many people anticipate. Not in the slightest.
Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry’s attitude will be key for the club to have success this season.