The Warriors (15-7) take on the Raptors (18-4) Thursday night in a clash of powers, and Klay Thompson has already deemed it a potential Finals preview.
He may not be wrong.
While it’s only November, and any speculation can drastically change over the next few months, the Raptors have shown enough in the first quarter of the season to warrant talk of a deep playoff run.
So how well do the 2 teams match up?
On the Court
The Kawhi Leonard trade has paid dividends for the Raptors, as his 24.3 points per game and defensive prowess has rocketed the Raptors to a hot start.
He complements Kyle Lowry seemingly better than DeMar DeRozan so far, and the role players of Siakam, Anunoby, Ibaka, and VanVleet are playing well. Pascal Siakam’s 14 points per game has even earned him early consideration for Most Improved Player.
The Warriors, however, have a candidate for the yet-to-be-invented Most Disappointing Player award. Andre Iguodala won’t really play his brand of basketball until the playoffs, which is fine for the team’s future, but hurting the team’s present.
At 34 years old and battling various injuries, his minutes this season have gone down to 22.8, a drop from his 25.3 minutes per game last season. And while his scoring has never been his main role on the team, his 4.5 points per game is down from his 6.0 PPG last year, and has not been productive. He does provide the veteran leadership and basketball IQ that the 2nd unit needs, but his direly-needed production, which shows up in the playoffs, is still to be seen in this early regular season.
Meanwhile, the Raptors’ whole offense has been humming, owning the 2nd-best offensive rating in the league at 114.3. The Warriors, though, are breathing down their necks with a 114.2 offensive rating themselves. Let’s not forget that before the injury, Steph Curry was playing at an MVP level, and the Warriors’ offense looked unstoppable at times early this season.
Where they differ, though, is on the other end. The Raptors’ defense, led by Kawhi Leonard, is 7th in the league with a defensive rating of 106.0. The Warriors, lacking healthy stars and motivation, are far behind at 17th in the league.
It’s believed that length and athleticism are absolutely necessary to take down the Warriors. The Raptors have that in wing defenders Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Siakam and Anunoby also have the length to disrupt the Warriors’ offense.
Kawhi Leonard, in particular, has always been a thorn in the Warriors’ side. His length, quick hands, and relentless on-ball defense with the Spurs has caused Steph Curry and Klay Thompson all sorts of problems in the past. He’s the type of defensive star needed to put the brakes on a powerful Warriors offense.
With the Raptors, he finally may be able to do that.
Off the Court
The Raptors’ confidence is soaring right now, winning 18 of their first 22 games. If any analysts expected growing pains in incorporating Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, they have been few and far between.
The unspoken confidence about the future is that their Achilles’ heel the past 2 years, LeBron James, has left the Eastern Conference entirely.
For the past decade almost, the Eastern Conference was basically a carousel of teams competing for the chance to lose to LeBron James in the Conference Finals. It might be the Pacers one year, or the Celtics the next. The Raptors have had that honor 3 times now.
But now, with LeBron going West, leaving a wide open Eastern Conference, the Raptors seem to be taking advantage, and are the current front-runners for the best team in the East.
Meanwhile, the Warriors have just dealt with the toughest stretch they’ve ever faced in the championship era. The KD-Draymond feud started it and caused internal turmoil. Steph Curry being injured didn’t help. Neither did 4 straight losses.
Even now, with the Warriors winning 3 straight games, they’ve needed to rely on 2 superhuman 40+ point performances from Durant to will them to victory.
And so the Warriors are left waiting. Still waiting for Curry’s impending return on Saturday, still waiting for the return of Draymond Green and Alfonzo McKinnie, and frankly, still waiting to get back to being the Warriors again.
Who Has the Edge?
On Thursday? The Raptors do. At home. At full strength. Against a limping Warriors squad lacking Stephen Curry and Draymond Green.
In June? If this is a potential Finals preview, which it very well could be, the edge would still have to belong to a healthy Warriors team, unless proven otherwise. While Toronto has the defense that seemingly would be able to bother the Warriors’ shooters–something not many teams can do–completely stopping and/or outscoring them has yet to be seen.
It’ll be on the Raptors, starting Thursday, to change that.