The Toronto Raptors are title contenders without Kawhi Leonard

The Toronto Raptors had a magical journey last season, capturing their first-ever NBA championship. They traded for San Antonio Spurs’ disgruntled superstar, Kawhi Leonard, who had one year left on his contract. They took on a potential one-year rental hoping he could put a franchise, synonymous with playoff failure, over the hump.

Leonard hit an iconic buzzer beater in their Game 7 win in the second round over the Philadelphia 76ers as the ball bounced four times before sinking in as time expired. He then led them to victories over the Milwaukee Bucks and the injury-riddled Golden State Warriors in the Eastern Conference Finals and the NBA Finals respectively.

This past offseason, Leonard left to join the Los Angeles Clippers and Raptors’ shooting guard Danny Green signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. Many thought the Raptors would take a step back this season. However, that has not been the case.

Despite losing their star player and a key role piece, the Raptors have the third-best record in the NBA and in some ways, look even stronger than last season. In the Orlando bubble, the Raptors have been dominant, achieving a 3-0 record thus far, which includes a 15-point victory over the Western Conference’s top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers.

They look as great as anyone and are once again a contender to win the championship.

The two biggest reasons for this are the stellar depth and their elite shooting ability.

The Raptors do not have a true go-to scorer but with the roster they have, it works to their advantage. They have six players who average more than 10 points per game with five averaging more than 15 points per game. This is great as the team has more scoring threats in case other players are injured or are shooting poorly.

Power forward Pascal Siakam is the statistical leader with 23.5 points per game (PPG) and 7.5 rebounds per game (RPG) but he is far from the only dependable player on the team. Surrounding him is a trio of guards in Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry. All three of them are solid shooters and can get red-hot on any given night.

Adding to that are forwards Serge Ibaka and OG Anunoby who provide length and more scoring options. Their three games in the bubble have emphasized just how scary their depth and arsenal are.

In their 107-92 win over the Lakers, Lowry (33) and Anunoby (23) were their two leading scorers. In their 107-103 win over the Miami Heat, VanVleet (36) and Siakam (22) led the team in scoring. In their 109-99 win over the Orlando Magic, all six major players, previously mentioned, scored at least 11 points. They have multiple players that can lead the team scoring per game and they have many players who can contribute well.

This is further emphasized by their shooting ability. The Raptors are top five in two major categories: three-point field goal percentage (tied for fourth with the Spurs) and free-throw percentage (third). Landing toward the top of these two statistics is massive in today’s NBA.

The flow of the game emphasizes court spacing and knocking down shots. Based on their percentage and the number of weapons at their disposal, it is clear the Raptors’ offense will be a force to be reckoned with no matter who they play. Free-throw shooting is crucial in close games and if they can continue to shoot free throws the way they have been, it will be difficult to take the lead on them in the final minutes of a close contest.

What does this mean in the bigger picture of the NBA championship race?

I think the Raptors are right up there in the championship conversation. As great as he is, Giannis Antetokounmpo has still not proven to win in the biggest of games yet. Also, the Lakers’ lack of depth and the inconsistent supporting cast around LeBron James and Anthony Davis are becoming more and more apparent as they continue to lose in the Orlando bubble.

While the Raptors do not have a true go-to scorer, their shooting ability and deep roster may very well lead them to another championship. This time, without Kawhi Leonard, proving the Raptors last season were not just a one-man show.

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