Leonard Lead Raptors Early Favorites in the East

Mac Ireland, Staff Writer

The Toronto Raptors made a big move this offseason trading a franchise caliber player in DeMar DeRozan for another in Kawhi Leonard, whostirred up a lot of drama this offseason when he asked the San Antonio Spurs for a trade. Not only did teams question his character after the series of events in San Antonio, but they were concerned he may not have fully recovered from his injury. At this point in the season, Leonard looks to be right at home.

Through 11 games the Toronto Raptors are tied with the Golden State Warriors for the best record in the league. Much of their success thus far can be attributed to Leonard’s outstanding performance. In seven games The Claw has averaged 26.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, and two steals. He is also shooting 50 percent from the field and 45 percent from three-point range. 

As a unit, Toronto has an offensive rating 114.9, which is third in the NBA. They also rank sixth in the league in points per game at 117.4 with a points per game differential of 9.4. This means they aren’t just winning games, but they are winning by a good margin as only the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors have a better point differential. Toronto has also been extremely efficient putting up a lot of points on 58 percent true shooting percentage–which takes into account not only field goal percentage but also accounts for free throw percentage. Again the only teams better than Toronto in this area is Golden State and Milwaukee.

Leonard has not only been guiding the offense by producing top flight numbers offensively, his defense has also made a noticeable difference. Toronto currently has a defensive rating of 106.2, which ranks ninth in the NBA. The Raptors rank sixth in the league in points allowed per game and fourth in opponents field goal percentage at 43 percent. However, basketball is a team sport and not all of that can be contributed to Leonard. Toronto as a whole has improved their defense thanks to players like Danny Green, who was packaged in the Leonard trade, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valanciunas.

Kyle Lowry should not be forgotten here. Lowry is playing very well right now averaging 17.9 points, 11.5 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 50 percent from the field and 41 percent from three. If he kept his current pace in assists he would establish a career-high to go along with just 2.8 turnovers per game. Lowry’s high efficiency has helped the Raptors establish themselves as a top offensive team in the NBA.

While this is only a small sample size it seems as if Leonard hasn’t lost a step even with all the time he missed last season, while the Raptors as a whole look to have made improvements. The real challenge for this team will be to to sustain this type of success over the full 82 game regular season slate and beyond.