Leonard might be gone but Raptors’ versatile defensive identity remains

Title: Leonard might be gone but Raptors’ versatile defensive identity remains
Date: September 25, 2019
Original Source: The Athletic
Synopsis: In my latest for The Athletic Toronto, I wrote about the Raptors’ likeliest identity, that of a versatile and switchy defense.

The reigning, defending, undisputed NBA champion Toronto Raptors will have a different identity in 2019-20. Without a superstar to carry a heavy offensive load and monopolize the big moments, that will be a necessity. The offence will look significantly different, which is one of Nick Nurse’s biggest and most fun challenges as training camp opens this weekend. Defensively, the Raptors might already have a good idea who they are.

It’s true that Leonard, at playoff engagement levels, is world-class on that end of the floor. He is a ball-stealing, soul-snatching, lock-down defender. He also didn’t have a pronounced impact on the Raptors’ regular season defence, with the Raptors actually defending slightly better with him off the court. There are some caveats there, like Leonard being deployed against starting lineups, sitting out some of the easier matchups for load management and only sometimes guarding an opposing team’s best weapon as a means of preserving him over the course of games. Leonard has flashed counterintuitive defensive impact throughout his career.

Leonard is very good at defence, but the Raptors have a better chance of collectively making up for his loss on that end than they do on offence, where Leonard boosted the team by 7.9 points per-100 possessions in the regular season and 21 (!) in the playoffs. There is an enormous usage vacuum created by the departures of Leonard and Danny Green — who had a positive impact on team defence — and there are fewer natural successors to soak up those possessions than there are on defence.

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