Now that we have all fully relished in this summer and we’re waking up with that championship hangover, don’t forget why you got on the bandwagon in the first place. Yes, I understand that Kawhi Leonard left us along with Danny Green and even Phil Handy – but there’s so much more to this team than the Green Ranger and “what it do baybeeee”.
Hear us out, please?
Reason number one you should stick along is our young core. Raptors’ president Masai Ujiri along with Bobby Webster and their staff have curated a group of young players that was made to stand the test of time. For example, you have the defending Most Improved Player, Pascal Siakam, as the center piece of this young core. During the 2018/2019 season, Siakam averaged 16.9 points on 54.9% shooting and 36.9% from beyond the arc. His length and speed makes it almost impossible to stop him and, as we saw in the playoffs, a spin from Siakam can send his defender in a daze. And don’t get it wrong, Siakam is not just a regular-season star that we see so often with these young players. His skills have translated well into the playoffs and it was evident during the long postseason run. Siakam showed the rest of the league that he belongs on the big stage as he went 14 for 17, finishing the night with 32 points against the Golden State Warriors for game 1 of the NBA Finals. This is not something that happens by chance. Siakam is known for his work ethic and putting in his time during the off-season. Some have even made the argument that, if he takes another leap in his game, he may very well win the MIP for a second year in a row. Isn’t that something you want to see?
Another name you can look out for is OG Anunoby. If you became a Raptors fan during the playoffs, you may not know who this guy is but trust me, learn his name if you plan on sticking around. At 6’8”, Anunoby has great size for a small forward as he has the ability to dominate offensively while also making his presence known defensively. In the two years since he was drafted 23rd overall in 2017, OG has averaged 6.4 points on 46.1% shooting with an average of 2.7 rebounds. From personal issues to injuries and even emergency surgery, Anunoby was riddled with obstacles that prevented him from participating in the postseason with his team. But from what he has shown through his two seasons with the Raptors, OG Anunoby is another piece that’s integral to this young core and is expected to make great strides this coming season. It also doesn’t hurt that he provides the comic relief that this teams needs once in a while.
And of course we can’t forget the real OG’s of this young core with guys like Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet coming back for another season. Though these guys are entering their fifth and fourth year with the Raptors respectively, their experience and basketball IQ is what the young players will be looking to for guidance.
Reason number two; the Raptors organization is well oiled machine that has proven to be a winner. Since the inception of their G-League affiliate team, the Raptors 905, their system has produced sound players who have been able to transition smoothly between the two tiers. Players like Normal Powell, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher and OG Anunoby are prime examples that working with players at the grass-root level works. We also see it in their front office where management has complete autonomy in how the team is handled and is made up of individuals who have seen all aspects of basketball. From scouting to negotiations of the CBA, and even the one that coined the term “load management”, the Raptors front office has been a mold that many teams around the league are trying to replicate so, why keep looking?
Lastly, don’t underestimate what championship experience can do for a player. This may sound cliché but we heard it from the media when the Golden State Warriors were down 3-1, “don’t underestimate the heart of a champion” and it could not be more true. During this postseason run, the Raptors learned what it really takes to make it to the end. It wasn’t a walk in the park for these guys. First round they were met by the up and coming Orlando Magic. Then they were dragged through the mud by the Philadelphia 76ers where literally the last shot in game 7 decided the series. And finally, they had to get through the juggernaut of a team in the Milwaukee Bucks only to meet the 3-time NBA Champion, Golden State Warriors. Though specific players got us to the next round, it was a team effort in winning the Larry O’B. The Raptors are one of twenty teams to have won it all and so they’re in the company of elites. They did the unthinkable by winning it all in a year where they risked everything and were considered the heavy underdog. The experience they gained throughout the postseason makes them even hungrier to experience it again.
If all you listen to is the media personalities who has already swept this defending Champion under the rug, then you’re going to miss out on something great. This team has always been and always will be the underdog even as they come into a new season as reigning NBA champions. This the kind of feeling that the Raptors thrive off of. These guys truly believe in themselves and are not listening to all the noise. There’s nothing scarier than a team looking to prove people wrong. Isn’t that something that you want to continue to be apart of?