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How the Toronto Raptors Have Thrived Without Kawhi Leonard

Toronto Raptors without Kawhi

The defending champion Toronto Raptors picked up right where they left off last season and currently occupy the second seed in the eastern conference with a record of 39-14. Toronto is currently on a 14-game winning streak, a franchise record, and all without their star player from last year Kawhi Leonard, who left for the LA Clippers in free agency. 

Here’s a look at how the Raptors have thrived without Kawhi Leonard. 

A Balanced Offensive Game

Toronto Raptors without Kawhi
Van Vleet with the crisp release, courtesy of Zimbio

Unlike last year where the majority of the offense ran through Leonard, especially in the playoffs, the offense is more spread out throughout the team to great effect. They are the only team in the NBA to have five players (minimum 30 games played) averaging over 15 points per game, with Pascal Siakam leading the way at 23.4 points per game. 

They also run a wonderful combo guard system with both Kyle Lowry and Fred Van Vleet being elite distributors as well as dependable shooters. Lowry and Van Vleet are both top 15 in the NBA in assists per game and both average nearly 20 points per game.

The entire team is also deadly from long-range, ranking third in the league in 3-point percentage. An incredible nine Raptors players are shooting over 35 percent from deep and four are shooting over 40 percent. 

Lock Down Defense 

Where the Raptors really shine is on the defensive end. Much like their offense, the Raptors defense is balanced and well rounded without a real weak link. 

On the perimeter, Lowry and Van Vleet are both around league average defenders but are by no means liabilities on the defensive end. Off the bench, they have some elite perimeter defenders like OG Anounoby and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson who have length and can match up well with a number of players.

Toronto Raptors without Kawhi
Marc Gasol with the defense on Joel Embiid courtesy of John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

They are elite at defending the three-point ball, teams are shooting just 33.8 percent against them, good for second in the NBA (tied with the Nuggets). They also are great at causing turnovers, six Raptors average over a steal per game and the team ranks second in both steals and opponents turnovers. 

While they don’t have a real post threat who can block shots at will they do have some very savvy post defenders like Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Chris Boucher. All of them are very good at forcing bad shots and disrupting their opponent on and off the ball. 

Where They Can Improve

The Raptor’s main place to improve is their interior scoring. The Raptors offense is held back by its paltry 51.7 percent shooting on two-pointers, 22nd in the league. The main worry is that if the three-pointers stop falling in a tough playoff series they won’t be reliably able to put the ball in the basket. A smart step for them to make this offseason would be to attempt to move Gasol’s massive contract and acquire a more reliable interior scorer. But for now, the Raptors are playing great basketball and hope to carry this good run of form right into a second consecutive NBA championship.

 

All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference

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