• Cyrus Rogers

How far can the Raptors go this season?

The Toronto Raptors were crowned NBA Champions in June and the basketball world was their oyster. Tickertape parades, adorning fans inside Canada and from all over the globe as well as adulation from the media. It was a tremendous achievement that brought enormous joy to a lot of people. Then Kawhi Leonard decided to move to the Los Angeles Clippers and the focus shifted to questions about whether or not the Raptors would even be able to compete in the Eastern Conference. That type of switch in perception was as knee-jerk as it gets. The Raptors seemed to have been labelled a one man team with Leonard the driving force, but Nick Nurse and his current squad have proven that they are a franchise with talent through out their roster.

The Raptors have made an impressive 8-3 start to the NBA season that sees them sitting as the number two seed in the East behind the Boston Celtics. They made a winning start to the season with a 130-122 overtime win over the New Orleans Pelicans and they had that NBA champion swagger. The team from ‘The North’ have managed to beat some impressive teams along the way, with standout victories over the Detroit Pistons, LA Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers as well as another big win over the Pelicans. However, they’ve lost to Eastern Conference rivals the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks with a loss to the Clippers their third defeat. They’ve kept the games close in all of those losses and that has meant morale stayed high. The team is playing like winners do with enough smarts, skill and defensive acumen to give everyone a tough time in a very long season.

Pascal Siakam in particular has taken another leap forward in his development. In the opener against the Pelicans he scored 34 points and grabbed 18 rebounds and he hasn’t looked back since. The Cameroonian sensation Siakam won the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year award last term after a spectacular showing. In the 2018-19 season he averaged 16.9 points per game (ppg), 6.9 rebounds per game (rpg) and 3.1 assists per game (apg). He shot 36.9% from three-point range as he only attempted around 2.7 long range shots. Fast forward to this current season and he is a different player. Siakam is averaging 27.2 ppg, 9.2 rpg and 3.8 apg as he has improved across all of those stats. His three-point shooting has also gotten better, he is averaging 37.3 off an average of 6.1 shot attempts per game. It’s no surprise that the Raptors made sure they tied Siakam up on a massive long-term deal. He signed a new four-year contract for a reported $130m. That is huge money and a statement of intent that they see way more to come from him.

Siakam looks to be on course to become an All-Star this season and potentially joining him would be the other breakout Raptors ace Fred VanVleet. VanVleet has been a revelation so far. He showed his prowess in the NBA Finals on both ends of the court with superb defensive showings going hand-in-hand with stellar shot-making. VanVleet has really stepped up in Toronto with Kyle Lowry out injured, he is averaging 17.1 ppg, 7.6 apg, 4.2 rpg and 1.6 steals per contest. He’s also shooting 40.6% from beyond the arc. VanVleet’s performances have ensured that his side don’t miss their veteran point guard Lowry. Siakam and VanVleet are the future of the Raptors and they look to have continued their personal evolutions into superstardom this term.

So, how far can the Raptors go this campaign? Are they able to make it to the NBA Finals again, or even make a push to go deep into the playoffs? Well from where they are now it looks like a solid bet that the Canadian team can get back to the Conference Finals at least. A look at their roster will tell you that they don’t have a superstar name headlining a band of hard-working brothers. But what Toronto has done over the years is develop their superstars in house. DeMar DeRozan was the last major lottery selection that has gone on to shine bright in Ontario. Siakam and VanVleet could fill that void and become the homegrown stars that the franchise needs.

To answer the question, ‘How far can the Raptors got this season?’ Well all signs point to a deep playoffs run with their campaign ending in the Conference Finals. The Raptors have been written off before on numerous occasions. Can the Raps repeat the title-winning heroics? It looks unlikely, but so did their first championship. Don’t bet against them.

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