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Where do the Raptors rank in a post-LeBron Eastern Conference?

With the start of the NBA season in a few months and many teams still under construction, it's hard to say what's going to happen next year. Only the only things that seem safe are that the Golden State Warriors will once again be the overwhelming favorites in the year to repeat themselves as NBA champions; and that for the first time since 2010, the Eastern Conference will not be represented in the NBA Finals by a time led by LeBron James.

The power vacuum left by LeBron in the East is great. Eight consecutive LeBron's Heat and Cavaliers team reached the finals in the Eastern Conference playoff series from 201

1 to 2018, winning 96 out of 123 games. That equates in principle to 0.780 win percent putting together a season and a half the value of 64-win basketball, but during the playoffs. (The Cleveland years were even more dominant, and the Cavs won 48 of their 59 Eastern Conference playoff games during LeBron's second stint in town.)

It's fitting that with the King's resignation on his Eastern Conference throne, not a single one Team there is looking like the obvious bet to ascend in its place. Instead, there is a trio of teams from the only Eastern Conference Division, in which LeBron itself has never played (the Atlantic), ready to fight for supremacy in the conference. Because of the different dynamics, the coming season seems to be the only one in which the Toronto Raptors, the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers (alone) have the right to represent the East in the Finals.

Read More:

How Kawhi Leonard Fits the Transformed Toronto Raptors

With that in mind, it's now just as good a time to explore what each of these three teams has in store for them and what they do against them in the race for the top of the East. We might as well start with the team that LeBron dismissed year after year as they have just re-entered the news cycle.

What the Raptors Have for Them

I put my cards on the table here: This piece was originally supposed to run on Wednesday and in this part a lot should be talked about continuity and experience. Toronto's brave move for Kawhi Leonard blew this idea out of the water, but it also gave the Raptors an avenue through which they could catch up to their Atlantic Division brothers at the defensive end of the floor.

Toronto last had a wonderful defense season. Dwane Casey's serves ranked # 5 on the NBA per 100 possessions per NBA.com in the NBA as they used a squad of versatile players all over the floor to stifle enemy offenses. (Her defense was not quite as good as the Celtics and 76ers, who finished first and third respectively in the same category.)

Kyle Lowry remained at the attack point as usual, but backups Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright proved also as stingy. OG Anunoby was used as a top wing, which could also meet the best enemy scorers at night. Serge Ibaka did not have the same effect he had at his peak, but he made a superb frontcourt pairing with Jonas Valanciunas, who made great strides in pick-and-roll defense and did his usual solid job of protecting the rim , Pascal Siakam showed all kinds of versatility and agility. He defended bigs and wings with similar ease and even proved able to defend Point Guards as fast as John Wall during the playoffs. Lucas Nogueira provided a solid rim protection when he was on the ground. Jakob Poeltl did his work on the glass and skillfully defended the color. DeMar DeRozan mostly did not kill her.

The defense of this season should be even better as the Raptors eliminate two of the worst defenders in their rotation (including the only worst defender in DeRozan), not just winger, who is able to match almost every match in positions 1 -3 (Danny Green), but possibly the best defensive player in the league (Leonard, assuming he is healthy). Being able to play a lineup with Lowry, Green, Leonard and Anunoby will give the Raptors the chance to literally defend any kind of lineup that enemy teams throw at them. You could use Siakam with this group and change everything. You could use Ibaka and offer elite help on the edge. You can minimize the inadequacies of Valanciunas, how good everyone else is, and get the appropriate attack boost. You could even use VanVleet or Wright against certain lineups like the Death Line of the Warriors or whatever new version of the Tuckwagon lineup that uses the missiles this season.

You have the only best option in the league to defend big wings in Leonard. They have an aspiring center back, who can not only learn the best scorers themselves, but also a lot from Kawhi in Anunoby. They have one of the best defensive point guards in the league in Lowry and two capable backups in VanVleet and Wright. And they also have Green, who is still well-defended even if he is not quite at the peak in San Antonio. Simple: If Leonard is healthy and actually reports to Toronto, the Raptors will have the best group of perimeter defenders in next season's basketball. And they will have a lot of Frontcourt help behind them.

