The past 24-hours for Raptors fans have been a multitude of words. Some would describe the day as exhilarating, while others are still in shock as news broke early Wednesday morning that the Toronto Raptors had parted ways with franchise-leading scorer DeMar DeRozan, Center Jakob Poetl, and a Top-20 protected first round pick in exchange for San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green.
Throughout the day reports surfaced that Leonard had no interest in playing for Toronto but, according to ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski or Woj, Leonard has warmed up to the idea. Leonard, as many knows, was surrounded by drama this past season as he recovered (multiple times) from an ankle injury sustained in the 2017 playoffs. Even though off the court issues arose, when Kawhi was on the court there was never a question. While only playing 9 games, and limited minutes, Leonard showed flashes of his 2015-2017 three-year span where his points per game average rose each year to 25.5 in 2017 and he also took home back-to-back defensive player of the year awards.
So how will Kawhi improve this Raptors offense from where DeMar DeRozan left it?
It first depends on his attitude to playing in Toronto.
Many of his teammates in San Antonio felt he quit on the team and left them out to dry even though he was “medically cleared” to play. If Kawhi can shake off the media’s portrayal of him, we know what he can deliver on the court. In 2016-2017, Leonard posted a 26/6/4 stat line while also averaging 1.8 steals per game. He’ll be teaming up with long-time Raptor guard Kyle Lowry who was a one-two punch with DeRozan. Lowry is coming off a down season in which he saw his points per game average dip from 22 to 16. Lowry biggest downfall though has come in the playoffs. Many fans feel that he and DeRozan continually underperformed in playoff series year after year. With Kawhi in the lineup, this can change. He will be looked upon to provide a ton of winning playoff experience and leadership that Toronto has lacked.
In San Antonio, Gregg Popovich’s system relied on a lot of ball-movement while Toronto traditionally with Derozan relied more on his iso game. This past season, Toronto experimented with a lot more ball-movement and an increased emphasis on the three-point shot, which DeRozan was known to struggle with while Kyle Lowry excelled. Leonard is no three-point marksman but is statistically a better perimeter shooter than DeRozan. Toronto will also have sharpshooter Danny Green to bolster this offense. With Leonard and Green plugged into this new style, first-year head coach Nick Nurse will have an abundance of talent to spearhead his system. Kyle Lowry has shown to be a great scorer in the past and has averaged nearly 7 assists for the past 8 seasons. If he can bounce back from a shaky season, Toronto fans will again be packing the house for a Raptors’ playoff game. The bromance of Lowry and DeRozan is gone, but the talent of this team has abundantly increased.
With Lebron James gone, the East looks to be wide open this season. Toronto will definitely be a team to keep an eye on in the East and may shock a few “experts” in where they land headed into the playoffs. Even though early predictions show Kawhi leaving after one season, we have seen with the current offseason that predictions are never a final conclusion.