When the 2019 NBA Finals were won by the Toronto Raptors, it began a new era for the franchise. After their 2001-02 playoff exit, they only made the playoffs twice in the next 11 years. And before their title win, they ran into LeBron James three straight years which all ended in defeats. Following their NBA title, Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard left, and the future became uncertain again. But the Raptors kept most of their core intact despite rumors of a rebuild. What followed was a 46-18 regular-season record; best for second in the East. Despite owning the third-best record in the NBA, it’s teams like the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, and the teams in Los Angeles receiving most of the hype. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Celtics have one of the brightest futures of any team in the NBA. But today the focus is on the Raptors. Here’s why the Toronto Raptors deserve more respect.
The Toronto Raptors Deserve More Respect
Defense Wins Championships
The fact that the Raptors allow the least points per game in the NBA after losing Leonard and Danny Green is impressive. As a team, their defensive rating is only behind the Bucks. And when you look at the roster, there are defensive stars all over. When it comes to big men, the Raptors have Marc Gasol, who is a former defensive player of the year. Not to mention Serge Ibaka, who is a three-time all-NBA first team member. Gasol, specifically, has spent the hiatus getting into shape and looks to be completely different from the last time we saw him. Moving on from bigs, OG Anunoby has found his footing in year two and can guard anybody on the floor and shut them down. Offseason addition Rondae-Hollis Jefferson has also proved his worth by being capable of guarding positions one through four.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Raptors are second in the NBA in steals per game with 8.8. The star tandem of Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry are also elite defenders. All across the roster lie great individual defenders who play great together. But that’s not the only reason why the Toronto Raptors deserve more respect.
Star Duo Of Siakam And Lowry
Sure, the Raptors star duo of Siakam and Lowry get underlooked by other star tandems. Both teams in Los Angeles have superstar duos, as do the Celtics and countless others. Nevertheless, it’d be foolish to sleep on these two. Last year, Siakam exploded onto the scene and became a running mate to Leonard and Lowry. Without Leonard, Siakam has found another gear and has solidified himself as a top-20 NBA player. Whether it be attacking the paint, playing great defense, shooting from downtown, or cashing in from the foul line, Siakam can do it all and is only 26 years old.
While Siakam is the number one option, Lowry is still the heart and soul of the team. Although Lowry is now 34, he’s still a wonderful floor general and capable scorer. This season, Lowry is dishing 7.7 assist per game which is the seventh-most in the league. It’s also the second-most assists he’s averaged in a year in his career behind last season’s 8.7. Lowry is also shooting the third-most free throw attempts per game in his career and is making 86% of them. Finally, Lowry puts in 19.7 points per game, the third-highest total in his career. Calling him overrated would be incorrect. Lowry is playing some of the best basketball he’s ever played and continues to adapt his game to fit more with the team and his age.
Don’t Count Out Continuity
As for the final reason the Toronto Raptors deserve more respect, it’s simple. Continuity in sports is huge, and it will pay dividends. Teams are entering the unknown in the Orlando bubble. And the more you can lean on and trust your teammates, the better. The whole starting five, as well as five bench players, were a part of the Finals victory from last year. Lowry is one of the most respected locker room leaders in the league. Also, the head coach Nick Nurse has built a great culture for his players, and he’s earned their respect. In Orlando, every team will be trying to get into sync on the court as quickly as possible. After four months off, it won’t be seamless for any of them. But whoever gets their first will have a sizable leg up on the competition.
Bottom Line: The Toronto Raptors Deserve More Respect
Although the Raptors might not receive the same media attention as other teams, they deserve respect. I didn’t even get to mention Fred VanVleet or Norman Powell yet. That’s how deep and talented the Raptors are. VanVleet is a near 40 percent three-point shooter who’s putting up 17.6 per game. He’s also coming into his own as a passer, putting up 6.6 assists per game. In the remainder of his contract year, he’ll be a big x-factor looking to earn a big payday. Powell came into the year with a reputation of being a good shooter off the bench. But this year Powell took the next leap in his development and is starting to maximize his potential. So sleep on the Raptors at your own risk, and but don’t be surprised if they’re the ones advancing to the Eastern Finals against the Bucks.
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