The Toronto Raptors won their first-ever NBA championship last June. However, many people doubted the Raptors after Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green left the Toronto Raptors.
Some pundits said the Raptors will either not make or barely crawl into the playoffs. These expert predictions are proven to be quite wrong.
There are three main factors why the Raptors are doing well. One is the G-League, signing and drafting overlooked players, and the other is the Championship hangover.
Three Keys to the Toronto Raptors Success
The Raptors 905 play in Mississauga, which is part of the Greater Toronto Area. The 905 has played a huge role in the Raptors playoff success, their championship, and their early-season success. They are the farm team of the Toronto Raptors and joined the D-League (now the G-League) at the Hershey Centre (now the Paramount Fine Foods Centre) in 2015.
Many of the Raptor players have now played previously in the D or G-League.
According to CBC Sports, it all started with Norman Powell. In the 905’s inaugural season, Powell averaged 24.9 points per game. In the 2016 playoffs, he guarded Paul George and played a pivotal role in the Raptors winning their first playoff win since 2001.
Norman Powell has scored 17 points in the Raptors blowout against the Charlotte Hornets. He also performed well and got 26 points in a narrow loss against the Dallas Mavericks.
Norman Powell though is not the only player to step up for the Raptors. Two players that could make their first all-star appearance this year also started their careers with the Toronto Raptors.
Pascal Siakam, nicknamed Spicy P, won the D-League Finals MVP in 2017 and is playing awesome this year. He won Most Improved Player of the Year in 2019.
In his 2018-19 season, he averaged 16.9 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game, and 3.1 assists per game.
That is a huge jump from the 2017-18 season where he had only 7.3 points per game. This made Leo Rautins, former Canadian basketball player, and current Raptors commentator to say this:
“He’s Becoming a Star in Front of Our Eyes.”
Pascal Siakam this year is in the MVP conversation in the NBA.
Landon Bangerter of NBA.com had Siakam at sixth in the NBA MVP ladder.
Siakam is currently averaging 25.7 points per game, 8.6 rebounds per game, and 4.2 assists per game.
From the standpoint of points alone, that is a 7-8-point jump this year for Siakam. He is looking like a shoo-in to become a first-time All-Star, but there is another player that is having a terrific year as well.
If Fred VanVleet makes it to the All-Star Game this season. It would be a fantastic story.
In 2016, Pascal Siakam was drafted 27th. Fred VanVleet that year was not even drafted.
Even though Pascal Siakam won the D-League MVP, VanVleet’s stats were also pretty good. According to Louis Zatzman of CBC Sports, Fred VanVleet averaged 22 points, 6 rebounds, and 11.5 assists per game.
VanVleet has averaged 17.6 points, 7.6 assists, and 4 rebounds per game this year. These stats are staggering for a player ignored by all 30 NBA teams in the 2016 NBA Draft. These stats are also good enough to be considered an NBA All-Star.
Although these three players are the most successful from the 905, there are also other players stepping up this year.
Other G-League and Draft Pick Players
This includes players like Chris Boucher, Terence Davis, Matt Thomas, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. These players have come from the bench and have picked the Raptors up.
An example would be a game against the Los Angeles Lakers. These four players had combined for 43 points led by Chris Boucher with 15 points.
The Raptors also played good defense. This was shown by Chris Boucher who blocked Montrezl Harrell of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Chris Boucher has won many accolades in the G-League. The Saint-Lucian born and Montreal resident has won NBA G League MVP player and defensive G-League player of the year in 2019. He also made it to the All-NBA G League First team in 2019 and is a two-time NBA Champion.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is averaging 9.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, Matt Thomas, a player who came from Spain scored 10 points against the Dallas Mavericks.
Lastly, Terence Davis who had 16 points, seven assists, and four triples against the visiting Charlotte Hornets.
This is the case even though Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Patrick McCaw, and at points of the season OG Anunoby has been unable to play due to injury. OG Anunoby has also stepped up this year, scoring 24 points and knocking in four threes against the Charlotte Hornets.
All of these players are also doing well because of the NBA playoff experience last year. Even the ones that did not participate in the playoffs feel comfortable playing for the Raptors.
This is because none of the Raptors players who won the NBA Championship were not drafted in the lottery.
So, they all understand the underdog role and be able to help each other out.
The Toronto Raptors 2019 NBA Championship Run
Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol played major roles in the NBA Championship run. They all stepped up in different games.
Marc Gasol helped Kawhi Leonard guard Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. Both Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry stepped up against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. Ibaka came up with big blocks against the Warriors and Lowry stepped up in the last game of the NBA Finals. He had 26 points against the Warriors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
However, since Lowry and Ibaka have been injured the Raptors have depended on Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and Norman Powell.
All three of these players have performed well at some point in the 2019 post-season.
However, what is lost is how well Siakam, VanVleet, and Powell played in these playoffs.
Pascal Siakam had 19 points and 5.5 rebounds per game and Norman Powell had played well in most of the Milwaukee Bucks Eastern Conference Finals series. This included scoring 18 points against the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.
However, the biggest one is Fred VanVleet in the NBA playoffs. After his baby boy was born, he went on a tear in the Eastern Conference Finals and the NBA Finals. He even got a vote for NBA Finals MVP last June.
NBA Finals MVP Vote
In fact, VanVleet was good enough to warrant an NBA Final MVP vote.
From an article from the Sportsnet Staff:
“He did an incredible job for you offensively, but more importantly, he took (Steph) Curry out of the left corner in the key wins and that alone should’ve gotten incredible ink from guys that were witnessing the game and writing about the games,” said Brown, explaining his reasoning on Sportsnet 590 the FAN’s Writers Bloc on Tuesday.
Kawhi Leonard ended up winning the NBA Finals MVP getting all of the other NBA MVP votes.
However, for someone who was undrafted and is now performing at all All-Star level, a lot of respect should be given to Fred VanVleet. He had 14 points per game in a limited 24 minutes per game. This included scoring 22 points against the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
The Toronto Raptors Are Defending NBA Champions
The same respect for VanVleet should be given to the whole NBA roster. They are the NBA Champions and are looking to win two straight NBA titles, just like the Toronto Blue Jays did in 1993.
To be playing well despite having three and sometimes four players injured shows the amount of depth the Raptors have that few other teams have.
Currently, the Toronto Raptors are currently tied for second in the Eastern Conference with 11 wins and 4 losses.
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