When Kawhi Leonard returns to Toronto tonight, he might realize that he left behind a roster that's even better than his Clippers team.
Kawhi Leonard might be a smidge overrated. I know that sounds crazy, Kawhi is definitely a monster. A better way to put it is that his supporting cast in Toronto was underrated.
While Kawhi got most of the attention during last year’s playoff run, his teammates were quietly making leaps. Now, At 16-7, those Raptors are proving they’re much more than just a supporting cast. Here’s how they stack up against the Clippers.
Kyle Lowry proved in last year’s playoffs that whatever playoff ghosts he was battling have been fully exorcised. After a slow start, Lowry got better and better as the playoffs wore on. He closed out the Warriors in game six just three rebounds shy of a triple-double. He repeatedly stepped into a leadership role when Kawhi Leonard needed a break.
Patrick Beverly is a scrappy defender, but his overall game is light years away from Lowry’s. Lowry is arguably even better on defense. Last year he had three defensive win shares compared to Beverly’s two. Beverly is a nice role player, but he’s never going to make an all-star team.
Lou Williams is an elite shotmaker with some nice complementary playmaking abilities. He’s even funny too. Fred VanVleet, meanwhile, makes nearly twice as many threes per game with better percentages while averaging seven assists and two steals per game. He’s also eight years younger than Sweet Lou.
The Raptors third guard, Norman Powell, is a bigger offensive threat than Landry Shamet. The backcourt is a clear win for the Raptors.
At this point, Paul George is still probably the second-best player out of the two teams. But Pascal Siakam is only a hair behind him, if at all. Last year, which was his best year ever, George averaged 28 points per game on 43% shooting while supplying stellar defense. This year, Siakam is averaging 24.5 points on 45% shooting while also bringing stout defense. Siakam is four years younger than George, and he’s hitting his stride earlier in his career.
When age starts becoming a factor for Kawhi, Siakam could’ve slowly taken more of the burden off of his shoulders. George, however, will be aging right along with him.
Montrez Harrell is a beast for the Clippers. He’s nearly unstoppable on offense, and he provides solid defense. But he’s only 6-7, which leaves primary rim-blocking duties up to Ivica Zubac. The 6th year big man has only averaged over 20 minutes per game once. He’s a solid backup, but he’s not a difference-maker.
Marc Gasol, on the other hand, is still a difference-maker. While age has robbed him a step or two, Gasol still provides smart defense and playmaking. Serge Ibaka was stellar in last year’s playoffs. And OG Anunoby has shown higher upside than Mo Harkless. He’s another player that could fill in for Kawhi Leonard as he ages or rests.
Both teams are models of top-down organizational excellence. Masai Ujiri might be the best GM in the NBA, and Lawrence Frank and Jerry West are right up there with him.
Doc Rivers is one of the most well-respected coaches in the league. Nick Nurse is the most promising young coach since Brad Stevens. And after winning a title, you could say he’s already fulfilled that promise.
If all else is equal, the Raptors still have one clear advantage. They play in the Eastern Conference. They likely won’t be facing any teams like Utah or Denver in the first round of the playoffs. They also don’t share a building with one of the best players ever. While Kawhi Leonard’s Clippers will likely be great, these Raptors could’ve been even better.
This article was edited by Gerelyn Terzo.
Last modified: January 22, 2020 11:41 PM UTC