With Kawhi Leonard gone, the Toronto Raptors will surely lose a lot of the bandwagon fans they gained last season. Here are the biggest reasons why it’ll be worth it for fans to stick around.
Let’s not beat around the bush, Toronto Raptors fans. If last June was the climax of this team’s story, then this season is the falling action. You’re probably still disappointed, maybe even annoyed about Kawhi Leonard’s departure – regardless of whether or not you choose to acknowledge those feelings.
As Eric Koreen of The Athletic (subscription required) outlined so eloquently in July, it’s healthy to feel that way. The NBA, just like life, is never fair or equal. The Lakers can stumble into LeBron James despite a half-decade of incompetence, while the Raptors can play it perfectly with Leonard and still lose him.
That doesn’t mean it’s time to tune out. And If you hopped on the bandwagon last spring, you might be on the fence about sticking around. With Leonard out and Toronto no longer a championship contender, that’s understandable – but that doesn’t mean it’s the right decision. There are plenty of compelling storylines surrounding this team going into the upcoming season.
Pascal Siakam, All-Star
The most fun part of the Raptors’ 2018-19 regular season – besides perhaps that whole ‘having Kawhi Leonard’ thing – was watching Pascal Siakam blossom into an All-Star quality player and win the Most Improved Player award.
This year, Siakam will be expected to make a different kind of jump. It may be a lot more difficult to improve from very good to elite, but Siakam has risen to the challenge before.
He may not become a great No. 1 option, but he’ll at least have a chance to be the clear top offensive option this season. Siakam averaged 16.9 points and 3.1 assists last season with a usage of 20.8-percent. With Leonard’s 30-percent usage rate and 26.6 points per game leaving the lineup, Siakam will be the first player the Raptors ask to fill the void. He should take on more scoring and playmaking duties; expect those averages to increase to somewhere around the 20-22 points and 4-5 assists.
Siakam also appears to have worked on his above-the-break three-point shot this summer. It remains to be seen whether that skill will translate to meaningful games, but if his improvements from the corner are any indication – he shot 41.6-percent on 149 corner treys in 2018-19 after making just 26.8-percent of his 71 attempts in 2017-18 – there’s reason to be optimistic about that aspect of Siakam’s game.
On the other end of the floor, Siakam already became a menace last year, earning 24 votes for Second Team All-Defense – sixth among all forwards, leaving him two spots short of an All-Defense selection.
As voters become more aware of Siakam’s impact and as he takes on more responsibility – or simply receives more credit – in the absence of Leonard, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Siakam earn All-Defense honours in addition to his first All-Star selection. In the still-inferior Eastern Conference, the latter should be almost a lock, provided Siakam stays healthy.