It'll be almost five months between basketball games for the Toronto Raptors when the season returns on July 31. Prior to the COVID-19 hiatus, the longest in-season stoppage in league history was just seven days, between the 2015 conference finals and NBA Finals. Now, the league is entering uncharted territory.
The truth is nobody really knows what to expect when the season returns. Aside from the COVID-19 questions, nobody knows what the players will look like in terms of health and fitness when play starts up again. That being said, there are a few reasons for optimism for Raptors fans.
1. Veteran Group
The Raptors will enter the playoffs with one of the most battle-tested, experienced groups in the league. While it might take the team a little extra time to get its footing set, their instincts should be sharp and their chemistry has no reason to lag with the team's top seven players all returning after last year's championship. If opposing teams are also battling a little sluggishness — which should be expected — or can't find a playoff groove with roster overhauls like the Lakers and Clippers made this past offseason, the Raptors should have the veteran savviness to take advantage.
Over the past two seasons, Raptors Head Coach Nick Nurse has cemented his name among the upper echelon of NBA coaches. He's forecasted to win the NBA's Coach of the Year award this season and if any team should be well equipped to deal with unforeseen issues, it should be the team with some of the best coaching in the league.
As the Raptors have learned basically every year since 2014, star power is all that traditionally matters in the playoffs when benches shrink and starter's minutes go up. This year, however, things could be a little different. According to The Athletic's John Hollinger, this year's playoffs will be condensed, likely including some back-to-backs. Therefore, if NBA stars like Kawhi Leonard — who hasn't played a back-to-back since the 2016-17 season — need more rest, the Raptors have the kind of depth that should help them compete if fatigue plays a factor this year.
Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka — who may come off the bench with Marc Gasol back and healthy — are as good as it gets when it comes to bench players. Powell's 16.4 points per game would the third most of any player on the Bucks and fifth-most on the Clippers while Ibaka has more double-doubles this season than any non-regular starter, according to FoxSports.