After almost single-handedly controlling the anatomy of the NBA for the beginning days of free agency, Kawhi Leonard finally made a decision on the night of July 6. One that will change the landscape of the league for years to come. Signing with the Los Angeles Clippers, joining forces with fellow superstar Paul George, Kawhi has restored the NBA to a level of parity it hasn’t seen in years.
This of course, also affects the reigning champions Toronto Raptors. After Kawhi led the team to their first championship in franchise history, him leaving will surely have a lasting effect on them. They are definitely still a playoff team with the roster currently assembled. But what goes down this season will change the dynamic of the franchise for the next few years.
Even without Kawhi Leonard, I still firmly believe this is one the greatest rosters the franchise has ever assembled. With no superstars to overshadow, I fully expect the young stars of the Raptors to blossom next season. The smart drafting and signings of the front office will prove effective, and the Raptors will be a 50+ win team.
Opposed to what some have been saying, not all hope is lost for the Toronto Raptors. They are still a great team, and could make things competitive with the Sixers and Bucks. The Raptors have put together a solid off-season with signings that have gone under the radar, and the 2020 season will surely be a fun one for Toronto.
What To Make Of The Stanley Johnson And RHJ Signings
In the upcoming fall, former University of Arizona duo Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will re-unite on the Toronto Raptors.
With Stanley signing a 2-year deal, why Rondae signed a 1. the two bring much of the same; Both are elite defenders with the size and length to lock-down opposing wings, have a strong work-ethic, and will buy in to Toronto’s brand of basketball. Both Stanley and Rondae were thought of as future stars at one point. Clearly hungry to prove something, maybe this change of scenery will do the trick.
I’ve been fond of Stanley’s game since he was turning heads at Arizona over four years ago. But looking into his NBA career thus far, things haven’t exactly panned out as planned. There is still time to change that, though. Johnson still has tremendous up-side and potential. Perhaps he could transform into the future all-star he was thought to be when the Pistons selected him #8 in the 2016 NBA draft.
Obviously, Stanley’s no Kawhi, but he will still bring a lot to this young Raptors team. His size and athleticism have allowed him to make his mark in the league as a defender. Johnson will be instrumental in the task of guarding the wings of other eastern conference contenders (eg. Jayson Tatum, Giannis Antetekoumnpo, etc).
But on the opposite end of the floor, Johnson hasn’t been quite as advertised. As a passer, Johnson isn’t bad. Pulling off a 16.9 AST %, which ranks in the top 93rd percentile at his position. But as a scorer, Johnson is still well below average.
Johnson has never had a TS% above 50%, despite scoring at a low volume. For his career he averages 7 PPG on a TS% of 47%, both well below league average. Stanley’s horrendous scoring makes him a massive negative on the offensive end, which makes it hard to give him minutes.
Johnson shoots roughly 29% from beyond-the-arch, which would rank near the bottom of all current Raptors. His lack of a three-point shot makes him virtually useless on the offensive end, as Johnson doesn’t use his athleticism to his advantage, converting under 55% of his shots from 0-3 feet in each of the past 3 seasons.
Defensively, Stanley is a menace. But the Raptors already have wings who are just as good defensively, and can also get the job done offensively — OG Anunoby, RHJ. So unless Stanley makes a huge leap as a scorer, it’ll be hard for him to find the opportunity he desperately needs on this young Raptors squad.
What immediately stands out when looking at Rondae is his length. Standing at 6’7 with a 7’1 wingspan, his size, in mix with his outstanding athleticism makes him awesome defensively. Especially in transition.
Last season, Hollis-Jefferson was heavily misused in the offence of the Brooklyn Nets. His lack of a shot made him pretty much unplayable, as he was an 18% shooter on a team which was 5th in both 3PT makes and attempts. His lack of a jump shot landed him the least amount of minutes since his rookie season.
But in a new system, Hollis-Jefferson will flourish. Here are some of the things Rondae will provide for Torontos offence this season:
- Good enough handle to work as a ball handler from time-to-time.
- Solid passing/playmaking ability
- Good screener/cutter
Though held back by Brooklyn, Hollis Jefferson was never a good scorer to begin with. Jefferson can score at a decent volume, he’s just so damn inefficient. Rondae has shot well below league average TS% each & every year since being drafted. He shoots a poor percentage at the rim, in the mid-range and at the 3-Point line. Jeffersons poor scoring will likely be the reason he doesn’t start at the 4 this season. I hope he finds some way to put points on the board, or else his NBA career will be put in jeopardy if he doesn’t.
What To Make Of The Dewan Hernandez Pick
With the 59th pick in this seasons draft, the Toronto Raptors selected Dewan Hernandez. The bouncy big man would’ve likely been selected higher if not for his involvement in an NCAA scandal that caused him to forfeit his sophomore year and college eligibility.
Hernandez was faced no choice but to declare for the draft. There, the Raptors took a chance on Dewan. A chance that I believe will end up paying off.
Hernandez’s athleticism is what 1st stands out about his game. He’s able to get to his spots quickly and effectively with his impressive speed, and his leaping ability in combination with his size and speed gets him easy opportunities at the basket and sometimes in transition.
