Oct 1, 2019
Oct 1, 2019

Can the Toronto Raptors repeat?

The loss of Kawhi and Danny Green

Veteran experience returns

Emergence of Pascal Siakam

Weakening of the East

Can the Toronto Raptors repeat?

For many analysts and fans, the loss of Kawhi Leonard to the L.A. Clippers via free agency would merit the dismissal of the Toronto Raptors as championship contenders for the 2019-20 NBA season, but is it really the case? Do they have enough emerging talent to replace Kawhi? Can the Raptors repeat?

How much can change within one month?

June 14, 2019 – Kawhi Leonard stands hands raised as teammates rush towards him on centre court of Oracle Arena, the buzzer rings out as the scoreboard reads:

Toronto Raptors 114-110 Golden State Warriors

Leonard and the Toronto Raptors made history by capturing the country’s first major sporting title in 26 years.

July 10, 2019 – The L.A. Clippers sign free agent forward Kawhi Leonard from the Toronto Raptors.

Unsurprisingly, Kawhi’s arrival in LA had a dramatic impact on the Toronto Raptors chances of retaining the NBA Championship crown. While a Kawhi-less Raptors will struggle to repeat the feat from last year, some more detailed analysis is required before writing them off completely.

Toronto Raptors 2019-20: notable transactions

Toronto Raptors 2019-20: notable transactions



Kawhi Leonard

Stanely Johnson

Danny Green

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Jeremy Lin

Cameron Payne

The loss of Kawhi and Danny Green

Kawhi Leonard averaged 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists for the Toronto Raptors in the 24 playoff games that led to his second NBA Championship and Finals MVP honour. During the 2018-19 regular season, the three-time All-Star averaged 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists.

This upcoming NBA season will be one of the most open title races to date, with free agency and player movement changing the landscape of the league and causing uncertainty amongst the market and bettors.

Danny Green, a long-time friend and teammate of Kawhi, is also on the Raptors exit list. He averaged 10.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and held the second highest three-point shooting percentage in the league at 45.50%. He will be one of the sizeable departures for the NBA champions.

"Interestingly, the most effective five-man lineup was one in which Kawhi was replaced with F. VanVleet. This lineup was able to outscore opponents by 16.5 points"

There hasn’t been too much concern over the departure of Danny Green as there is a plethora of high energy defensive wings that can step into his shoes. This includes returning role players OG Anunoby and Norman Powell to former first-round draft picks Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

While we can talk about potential replacements and buy into narratives about how important these two players are, the best way to assess their impact on the Toronto Raptors performances and ultimate success is to use data.

So, has these two players’ impact on the overall Raptors performance been overstated? Advanced metrics shows that the most utilised five-man combination spent on court consisted of D. Green, S. Ibaka, K. Leonard, K. Lowry and P. Siakam (Lineup 1). This lineup was able to outscore opponents per 100 possessions by 10.7 points.

Interestingly, the most effective five-man lineup was one in which Kawhi was replaced with F. VanVleet (Lineup 2). This lineup was able to outscore opponents by 16.5 points on better shooting percentages, more three-pointers made (-0.5 to +6.5) and were able to secure more rebounds (+0.7 to +1.9) per 100 possessions.

While this data does bring into question just how vital Kawhi was to the Raptors’ success, it is also important to note the sample size we are dealing with here. As can be seen from the table below, Lineup 1 played nearly three times as many combined minutes as Lineup 2.








































Stats per 100 possessions above team average (via basketball-reference.com)

Veteran experience returns

The championship winning core from last season remains for the most part in Toronto. Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, Captain Kyle Lowry and Coach Nick Nurse return for another training camp and season together. This group can certainly still be very competitive, especially in a weakened Eastern Conference.

Marc Gasol, the 12-year veteran is coming off a FIBA World Cup winning campaign where he became the second player to win an NBA title and World Cup in the same year. The 34-year-old showed glimpses of his younger self by producing performances such as scoring 33 points against Australia in the semi-finals. Gasol was named in the World Cup All-Star Five, with averages of 14.4 points and the second highest plus/minus on the Spanish national team.

When you add in veteran leaders Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry with a mix of youthful talent with Fred VanVleet, (who finished second place in NBA finals MVP voting) and rising star Pascal Siakam, then Raptors fans (and bettors) certainly have more reason to be positive.

Emergence of Pascal Siakam

Pascal Siakam (also known as “Spicy P”) is coming off the back of an impressive 2018-19 season that saw him make massive strides in his game, proven by the fact that he won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.

The Toronto Raptors will be looking for someone to fill the void left by Kawhi Leonard, and the question many might be asking is “why can’t it be Pascal Siakam?”. There were times last season where he showed All-Star ability and the hope will be that he can develop in 2019-20. Game 1 of the NBA Finals is an example of a Siakim not shying away from the pressure he will face this season, he scored 32 points on 14 of 17 shooting from the field and became the first player to score 30+ points on over 80% shooting in an NBA Finals series since Shaquille O’Neal in 2004-05.

If Siakim can take the next step in production, he may be able to push for MVP (111.280*) consideration.

Weakening of the East

With over 40% of the league being Free Agents in the offseason and the influx of player movement across conferences, the balance of talent has shifted with over half the players selected in the 2018-19 All-NBA teams now playing in the Western Conference

Pinnacle’s NBA outright odds further support this with only four Eastern conference teams (Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics) being placed in the top ten most likely teams to win the 2019-20 NBA title. Toronto are 12th in the list of NBA Championship contenders with a win probability of just 2.42% (41.600*).

NBA 2019-20 Championship odds

NBA 2019-20 Championship odds

Likelihood of Winning



Implied Probability (%)


Los Angeles Clippers




Los Angeles Lakers




Milwaukee Bucks




Philadelphia 76ers




Houston Rockets




Golden State Warriors




Utah Jazz




Denver Nuggets




Brooklyn Nets




Boston Celtics




Toronto Raptors



Seeing how open the Eastern Conference is, the Raptors chances of winning the Eastern Conference might be lower than many bettors are expecting (14.160*). They are only the third favourites to win the Atlantic division (5.880*) behind the 76ers and Celtics despite winning it in five of the last six seasons.

The last time the Raptors didn’t win the Atlantic Division was the same season in which they won 48 games (unsurprisingly this is their lowest output in the last six seasons). Pinnacle’s total for regular season wins suggests the Raptors might dip below that mark with the total set at 46.5 (1.813*).

The 2019-20 incarnation of the Toronto Raptors will more than likely not be playing basketball in late June, but behind a playing group with championship pedigree, youthful talent and a well-regarded head coach they should not be so easily dismissed.

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