The Raptors begin their 2018-19 season tomorrow (even though the NBA begins tonight). It may feel like we’ve been previewing the coming year for awhile now (because we have), but there’s still more time to wait. You can, of course, catch up on our coverage here and here, and the wider SB Nation season previews here and here.
In the mean time, what’s there to do for the next 30 or so hours? An idea: let’s look ahead and make some wild guesses at how things will go for the Raptors. Now, I must admit I am neither a fortune teller or much of a gambler — I am but a humble Raptors blogger. Nevertheless, what follows is a ten prop bets mixed in with some predictions that one may want to consider for the coming season in Toronto.
1. Kawhi Leonard plays over 70.5 regular season games.
Full disclosure: This is a totally made-up line on my part, I have no idea what Vegas may be saying about Kawhi Leonard and his overall health. That said, Leonard has played over 70 games in just two of his career’s seven seasons. If we’re looking at things objectively, especially given the year Kawhi just had (nine appearances; 900 conspiracy theories), the 70 game mark may be tough for him to break.
But I think Leonard smashes through it with aplomb. Next!
2. Kyle Lowry shoots over 45 percent from 3, but averages under 20 points per game.
Lowry’s scoring average took a plunge last year, going from 22.4 points per game in 2016-17 to 16.2 for 2017-18. That’s the lowest it’s been since his first year with Toronto. The reason for that is two-fold: first, the Raptors were looking to save Lowry for the post-season (which mostly worked), and they were looking to build up the roster to rely less on what Lowry could give them (which definitely worked).
Now Lowry’s back-court running mate DeMar DeRozan is gone, and while Kawhi will undoubtedly soak up a lot of those possessions, Lowry may get a chance to ascend once again. Meanwhile, he’s already one of the league’s best shooters, but only has one high-volume three-point shooting season at over 45 percent. Which way are we trending here?
I say Lowry doesn’t quite get over the 20 point barrier (because the Raptors are still deep and talented), but the open 3s come easier and easier. Hence, the prediction comes true.
3. The Raptors fall out of the top three in 3-point attempts per game.
Up is down, man! Last season the Raptors put up 33 threes per game, good for third in the league (behind the Rockets at 42.3 and the Nets at 35.7). For their laudable modern day NBA efforts, the team finished 18th in percentage at 35.8 percent. (The Warriors, unsurprisingly, were number one.)
I may be throwing logic out the window on this one, but let’s ride this out. The Raptors added Kawhi Leonard, a very good three-point shooter, and Danny Green, a prototypical 3-and-D forward (it feels like the term was invented to describe his utility), ergo: more threes, right?
Yes, but also a bunch of other teams, including the improved Mavericks, surging Nuggets, and yes, those dang Celtics, were just a couple three attempts per game behind the Raptors. It’ll be tight to finish top three for the second year in a row.
4. Jonas Valanciunas makes the All-Star team.
Sure, there’s the Celtics’ Al Horford, and Kevin Love may still have it in him, and it’s hard to discount Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond (to say nothing of, uh, Giannis), but why not: if Jonas Valanciunas shows more flair this season, hits more threes, starts making more of those Gasol-esque big man passes, and let’s loose with more on-camera jokes, he’ll break through the All-Star ceiling.
It’s official: I’m JV Hive now.
5. Delon Wright averages 1.5 steals, 1.0 blocks and 1.0 threes per game.
This is a wonky one, and I suspect the degree of difficulty in ascending order goes something like this: steals are no problem for Wright, blocks may come easier than people expect (especially if he ends up playing at the SF spot some), but the threes are the question.
The 1.0 threes per game mark is something of an event horizon for Wright. If he can smash through that ceiling it would cement his position as not just a solid rotation guard, but an NBA starter-level point guard. The thing working against Wright this season isn’t his ability (he’s been taking and making them in preseason, for example), it’s merely the number of opportunities he’ll get. The Raptors have a lot of shooters, and Wright will be more often tasked with setting them up than pulling the trigger himself.
Still, I’m in on Wright’s growing confidence (he’s set to enter restricted free agency next season) and am ready to bet big.
