Expert NBA Handicapping: Toronto Raptors True Contender in East
The Toronto Raptors suffered just their third loss in 15 games on Wednesday night against the Pistons. It's the first time all season that they probably wish things had turned out differently. It was the first time former coach Dwane Casey, who was fired after last year's playoff debacle and subsequently named Coach of the Year, returned to Toronto. He received a warm reception and a video package from the team, and players who were with the team under Casey were focused on the game. Toronto had a 19-point lead later on but blew it and lost by two. It would have been nice to see more fight and finish from them, but it's only one game. And the bigger story is that this is a very good team from last year that is much improved this year.
Let's look at their first 15 games so far from a few different angles.
Kawhi: Is it just me, or is it getting a little easier to see Leonard eating poutine and sipping maple syrup over the long term? He is fitting in like a glove, he seems much looser and happier than he was last year, he and coach Nick Nurse seem to be working well together, and it has to becoming clear that he can win here, while things like Melo in Houston and the lack of bliss in Golden State right now are reminders of how the grass on the other side of the fence might not always be greener. Toronto just needs to get him and Paul George in a room for a while, and they will be all set. Leonard has missed four games already this year, but that is for management more than necessity - to have him ready when he is really needed. The more you watch him when he does play, though, the more you realize just how good he is - and he still has room to grow in terms of health and presumably chemistry. I'm not yet confident enough to guarantee that Leonard will choose the Raps over the Clippers, but it's a very distinct possibility - and that's something.
Kyle: Lowry has had to deal with a lot, losing his long-term backcourt mate in the Leonard deal and losing the mantle as the team's biggest star in the same trade. But he is adjusting nicely. The biggest and most obvious difference is in his assists. His career average is six per game, and his previous best was 7.4. Right now he is averaging 10.7, which is tops in the league. And that's not the only shift in his game. His three-point percentage is well down, but his shooting percentage is a career-best. His shot selection has changed along with his increase in selflessness. His willingness to adapt, and ability to remain effective while doing so, is a big part of what is happening here. The guy is 32-years-old, and you could argue he's having the best year of his career. For a guy of his caliber, that is really saying something.
Serge Ibaka: I'm an Ibaka guy, but the last few years have been rough for him - at least compared to his earlier success. But he is a whole new guy this year. He missed the Detroit game with a minor knee issue, but he has been spending a lot of time starting at center, and an experiment the team wouldn't have dreamed to try before is really paying off. He's scoring at a career-best clip, and he is generally thriving. It's the best he has been in Toronto for sure and the best he really has been since his heyday in Oklahoma City. And it's not just that. He and Kawhi have developed chemistry both on and, reportedly, off the court. Chemistry has been so much of what has made Toronto succeed, and it is there again this year despite the rocky offseason. Ibaka's reemergence makes this team even more dangerous than otherwise because it just adds to their depth and to their options.
Depth: The Sixers are probably a little more talented at the top end than the Raptors now after their big trade. The Celtics have big top end, too. And Milwaukee has their resident freak. But while Toronto can hold their own at the top end, they have depth that no team outside of the Bay Area can touch. This team just keeps coming and coming. And even with all the changes, and the increased egos that can come with success, they are at least as dangerous as they were off the bench last year. Leonard, Lowry, and the depth make this the team to beat in the conference in my eyes - and if they stay healthy, I don't think they'll get beat until the finals.
Doc's Sports is offering $60 worth of member's picks absolutely free - no obligation, no sales people - you don't even have to enter credit card information. You can use this $60 credit any way you please on any of our top NBA handicappers. Get $60 worth of premium members' picks free . Also, for a limited time only get three top NBA handicappers for the price of one! Click Here . Get free NBA picks today at Doc's Sports basketball predictions page.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
Most Recent NBA Handicapping
- Free NBA Picks Saturday 8/1/2020 and Opening Line Report
- Free NBA Picks Friday 7/31/2020 and Opening Line Report
- 2020 NBA Championship Odds and Expert Predictions
- Expert NBA Handicapping for July Return
- Free NBA Picks Wednesday 3/11/2020 and Opening Line Report
- NBA Playoff Predictions With Seed Analysis
- Free NBA Picks Tuesday 3/9/2020 and Opening Line Report
- Free NBA Picks Saturday 3/7/2020 and Opening Line Report
- Free NBA Picks Friday 3/6/2020 and Opening Line Report
- Free NBA Picks Thursday 3/5/2020 and Opening Line Report