Pascal Siakam should win Most Improved Player. But that is the only sure fire thing about the Toronto Raptors. Yes, Kawhi Leonard has to be reckoned with. Yes, Danny Green has had an incredible bounce back year. Yes, Marc Gasol takes pressure off of Kyle Lowry and can facilitate the offense. But this is the Toronto Raptors. Failure in the playoffs in 2018. Failure in the playoffs in 2017. Failure in the playoffs in 2016. The only constant has been Kyle Lowry. More of the same is why it’s hard to get excited about Toronto, despite Kawhi. They have to prove something no other team has to. Not that they belong. But that they can win. That they are not a regular season organization. That they have heart and can execute. That they can come through when they are supposed to come through. It’s Toronto. No one is holding their breath.
The Raptors have been a strong offensive and defensive team this season. They put the ball in the hole. They block shots. They are so-so in ball security and their assists average put them out of the top-10, an important playoff metric when defenses demand ball movement. They don’t rebound at the level championship contenders do. But they are an elite fast break team with six players averaging in double figures. They put pressure on defenses. But what about those playoff demons?
When everything was on Kyle Lowry to deliver, he often found himself struggling in the biggest moments but now he has been relieved of that burden because of Kawhi Leonard, a Finals MVP who doesn’t shrink in the face of pressure. Pascal Siakam is untested and we’ll see if he can put up numbers close to his regular season when the playoffs slow down and his athleticism will be neutralized by defensive schemes. Danny Green has a lot of experience. Fred VanVleet was horrible last year in the playoffs (28% from three), as was Serge Ibaka (8.7 points). Marc Gasol is a veteran with grit and a playoff resume but can’t run up and down the floor like he used to.
Jeremy Lin has struggled since coming over mid-season, 38% and 21% from three. Jodie Meeks used to be a sharpshooter and still is, draining 46% of his threes. Patrick McCaw has that Warriors pedigree but do you really trust him or is he like most of the Raptors not named Leonard who you have to just wait and see?
Wait and see. It’s been 332 days since LeBron and Co. eliminated the Raptors from the playoffs. A lot has changed including coaching and personnel. They are a much deeper team than they were this time last year and they have a superstar on the roster. It’s not Kawhi, though, but the others that still have a lot of question marks. The Raptors have a lot at stake.
It makes sense that how the Raptors perform in the postseason will determine what happens with Kawhi Leonard and his free agency, where one thing begets another thing. This much is true.
The Raptors have a lot to prove. They have won 50 games the last four seasons and the best showing was the Eastern Conference Finals three years ago. No one remembers that because Kyle Lowry is the only who has memories from that disaster so I suppose that is a good thing.
Kyle Lowry has his playoff wounds. Kawhi Leonard has his playoff glory. Both are the centerpiece of this Raptor squad that is trying to erase their sad playoff history. Is it insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for different results? If nothing is true this is: everything happens because of Lowry and Leonard. Or nothing will happen because of Lowry and Leonard. And Toronto will be Toronto. One more time.