Raptors Still Contenders In The East

After celebrating their first NBA title in franchise hitsory the Toronto Raptors got a huge wake-up call in the form of Kawhi Leonard leaving the team in free agency.

Despite winning a title and Finals MVP Leonard had decided to leave for the L.A. Clippers to team up with Paul George.

Toronto opted to keep the team intact and see how good they could be even without Leonard. The Raptors gave F Pascal Siakam an extension and hoped that he could take another step in his development to ease the loss of Leonard.

It appears that the Raptors were not only right about the team they had but also about Siakam.

Toronto is 7-3 so far this season and currently second in the Eastern Conference standings. The Raptors have looked like a viable threat to come out of the East despite losing Leonard.

Siakam’s Big Step

Siakam is coming off of a season that saw him win the Most Improved Award while also becoming an NBA champion. The Raptors saw during last season how good Siakam was becoming and gave him a four-year, $130 million maximum contract extension.

Siakam has rewarded the Raptors immensely this season as his game has gone to another level.

Siakam is averaging 26.3 PPG, 9.5 RPG, and 3.9 APG, all while shooting 48.5 percent from the field. The averages are all career-highs except for his shooting percentage.

According to Cleaning the Glass, Siakam has a +18.0 on/off difference, meaning the Raptors are 18 points better when he’s on the court than off.

The biggest reason for that number is his defense as the Raptors allow almost 10 points less when he’s on the floor. Both his on/off rating, as well as his points allowed per 100 possesions, are a career-best this season, via Cleaning the Glass.

If Siakam can maintain his excellent start then the Raptors could be replacing a superstar with a player on the verge of becoming one.

Balanced Offense and Defense

The Raptors have been good on both ends of the floor this season.

Toronto has the fourteenth best offense by offensive rating while their defense ranks sixth in defensive rating.

Toronto RaptorsThe Raptors have a net rating of 5.2 which is the fifth-best in the NBA.

The Raptors have posted those numbers while playing a schedule that has seen them play the likes of Boston Celtics, L.A. Lakers, L.A. Clippers, and the Milwaukee Bucks. The Raptors have only gone 1-3 against those four teams this season but all three losses were competitive.

As long as the Raptors can maintain their ratings then they should have a good chance at being a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Injuries

Lowry was having a great start to the season as he was averaging 21.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, and 6.5 APG. He was shooting 47.8 percent from the field and 42.6 percent from three.

However, during the Raptors win over New Orleans, he suffered a left thumb fracture that will cause him to miss two weeks. In the seven games he finished playing, he scored at least 20 points in all but one of them.

Lowry had a season-high 36 points in the Raptors loss to the Bucks.

Lowry isn’t the only major injury for Toronto as F Serge Ibaka is also out. Ibaka went down with a severely sprained ankle in the same game that Lowry was injured in.

Ibaka is averaging 14 points per game along with 6.5 rebounds per game. The Raptors will need their bench to step up as they look to replace the 35 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists that Lowry and Ibaka combined to average.

The next two weeks will be important as the Raptors will be shorthanded. The Raptors do face some tough teams over the course of two weeks but they did beat the Lakers without Lowry and Ibaka (And probably should’ve beat the Clippers too).

Expect the Raptors and Pascal Siakam to find ways to win even with two starters out.

  
Brandon has covered basketball for several outlets including FanSided and 247Sports. He is a graduate of Radford University with a degree in media studies/journalism.

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