We may only be 11 games into the season but the reigning Eastern Conference and NBA Finals champions are already proving the critics wrong. Having burst into contention last year and blitzing their way to the top of the NBA tree, there was an assumption that their form and success would be unsustainable heading into the follow-up campaign.
Slump expected after Leonard’s departure
There was justification for such skepticism after star player Kawhi Leonard made his move to Los Angeles in the off-season leaving the Canadian team with a weaker looking roster. History has shown that teams that lose their most valuable assets (mid-00s Detroit being the notable exception) often struggle to reclaim the glory of the previous season.
Leonard recorded 732 points during the playoffs, a number that has only been only bettered by LeBron James (2018) and Michael Jordan (1992) in the history of the game. Those are some figures to wave goodbye to and expect business to carry on as usual. As a result, the Raptors were well down the pecking order in the NBA betting on bet365 when the season began.
Siakam stepping up with confidence
In these cases, other players need to step up and Pascal Siakam was the one man who was expected to shoulder much of that responsibility. So far, he seems to have taken the task in his stride, scoring a joint career-high 44 points in the 122-104 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. He looks like a player who has the ability to achieve anything he wants under the guidance of Coach Nick Nurse.
Eye-catching displays from Anunoby
Also impressing is OG Anunoby who has averaged 1.7 blocks and 1.4 steals per game while hitting 50% of his three-point shots so far this season. The 22-year-old Londoner is attacking with confidence and defending as well as anyone in the roster. In the recent win over Sacramento, he caught the eye again with a career-high five assists and some authoritative guarding.
Early play-off contenders
It may be early in the season but the Raptors already look like play-off contenders with only the Celtics outpacing them in the Eastern Conference so far. The expected drop off following Leonard’s departure has yet to happen and they seem to have found another superstar in Siakam who recently agreed on a new four-year deal. If they can maintain their current level, they will be well placed to make the trades they need next summer to keep them competitive for the next few years.
This is an organization that is showing everyone else in the league how to run a team in a modest but successful manner without the drama and controversy that often surrounds champion teams. What was meant to be a transition period for the team already looks like more of a continuation of what went before with young prospects rising up to the challenge laid out before them.