Why Toronto Raptors 17-5 record without Kawhi Leonard is misleading

Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Jack Arent/NBAE via Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Jack Arent/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Toronto Raptors fans have used the team’s 17-5 record without Kawhi Leonard last year as a projection for this season. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story.

After the departure of Kawhi Leonard, there has been some debate just how good the Toronto Raptors project to be next season. The defending NBA Champions, are being bashed and picked apart by just about everyone in the industry, causing push back from Raptor fans.

“We were 17-5 without Kawhi Leonard last season!” is the most common retaliation, citing the team’s success without Leonard last year as a proxy for what the team will accomplish this season.

It makes sense, the Raptors were good without Kawhi last season, and their success without him is certainly a positive sign for the upcoming year.

However, if 17-5 is your baseline, prepare to be disappointed. That figure, while impressive, is also incredibly misleading. There were several factors which inflated that number higher than it should have been.

Who they beat

One of the nice things about resting a player, rather than losing them to injury, is you can pick-and-choose the games which they miss. Last season, Toronto was very smart about resting Kawhi against easier opponents so the team still had a good chance to win without him.

In the 22 games Kawhi Leonard rested, Raptors opponents had a winning percentage of 45-percent, as opposed to 53-percent when he played. 8-percent might not sound like much, but it’s actually more than four times greater than the difference between the easiest and hardest schedule in the NBA.

Perhaps more concerning is how the Raptors fared against top-opponents without Leonard. In the 22 games Kawhi Leonard missed, Toronto played nine teams with .500 or better records. In those nine games, they were 4-5.

Nine games is a small sample, and it’s certainly noteworthy that they were able to go 13-0 against opponents with a losing record, but the team’s inability to beat the top opponents in the NBA is concerning.

Danny Green

This is the most obvious one but somehow one that never seems to be mentioned. The team didn’t just lose Kawhi Leonard, they also lost Danny Green, one of their top regular-season performers.

Green shot 45-percent from three, played defense at a near All-NBA level, and was one of the 10 best shooting guards in the NBA last season. No, he’s not Kawhi Leonard, but losing 80 games of Danny Green is noteworthy.

Toronto will theoretically attempt to fill Green’s minutes with more Norman Powell, some Matt Thomas, and some Patrick McCaw. All fine players, but none at the level of Danny Green. Kawhi’s absence has been discussed in great length, but somehow Green’s departure is flying under the radar.

Internal growth/decline

One of the ways that Toronto can cover for the absence of Kawhi is the internal growth of younger players on the roster. Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, and OG Anunoby should all take steps forward next season.

However, the same argument works against the Raptors with players on the wrong side of the aging curve. Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka are all likely to take steps back next year. Lowry’s already lost the ability to attack the basket, Serge had a bounce-back season but will be on the wrong side of 30 once the year starts, and Gasol loses some of his defensive prowess every season.

At best, it feels like it’s fair to push the Raptors growth/decline at an overall wash. If a younger player or two regresses slightly, things could get much worse.


The one area where the Raptors can take solace in their record without Kawhi is the high percentage of games which were the second night of a back-to-back.

Leonard rested during 10 of the Raptors 12 back-to-backs; Toronto went 8-2 during those games. Yes, they might have been against weaker opponents, but playing the second night of a back-to-back against anyone in the NBA is difficult. Toronto’s impressive record during that span shouldn’t be overlooked.

What it means

The general public is probably too low on the Raptors ability to compete next season. At their ceiling, they could be a 3-4 seed in the Eastern Conference. Their floor — provided no one is traded — is still a playoff team.

Next. Something every Toronto Raptors player can work on this offseason. dark

But to project a 17-5 record without Kawhi as a basis for next season is flawed on a few levels. Toronto won’t play opponents that easy, won’t have Danny Green, and probably won’t experience the type of internal development fans are projecting.

Toronto will still be good next season, just shoot for reasonable expectations.