If Leonard plays as we can, it's easy to imagine the Raptors having the best defense in the league next season. If he plays less than 100 percent like last year, but for the whole year and not just nine games, they should still easily rank in the top five. Even if he does not report to the camp at all, it is quite possible that this year's Raptors team will defensively go one step further by replacing DeRozan with Green and providing Anunoby and Siakam with more minutes for Poeltl. All upside potential depends on Leonard getting back in shape, but as I said, Toronto should be incredibly tough, even though he never plays a game in the north.

Because they made a big wing that still fought off big wings (DeRozan) in the best big wing defender in the league (Leonard) and a small wing that can guard several positions (green), the raptors should also be versatile count as an important strength in the next season. You should be able to glide much easier from small to large, with any combination of Leonard, Green, Anunoby, VanVleet, Wright, C.J. Miles and Normal Powell on the wings. You can use any of their three main people (Valanciunas, Ibaka, Siakam) in any combination or play one of them alone, with Leonard and Anunoby occupying the two front slot machines. You can play one, two or even three point guards at the same time. You can combine any of these configurations and find out what works. You will have so many choices – and the luxury of not having to hide someone from a particular defensive matchup when they are on the ground. (Except perhaps Miles, but even he has merit on this end when imprisoned.)

Toronto's offensive ranked third in points per 100 passes last season, replacing a high-volume, moderately-efficient No 1 Scoring option with one of the most efficient scorers in the league when he is at his peak. Leonard is better than DeRozan on every major part of the offensive, and that should shine through if he actually adapts. He can work isolated or out of the house. He's likely to call Lowry a pick-and-roll partner as dangerous, if not more. He will increase the efficiency by hitting from 3 to a higher clip. And Green will also help on this front.

Adding two plus shooters instead of a minus-shooter wing and a bouncy big man will also make Lowry, Valanciunas and The rest of Toronto's playmakers play more space. This in turn should lead to a more efficient evaluation. As long as the Warriors exist and James Harden and Chris Paul lead Mike D & # 39; Antoni's offense, the third could be the upper limit for the Raptors' offensive efficiency ranking in the regular season; but their offensive should be even more playoff-safe this season than they were a year ago when they finally broke off the massive annual drop-off they've had over the past few seasons.

Suppose Kawhi is healthy and shows

What the Raptors are working against them


The only people on Earth who know what's going on with Kawhi's quad are basically he and Uncle Dennis. The Raptors bet on their training staff not only to make Leonard healthy and fit, but also to ensure that his daily maintenance and recovery is done. Kawhi has an incentive to make sure he shows that he's healthy this season (and may recover from an injury) because he wants to get paid next summer, but if he can not go, he can not go. The oilseed rape will need it in full force to be in good shape, and we just do not know if that's possible. You could get a waning asset that is more like a top 20 or 30 player than one of the most influential players in the league. That would not necessarily detract from Toronto's ground so much, but it would definitely limit its upper limit.

Of course, Leonard is not the only player with injury concerns. Lowry seems to be dealing with a kind of bumps and bruises at this point every year. And he's a 6-foot point guard on the wrong side of 30 – the type of player who does not tend to age well. VanVleet had his own problems at the end of last season and during the playoffs and shoulder injuries can be difficult and recurring.

The rotation of the great raptors is a bit thin, leaving Valanciunas, Ibaka and Siakam more vulnerable to injury than one might think they were on the surface. Fortunately, there is still enough veteran help on the open market, and the raps should be able to find someone who can soak up and occasionally fill a few minutes a night if one of the big ones can not go. Nogueira, for example, is still available, as are players like Noah Vonleh, Quincy Acy, and David West, who would make different degrees of sense for rapeseed.

Apart from setting up the squad, Toronto will face tremendous pressure next season, not just to win, but to persuade Kawhi to stay long-term. It's not exactly a secret that he has no interest in staying here. Masai Ujiri, Aubrey Graham and the company will have to sell it as well as possible in the next 345 days. The best thing they can do is get out and dominate the East and make a trip to the finals, but they will also have to sell Kawhi to the city and the culture and everything else about the organization. And they have to do everything while integrating a fairly new coaching staff, with longtime assistant Nick Nurse as a new man.

This is not necessarily the team Sister was thinking when he signed up for the trainer, and that's not the way to throw him as analogous to David Blatt in Cleveland in this scenario. Suddenly he has a very important player to devote to, while also finding out how to install his system, connect with everyone else, and make sure the team actually wins. It will not be easy, but it sure is important.

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