The Toronto Raptors are off to an unbelievable start. An NBA-best 17-4, a 2nd-best 9.0 point differential, and 3rd-best 116.8 points per game. Daniel Reynolds of Raptors HQ gives us the lowdown on what’s going on in the Six.
1. What are the early reviews on Kawhi Leonard’s first couple months in Toronto?
I’ll get the bad out of the way first: Kawhi hasn’t always looked wholly comfortable on offense for the Raptors, with a propensity towards isolation play, sometimes dribbling the air out of the ball. He can get the shot he wants most of the time, but it feels like he’s leaving something on the table for the Raptors (even though their offense is top three in the league). Then, of course, there’s the fact that Leonard still isn’t playing in back-to-back games. Not saying that’s a problem long term -- it makes sense for Toronto to protect their investment -- but it does suggest Kawhi is not completely healthy yet.
These are just about the worst things I can say about Leonard because everything else has been, in a word, awesome. Kawhi in Toronto has performed as advertised: he’s a fearsome and efficient two-way player who can shape games in a zillion different ways -- digging for steals, scoring from everywhere on the floor, moving the ball, and finding success in two-man combinations with various teammates. As Leonard has gradually gotten more comfortable, the returns with the Raptors have only improved. It’s hard not to get too excited.
2. Are the Raptors the team to beat in the East?
I think the Raptors have the easiest path forward to become the team they’re meant to be. I understand the depth and defense of the Celtics (even as they struggle now), and I get the Sixers star power (even if the rest of their team is a tad thin), and I do legitimately fear Giannis and the Bucks (seriously, I’m scared) -- but Toronto just has the most weapons, the best role players, and the most coherent team structure from the top down. And in Kawhi, they have a top three proven playoff performer. That has to count for something, right?
3. Is Kawhi going to re-sign to stay in Toronto?
Short answer: Hell yes.
Long answer: Gotdamn hell yeaaaaaaah.
4. How is Nick Nurse doing so far as head coach?
I just wrote about this on Monday with the Raptors Quarter-Season Report Card, and since then I’ve begun thinking I may have underrated him. Nurse is managing an elite team, with a diverse set of personalities, and has them all playing well together. There’s a fun vibe around Toronto right now, and a sense of collective discovery -- with both the players and their new head coach. I have to believe that Nurse has had something to do with instilling that general feeling. We’ll see what happens when he’s put to the test in the playoffs though.
5. What are the expectations for the season?
At this point, the Raptors are on pace for a rather absurd 66-16 pace. I don’t think they’ll get there, but 60+ wins feels inevitable. The expectation from there is a run through the playoffs -- with only the Bucks seriously challenging -- and then an appearance in the Finals. I won’t dare suggest Toronto could win the whole thing. In any case, maybe this is all a wild fever dream still, but it’s definitely the expectation these Raptors have for themselves.
Big props to Daniel for doing the interview and the whole crew at Raptors HQ. They do an incredible job covering the Raptors and Raptors 905.