Source: Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
It was a fun summer to be a basketball fan in Canada. Watching the Raptors win the NBA championship was exciting and unforgettable. However, now it's time for the Dinos to defend their championship. While many don't have Toronto high on the list this season in the championship picture, the Raptors still will be tough to play against.
The Raptors will have most of their guys back from their championship team. Absent of course is Danny Green and of course Kawhi Leonard, but for the most part, the team as a whole will be intact. Marc Gasol back whose contract is up after this season will return bringing the defense up the middle, OG Anunoby will make his long-awaited return after missing the playoffs last year with appendicitis.
There's optimism that Anunoby can increase his scoring and rebounds per game to replace was has been lost. If he can avoid anything that will keep him on the sidelines, the third-year player can be vital piece for the Raptors this season.
Both Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam signed extensions before the tip-off of this regular season. Lowry signed a 1-year 31 million dollar contract extension.
The Kyle Lowry signing is intriguing for two reasons; it basically means Toronto is going all out for their long-time all-star, and may also mean that the Raptors are possibly saving cap space after the 2020-21 season. Maybe getting a big name player to play alongside Pascal Siakam, or maybe even bringing back a familiar face in Kawhi Leonard if the Clippers experiment doesn't work out. Anything can happen.
Siakam just recently got his extension and it's a whopper. Four-years, roughly 130 million. Masai Ujiri knows what he's got in the Cameroon native, but what makes it better for Raptor fans is that Siakam is continuing to get better. Now with Kawhi Leonard out of the picture Siakam will get the ball more in his hands.
Last season we got our first taste of a type of player Siakam can be in the NBA. It showed up more in the playoffs when he got more minutes and more playing time. Siakam improved his stats in the playoffs and had some big performances. He wasn't shy to step up his game when his team needed him. No question that he's the new face of the Toronto Raptors.
Another name to look out for this season is Fred VanVleet. FVV came out of his shell late in the Raptors playoff run last year, he became the Raptors not-so-secret weapon off the bench. Now being the starting shooting guard for the Dinos, VanVleet could be a consistent shooter in their lineup. He just needs to trust his shot.
Speaking of players to come clutch off the Raps bench last year, Norman Powell finally has gotten his game back! Powell looked to be in a funk late in the 2017-18 season and early last season. Though later into the season, he got better and played more intensity. During the Milwaukee series, he was a bright spot on the Raptors bench that at times were having a hard time scoring baskets. He's also a big energy booster to off the bench, and can hopefully continue to hit open looks.
Serge Ibaka, like Marc Gasol is in the final year of his contract. We saw spurts of the old Ibaka last year in the playoffs. He can still use his body to get to the basket and slam the rim. Ibaka just like Powell is a vital part of that bench. Ibaka is into his 30's but if he can still get some that beast of old Ibaka in moments during the season than the bench should be able to produce.
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People who are concerned for the Raptors without Kawhi shouldn’t be. When Kawhi went on load management and sat out games to rest himself for the playoffs the Raptors had no issues winning games, going 17-5 in total. There's a good chance Toronto will finish 4-6 in the Eastern Conference.
Let's take a look at some key games for this upcoming season:
Raptors Vs Pelicans October 22, 2019
(Championship Raising Banner)
Raptors Vs Bucks November 2, 2019
(Rematch of East Final)
Raptors Vs Knicks November 27, 2019
(RJ Barrett's First Meeting Against the Raptors)
Raptors Vs L.A. Clippers December 11, 2019
(Kawhi's Return To Toronto)
Raptors Vs Golden State Warriors March 5, 2019
(NBA Finals Rematch)
Raptors Vs Hawks April 10, 2019
(Vince Carter's last game in Toronto)
There are questions riddled throughout the squad this year. Can the bench play consistent and effective minutes? With Lowry and Gasol are getting older, can Siakam meet expectations? Can OG improve and be a stopper on defense? Will the Raptors shooting continue to be a threat? And will Fred VanVleet be a solid player in the starting lineup or be a flash in the pan? All important questions in which the team will have to answer to this season.
Toronto will be in the 48-50 win stage and finish with a good record, and more then likely fall short of repeating for the championship. A second-round playoff finish seems the logical path for this year's team. That doesn't mean you shouldn't watch the Raptors defend the title and watch another crazy year of NBA action, let's enjoy the season for what it is.