Six Things We’ve Learned From The First Week Of The Raptors Season

Ever since Kawhi Leonard was traded to the Raptors, there have been questions about what this team can accomplish. Are they the best team in the East? Will Kawhi like it in Toronto? How will Lowry play without his bestfriend? Through the first week of the NBA regular season I think this team has answered all of those questions and some. Here are the six things we’ve learned about the Raptors in their first week:

1.     Kawhi Is Not A Robot

This doesn’t mean I think he’s a human. In fact, I still don’t believe he’s human. Why? Well he’s doing things like this:

In five games, Kawhi Leonard is averaging 28 points on 51% FG and 47% 3P 7.8 rebounds and 1.5 steal per game helping the Raptors to a 5-0 start and the #1 spot on most NBA power rankings. Now, these stats aren’t league leading but remember: before this season he hadn’t played basketball on a regular basis since the 2016-17 season. He already has two 30 point games and two double double’s. 

On top of Kawhi’s numbers, he’s been a different player emotionally. Yes, Kawhi seems to actually have emotions. He’s been arguing calls, talking to the media and laughing (and smiling) in press conferences. He even celebrated a BIG three by Lowry near the end of the Raptors game vs. the Celtics:

Kawhi-emotions.gif

The biggest thing I’ve noticed with Kawhi is, during timeouts and breaks in play, he’s being a leader. Talking to teammates, telling people where to go, being what Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli were to him in San Antonio. Now that he’s on a team where he isn’t in the shadow of guys like that, he doesn’t have to do all the listening. He can finally be the guy to speak up. He’s the most accomplished out of anyone on the team and he’s been showing it.

2.     This Is The Best Raptors Team Ever

It was no surprise coming into this season that the Raptors were going to be amazing. It’s safe to say that we didn’t think this team would be this good so soon. They’ve started the season 5-0 and handily beat what is supposed to be the best team in the conference and supposedly the only threat to the Golden State Warriors. 

This is the first time the Raptors have had a superstar caliber player since the 2000-01 season. Except Kahwi is easily the better player. He’s a potential MVP candidate who is playing like one even though he’s not at 100%. He’s going to get better. 

Yes, this team has some great top end talent, it also has one of the deepest rosters in the league. There are six players who average more than 10 points per game (last year they only had five). Last year, the Raptors were known for their “Bench Mob” consisting of Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, C.J Miles, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl who had a net rating of +19.2. That put them sixth in the league against all lineups that played over 100 minutes together (they did this as a bench unit!!). They lost Poeltl in the trade for Kawhi but since they are generally matching their big men in their starting lineups he’s being replaced by either Serge Ibaka or Jonas Valanciunas. If it’s Ibaka, they’re much better defensively and if it’s Valanciunus they’re much better offensively. We can expect to see more great things from the Bench Mob this season.

The Raptors also have the best offense they’ve ever had and one of their best defenses. Comparing this years offensive rating (117.7) to last years (113.8) and to the 2000-01 season (105.9), they are way better. Their defensive rating this year (106.3) is a bit better than last season (105.9) and much better than that 2000-01 teams (103.4). You can expect these numbers to jump more as Kawhi returns to 100% and the team adjusts to the new system and key players.

3. Lowry Obviously Misses Demar But He Hasn’t Missed A Beat

He also doesn’t miss shots. Seriously. It seems like every shot he’s taken this season has gone in. He’s shooting 57.6% from the field and 53.3% from deep with an effective field goal percentage of 71.2% all of which are better than Steph Curry. Lowry has 19.8 PPG and 10 AST (1stin the league) which shows he’s the same guy on the offensive end of the floor. On the defensive end he’s averaging 1.6 steals and just over .5 blocks per game.

Lowry still does his pregame handshake he’s always had with Demar: 

And people think he still comes out fourth in lineup intros because of Derozan:

We all miss Derozan, but I’m glad this is Lowry’s way of dealing with it.

4. Danny Green Is The Perfect Fit For This Team

I was saying this exact thing about C.J Miles last season. The Raptors are just a better team when they have a streaky shooter who will jack up a ton of threes on the court. It creates space for drives from Lowry and Kawhi or for postups from Valanciunas. So far this season, Green has shot over 6.5 threes per game making them at 42.4% which is about the same amount as Miles shot last year but making them more efficiently. 

He also fits perfectly on the defensive end. The Raptors now have more than three totally capable starters to guard the other teams best wing. This will come in handy when they play a team as deep as the Celtics or Warriors. If you don’t believe me, here’s proof:

5.    Matching Big Men Pays Off

The Raptors don’t have a designated starting centre this year. Ibaka and Valanciunas have been sharing starts based on who the other teams start in the 5 spot. Valanciunas has started twice against Cleveland (Tristan Thompson) and Washington (Ian Mahinmi). Both these guys are known for being big, slow and good on the glass. All of the attributes that Valanciunas can mirror and exploit. In the two games he’s started, he’s averaging 11 points and 9.5 rebounds. 

Ibaka has started three games against Boston (Al Horford), Charlotte (Cody Zeller) and Minnesota (Karl-Anthony Towns); all guys who can space the floor, run and score. Ibaka is quicker than Valanciunas and a much better defender which makes him the preferred matchup to these guys. In these games Ibaka is averaging 17 points and 7 rebounds while his counterparts are averaging 10 points and 7.6 rebounds.

In all five games these two have combined to average 27 PPG and 15.6 rebounds while the other teams big men have averaged only 13.8 points and 13.4 rebounds.

Enough said.

6.     In A 7 Game Series, I Take Raptors > Celtics

It’s not just about one game. It’s about the match ups the Raptors can play. 

It’s safe to say in the playoffs, the Celtics will play a lineup of (barring injury): Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford. With backups of Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris, Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes

That’s three or four All-Stars on a single team. Luckily, the Raptors are the deepest in positions where the Celtics are strongest: wings and guards. The Raptors can play any combination of Lowry, VanVleet, Delon Wright, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and O.G Anunoby to match pretty much any lineup of wings and guards the Celtics will put on the court. Whatever lineup they decide to use will be able to guard Irving to Hayward and will be able to switch when needed. Offensively, the Raptors best players will be able to exploit the Celtics weakest defenders in Hayward and Irving through Lowry, Green, Kawhi, Fred Vanvleet, and O.G Anunoby to get hot and score at will.

Not to mention the Raptors will have the best player on the floor in any game against the Celtics. Everyone knows how important it is to have a star on your team if you want to be competitive. Kawhi Leonard is just that. He’s a top five, maybe even top three, talent in the league the Celtics simply don’t have. Frankly, no one on their team is within 10 spots of the top five in the league. 

Unfortunately for anyone in the Eastern conference, they’re going to need a miracle to be better than this team. Watching the first five games has made me more excited for this team than ever before and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is another year they take a step closer to a title.