In just 15 days the 2018-2019 NBA season will commence and in 16 days, the brand spanking new version of the Toronto Raptors will tip-off their season after one of the most active and exciting off-seasons that this franchise has seen. In honor of that, The Post Up is doing a little countdown in order to get you excited (just in case you weren’t already there).
On Saturday night, Raptor fans along with the rest of the league was able to get a taste of what this team may look like. The Toronto Raptors took on the Portland Trailblazers in what was arguably the most highly-anticipated pre-season game for this franchise. Safe to say that all eyes were on this game for many reasons. For one thing, it’s the first time that people will get to see Kawhi Leonard play in competitive basketball since his injury and frankly since all the drama went down with his previous team, San Antonio Spurs. Secondly, not only was this a debut for some players, but Nick Nurse along with his new coaching staff also made their debut. And lastly, fans will finally get to see this team play as a team for the first time. Sure, we’ve seen the videos that have been circulating that shows off what the boys have been up to this summer and who they’ve been running ball with. And yeah, we’ve seen the drills that are being done during training camp, but nothing tells fans how their team is really doing like seeing them play live. So how did it go?
The Toronto Raptors started off their pre-season run playing at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver with a 122-104 win over the Portland Trailblazers. Right off the bat, fans saw changes. People were quick to notice that a certain big man was missing from the starting line-up. The game started with Lowry-Leonard-Green-Ibaka-Miles – strange huh? Not seeing Jonas Valanciunas as the starting 5 was indeed different. However, the move to the bench did not seem to phase him as he led the team for the night with 17 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals and 1 block in 19 minutes. Eye test alone shows that JV is finally realizing the direction of the league and it’s big men. It looks like JV is finally coming around to the idea that his style of play needs to evolve or else he’s going to be obsolete. In all honestly, a move like this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise for Raptor fans. This was something that many fans have been begging for during the past couple seasons and so this is likely something that Nurse wanted to see play out. Only time will tell whether or not JV has shaken off that pump-fake, slow-to-move-off-the-pick-and-roll style play but if he has, it may have to be something that’s permanent.
Another change…KAWHI LEONARD WAS IN A RAPTORS UNIFORM. Seeing him barring that “RAPTORS” across his chest was surreal to see but all Raptor fans can agree, it was nice to finally have the best guy on the court on our side. Kawhi finished the night having played 19 minutes; contributing 12 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists and a +/- of 10. But how did he really do? Many have said that Kawhi didn’t look fully engaged or wasn’t giving it his all, looking a little rusty. But considering this was just a pre-season game and that it’s his first competitive game since January, it was as best as you were going to get from him. If he’s like the man he said he was during his Introductory Press Conference, expect a man that respects the game of basketball no matter what team he’s on. Like he, along with many who have worked with him have said, he is a basketball guy and so let’s hope that will show through his play come a couple of weeks.
Aside from the debut of the new acquisitions of Green and Kawhi, we saw a lot of the same characteristics that made this 59-win team so successful last season. Ball movement was there among the starting line-up and the bench, one of which included this beautiful sequence brought to you by our beloved #BenchMob. The three-point shooting was still very much present with the team shooting 34% (12/35) from beyond the arch which is inline with their season average of 33% from last year. But again, we want to remind you that anything you see before their October 17 debut should be taken with a grain of salt. This is a time where the coaching staff is trying things that they wouldn’t normally try during the year in order to assess what they have. When you have to take a 20-man roster down to 13 guys, you give opportunities to guys that you don’t normally see so they have a chance to fight for a spot. On the other hand, the guys who have a guaranteed spot won’t give you their all because, well, it’s just the pre-season.
This first pre-season game is just a (very small) glimpse of what’s to come from this team. Even with the awkward introductory press conferences and Media Day out of the way, there is still a lot of uncertainties with this team. How will the rookie head-coach Nick Nurse and his guys measure up next to the masterminds of the league like Brad Stevens and Steve Kerr? How will Kawhi and Green adjust to playing in the East? How will the rest of the conference adjust now that the East is Lebron-free and where do the Raptors fit in all of that? Only time will tell how this newly assembled team pans out but we as Raptors fans can’t help but be excited to witness what may be the best Raptors team in franchise history.