- LANE AGILITY TIME – 5th
- SHUTTLE RUN – 2nd
- THREE-QUARTER SPRINT – 2nd
- STANDING VERTICAL LEAP – 2nd
- MAX VERTICAL LEAP – 2nd
In Hernandez’s final season with Miami, he served as mainly as a rim runner without a vast array of post moves or much of a jump shot. But it’s rumored that Dewan has added at least a shot to his offensive repertoire, despite not quite displaying it in summer league play. If it is true Hernandez has added said three-point shot, and can make it consistently, he may be able to find some minutes on the Raptors. However, it is more than likely Dewan will be spending a majority of his time playing in the g-league for Raptors 905.
Defensively, Hernandez has the tools to be great. Though he lacks length, his athleticism makes up for it. He has shown decent Iq and instincts, but isn’t exactly focused all of the time. He is not bad by any means, but he needs to improve his defensive focus and discipline.
Dewan could very much end up a starting level player one day. Personally, I have no doubt he will be, as the Toronto Raptors are known for their development of late picks. But all-in-all, Dewan has all the potential in the world. It just needs to be put to use.
The Much Needed Improvement Of Pascal Siakam And OG Anunoby
OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam are two of the Raptors future franchise cornerstones.
Toronto Raptors power forward Pascal Siakam has improved each & every season of his career. Winning the most improved player wont stop him from doing such next season. Entering his 4th season, Siakam is set to establish himself as an all-star. With Kawhi Leonard leaving the squad, it’s more than likely Siakam will be the 1st option this upcoming season. Siakam showed flashes of future dominance in his 2019 playoff run, and looks to keep up that pace in the 2019-20 NBA season.
With Siakam assuming a larger role next season, a 3-point shot will be vital in him improving. Though he shot 36% from 3, he is still not a 3-point threat. However, most of these shots came from the corners. Only 4% of his shots came from the top of the arch, and on those shots Pascal shot 26%. Siakam’s game is to predictable, and if he doesn’t figure out more ways to score the ball, it won’t be all that difficult to game plan for him.
On top of this, Siakam needs to improve when double teamed. Now that he will be getting more touches than ever, it’s likely Siakam will be facing double teams every game. He isn’t great at splitting the double team, and sometimes misses the open man, which often led to empty possessions.
If Siakam is able to:
- Get a little stronger
- Become a better 3PT shooter
- Get Better when double teamed
- Become a better passer
He will not only transform himself into the all-star Toronto needs, but Toronto will likely finish with a top 4-5 seed. Siakam doing this is not out of the question, as his work ethic is other worldly. But in totality, there’s a few holes in Siakams game he needs to fix before he can take the step from good to great.
OG Anunoby, on the other hand, had a more than underwhelming 2018-19 season. After an outstanding rookie season that caused OG to draw comparison to Kawhi Leonard, OG certainly did not live up to expectation this season. Despite this, OG has still had a very impressive career thus far. His elite perimeter defence and good 3-point shot allowed OG to make an immediate impact in his first two seasons, but significant strides are needed in the other faucets of his game.
OG has shown flashes of an expanded offensive repertoire. Last season in a game vs the Washington Wizards (the same game Pascal dropped 44), OG showed off his full offensive arsenal. OG exhibited his athleticism with multiple dunks and put backs, put the ball on the floor very well, and hit the 3-ball he had been struggling with all season long.
If OG is able to do this consistently next season, he still won’t be Kawhi, but a solid replacement for him. OG’s great on defence, but he is very inconsistent on offence in terms of his jump shot, or even putting the ball on the floor. If OG is able to improve in terms of consistency, he will lock up the starting 3 spot for a while.
Overall, Anunoby will be instrumental in whether Toronto is successful or not next season. He will likely be starting at small forward next season, and whether he’s able to remain consistent or not offensively will play a large part in the Raptors season.
The SG Dilemma
The Raptors seriously lack depth at shooting guard. This is by far the weakest Toronto has been at that position since the arrival DeMar DeRozan a decade ago. Norman Powell is the only natural shooting guard on the roster to average over 5 PPG last NBA season.
… So, without question, the starting spot should go to Powell, right?
Well, yes but no. Some would argue the starting spot should go to backup point guard Fred Vanvleet, and Powell should play backup to him. I actually don’t have a problem with this, as we’ve seen the Lowry and Vanvleet combo work before.
Another option would be to play OG or Stanley at shooting guard. But, Vanvleet and Norman are both far better fit for that role.
Though Vanvleet could work at shooting guard, I don’t see him getting the role over Powell. Vanvleet helps spark the bench when the starters exit the game, and just keeps every thing in check and makes big shots. I don’t believe Powell would be able to fill the void Vanvleet would leave if moved into the starting lineup.
Going down the depth chart, Toronto has new additions Matt Thomas and Terrence Davis behind Powell. Both were very good last season in their respective leagues last year (Euroleague & NCAA), but will the impact they had in Europe and at the collegiate level transfer to the NBA?
For Thomas, yes. For Davis, it’s quite unlikely.
Thomas proved himself at the Euroleague, collegiate and summer league level. He’s a sharpshooter who can score at high volumes quite efficiently. Don’t be surprised when you see him getting minutes next season.
On the other hand, there’s Terrence Davis. A hyper athletic guard who can get buckets. But his game is still quite raw, and although, I see a bright future ahead, I don’t expect him to play much with the Raptors this season.
The Raptors have a very interesting season ahead. It’s yet to be seen if the young core will find success without Kawhi, but it’ll certainly be a fun ride.