You already know this is the season to become a Raptors fan. After all, no other franchise in the country can so accurately be deemed ‘Canada’s team’.
But we know 82 games is also a big commitment.
And since we want you on the bandwagon as long and fully committed as possible, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about our ballers of the North.
Every single week.
And for our first guide, we’re keeping you on the ball as the Raptors kick off their 20th season in the league.
The Raptors tip off their season tonight at home against the very beatable Atlanta Hawks. They then head south for games against the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat – two more winnable games – before returning next Tuesday to host the Kevin Durant-less Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s a favourable schedule to start the season for a team looking to improve on a 48-win season.
WHO TO WATCH THIS WEEK: JONAS VALANCIUNAS
With DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry set to split team MVP honours on a nightly basis, much of the Raptors’ success this year hinges on the continued development of 22-year-old big man Jonas Valanciunas. But if Toronto is truly serious about making a deep playoff push, continued development won’t cut it. A breakout season is what we need, which is – luckily – exactly what a lot of experts around the league are predicting for the third-year centre. If he can consistently dominate the paint we can look forward to at least 50 victory, babies this season. Having a strong start to the campaign and staying out of foul trouble is critical for the young Lithuanian.
X-FACTOR: LOU WILLIAMS
Acquired in a relatively quiet trade with the Atlanta Hawks this off-season, Lou Williams is capable of lighting it up on a whim. We’ll take the occasional 2-for-13 shooting night if he can rack up 12-15 points off the bench when the starters are struggling to put the ball in the basket. He’ll be back for his first full campaign since a torn ACL injury derailed his flow for the better part of last season, so look for him to shoot his way back into the conversation as a highly effective sixth man. He’s like Swaggy P with added IQ.
OFF THE COURT
No scandals aside from Landry Fields’ contract to report, but it’s worth mentioning that expectations are at an all-time high for this young group. They’re coming off an Atlantic Division title – the best regular season in the club’s history – that ended with a seven-game playoff defeat against the Brooklyn Nets (F them), and NBA.com currently has them listed 10th in their pre-season power rankings (which have nothing to do with the preseason by the way, where they went an impressive, albeit meaningless, 7-1). And since chasing is always easier than being chased, expect every team in the league to match up against the Raptors with a little extra venom this year. Even a slight lapse of focus could mean dropping a game to the absolutely abysmal 76ers.
Quote of the Week:
“Within 10 years, the Raptors are going to be the most popular team. They will be more popular than the Leafs in Toronto. Promise you.”
– Outgoing MLSE CEO Tim Leiweke