The Toronto Raptors are, on paper, the “defending NBA champions.”
But how much are they really trying to defend when the heart and soul (and Finals MVP) of the team, Kawhi Leonard, is on the Clippers now and Danny Green is on the Lakers? That’s 15.2 of last year’s Win Shares out the door, over a quarter of the team’s output.
And sure, that includes Pascal Siakam‘s rookie contract, but if the Vegas over/under is anything to go by, bettors aren’t sold on these guys.
And by “not sold”, I mean that a 58-win team lost 15.2 WS and projects as a 45-win team, which on the back of the envelope says that they got what, two wins back during the offseason somehow?
2018-19 record: 58-24
2019-20 over/under: 45
Another Day Older and Deeper in Debt
You move 16 tons of wins out the door and all you get back is a better Siakam balanced by an aging Lowry, VanVleet likely to get some starter’s minutes, and a deadline swap of Jonas Valanciunas to Memphis for Gasol and…
…yeah. The biggest pickup in the offseason was Rondae Hollis-Jefferson from Brooklyn, all 1.2 WS and (gulp) minus-0.3 VORP of him. Uh oh.
In terms of WS per 82 games, Valanciunas had 7.1 in a Raptors uniform while Gasol had 6.6, suggesting half a win’s worth of downgrade for a guy who is entering his age-35 season.
Lowry had 6.6 WS in 65 games, but he’s entering his age -33 year.
You see a pattern developing here? Pascal Siakam might be the only true star on a team that just won the NBA Finals. And that’s not how you win two NBA Finals. That’s not how you win a second-round playoff series, for that matter, something the Raptors needed a gift from the Basketball Gods out of the hands of Kawhi in Game 7 against Philadelphia to pull off.
This team kind of lucked into (a) a profoundly lucky shot, (b) a not-ready-for-prime-time Bucks team, and (c) Kevin Durant‘s Achilles tendon. They were due for a regression even before Leonard and Green took off.
Are they 13 wins worse? Or, put another way, are they less than two wins better than last year’s squad minus Leonard and Green in a statistical vacuum?
Siakam had 9.3 Win Shares. That was .174 per 48 minutes.
Let’s bump Siakam up to the .224 WS/48 Kawhi put up, giving him the same minute load. That’ll boost his total from last year to 12.0. That’s 2.7 better.
So if Siakam becomes a Kawhi-level player and the rest of the team regresses not at all, good, that’s 45.7 wins. 46.9 if Hollis-Jefferson and his 1.2 WS hold up.
But does anyone really believe that an aging Lowry and Gasol won’t continue to regress or that VanVleet won’t struggle against other teams’ better players as he gets pressed into a role to fill the vacancy left by Green?
Yeah, right. Sure thing.
This is going to be a whiplash regression big-time. Pressure plus aging plus moving laterally while other teams moved forward isn’t going to win another championship. It won’t even win another playoff series.
I see 35-40 wins for this team and one of the most spectacular crash landings after winning a title since the 1970 Celtics the year after Bill Russell retired.
Are the Raptors good? I mean, I won’t say Busted, this is a team that could easily give Father Time the finger for one more year, so let’s call it Plausible…while taking the under on 45 wins.
NEXT: The Cleveland Cavaliers.