OTG's All-Decade Team: Toronto Raptors Edition
Nathan Denette - Associated Press
The 2010s are coming to a close; what better way is there to ring in the new decade than by reflecting on the past? Off The Glass is taking a look at each NBA team and selecting their All-Decade squad, which is defined by one guard, one forward, one center, a role player (someone not selected as an all-star, or to an all-NBA team), and one wildcard.
Today we are highlighting the Toronto Raptors.
Guard: Kyle Lowry. Who else? The bulldog point guard from Philly symbolizes the Masai Ujiri era of the Toronto Raptors; he's a born winner who grew with this franchise as it matured from a basement dweller into a perennial playoff team, and finally into NBA title winners. Despite calls from some Raptors homers to include DeMar DeRozan here - and there is an argument to be made for DBo, who still holds many Raptors franchise records - he just didn't impact winning at the highest level like Kyle Lowry has for this franchise. Lowry is the Raptors franchise leader in Win Shares, with 64.8 over 8 seasons, in which he's put up per-game averages of 17.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 1.3 steals on shooting splits of 43/38/82 (FG%/3PT%/FT%). He's a five time All-Star and is likely the greatest Raptor ever.
Forward: Kawhi Leonard. There's no other forward in the team's history that spurred on the level of success that No. 2 did during last year's title run. If Bosh hadn't cut to the Miami Heat at the opening of the decade, perhaps there would be more of an argument here, but the play of Kawhi during the playoffs (30.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.7 stl, 0.7 blk on splits of 49/38/88) culminated in a Final MVP award and a first-ever championship for the Canadian franchise. Despite playing in only 60 regular season games, he was the superstar piece that turned the already-good Raptors into a dynasty-killer. That earns him some All-Decade clout.
Center: Jonas Valanciunas. A fan favourite and a close-to-home casualty of the Marc Gasol trade that eventually resulted in the Raptor's first Larry O'Brien trophy, Big Science was the greatest centre in Raptors history if you go by Win Shares, of which he accumulated 43.8 over 7 seasons with Toronto. He was a nightly double-double threat and a huge piece of the Raptors teams that went deep into the playoffs on multiple occasions. His locker room presence, consistent offensive production, and positive affect resulted in the establishment of a long-lasting legacy among Raptors faithful.
Role Player: Serge Ibaka. After being brought in from a trade with the Orlando Magic during the 2016/2017 NBA season, Ibaka went on to win a title as a prominent role player for the Raptors last season; over the course of 4 seasons with the #WeTheNorth franchise, Ibaka has per-game averages of 13.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks, which all adds up to a very productive role-playing big man. Raptors fans will feel that he deserved every cent of the $65 million contract he signed with Toronto three short years ago.
Wildcard: The DeMar DeRozan trade. This one came out of nowhere, and it was a real barn-burner; Masai Ujiri sent the franchise star (along with a first round pick and Jakob Poeltl) to San Antonio for a one-year rental of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. The move seemed cold, calculated, and completely heartless - but it would eventually result in the franchise's first-ever championship title. Looking back, this trade was the origin point for Toronto's first diamond-studded imprint on NBA history, and one hell of a wild card moment.
Team High: Winning the 2018/2019 NBA Championship. Does this one really need explanation? The Raptors rode a line-up of Lowry, Green, Leonard, Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol (along with some stellar bench play from Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, and Norman Powell) to the NBA mountaintop, and felled the once-mighty, injury-gutted Warriors in six games. Leonard won Finals MVP, Lowry got all the validation he needed, and Masai Ujiri walked away with front office mastermind status.
Team Low: Getting swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2017/2018 Eastern Conference Semifinals (AKA 'LeBronto'). This event led to the dismissal of head coach Dwayne Casey, who ironically won Coach of the Year for his work during the franchise's record setting regular season (59-23 overall record). Getting blown out of the playoffs forced the franchise to seriously re-evaluate their position in the East, and precipitated a immensely successful run the year immediately after, so it wasn't all bad for Toronto in the long run. But it sure felt sucky for fans right around this time in Raptors history.
Upcoming Decade Prediction: One more 'chip in the early half of the 2020's. If they can land Giannis in 2021, this changes to 'two to three rings between now and 2024'. Otherwise, I've got enough faith in Ujiri finding a star to pair with Siakam in time to secure one more title, and soon; should VanVleet, O.G. Anunoby, Norman Powell and Terence Davis stick around to fill out the next title-contending roster, the Raptors will only ever be one piece away from contention.