6. Coach Nick Nurse uses less than 12 different starting lineup combinations during the season.
Last season, set-in-his-ways coach Dwane Casey used 12 different starting lineups for the Raptors. Most of this was due to injury/rest, but it represents a good baseline for the team moving forward. As of press time, we still have no idea just how creative Nurse plans on getting with his Raptors’ lineups. Does he start Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas together or bring one of them off the bench? Where does OG Anunoby fit? Is Danny Green a lock? Has Pascal Siakam improved enough to deserve some starter consideration? It’s (possibly) all still up in the air, or to be dictated wholly by match-ups.
Nevertheless, I feel like these other considerations are merely academic exercises. The logical starting lineup for the Raptors is Lowry with Green, OG, Kawhi and either Jonas or Serge, and that’s it. All the talk of creativity is fine and dandy, but you still want to play the good players together at the start of games (and keep the effective bench unit as whole as possible).
As such, my gut says we actually see fewer different starting lineups for the Raptors this year. Huzzah.
7. OG Anunoby says more words in interviews than Kawhi Leonard.
OG: Book it.
See? It’s already happening.
8. Lorenzo Brown will be a more valuable rotation piece than Norman Powell (and Greg Monroe).
The odds of the Raptors trading Powell now are at an all-time low given last year’s performance and his much-ballooned contract. On the bright side, there are perhaps reasons to believe this could be a bounce back year for Powell. I want to embrace this notion wholeheartedly, I swear. There is something to the extreme violence of Norm’s game that I enjoy. But there’s also something about the combination of said violence, the speed (or lack thereof) at which Norm reads the game, and his inherent desire to impress, that still appears to be working against him. It may be another year of Norm on the outside looking in.
Meanwhile, to make a baseball analogy, Greg Monroe is going to be one of those fifth starters a team plugs in to eat innings and that’s it. The Raptors do need some break-glass-in-case-of-emergency size, so Monroe has that going for him. Yet, I’ll be amazed if he isn’t totally marginalized by the end of the season.
And Lorenzo Brown? He does what he’s supposed to do: move the ball, take open shots, play with his head up. Is this a crazy prediction? Does it mean much in the big picture? Let’s move on!
9. Raptors win OVER 54.5 games.
That’s the Vegas line as of right now. The East did get better, which means it may be tougher to to skim wins off the upper echelon of the conference. On the other hand, there are still a bunch of bad teams all over the league (the Magic are still the Magic, the Kings are still the Kings, etc.). The Raptors on paper definitely improved, and they won 59 games last year.
Most importantly: the Raptors have been continuously underrated in the win predictions department going on five years now. Smash the hell out of that over, pal.
10. Serge Ibaka re-discovers himself as an off-the-bench centre.
This is total wishful thinking on my part, and perhaps a sign I should wrap this column up soon. Ibaka has been drifting towards the pivot for much of the last few seasons. He was once the modern day NBA power forward, a big man who could shoot threes and also block shots. Somehow the league moved so fast, now teams need centres who can shoot 3s and PFs who can guard everyone and make plays. It’s tough to keep up.
Since it looks extremely unlikely Ibaka will suddenly discover a latent play-making gene, there’s only one choice for him: head to the centre spot (which he likes), and head to the bench (which he probably does not like). On paper, it’s a move that could make sense for Ibaka and the Raptors, but pride is a funny thing.
Still, much like Valanciunas’ efforts to become a better shooter and passer, I do believe Ibaka will figure things out this season. He’s no longer seen as the all-important third piece the Raptors need to get over the hump — but he’s still much appreciated.
Bonus prediction: Kawhi Leonard re-signs with the Raptors.
Despite what plugged-in insider (who admits he’s not plugged into the Kawhi camp) Zach Lowe says, we’re speaking it into existing, baby! Kawhi Leonard is a Toronto Raptor.
Now let’s hear your take on these ten, uh, takes. And if you’ve got some other predictions and prop bets (responsible or otherwise), I’d love to hear them in the comments. Go off!