Toronto Raptors

2018-19 NBA Season Preview: What to expect from the Toronto Raptors

#Kawhi Leonard Kyle Lowry

2017-18 season record

59-23 (1st in Eastern Conference)

Projected 2018-19 season record

54.5 (tied for 2nd with Philadelphia)

Notable additions

Danny Green (trade)

Kawhi Leonard (trade)

Greg Monroe (free agency)

Notable departures

DeMar DeRozan (trade)

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Jakob Poeltl (trade)

3 key storylines

Kawhi Leonard returning to MVP form

Don't let the saga leading up to the Spurs trading Kawhi Leonard distract you from the fact that Leonard was a legitimate MVP candidate the season before last.

In 2016-17, Kawhi's best season to date, the forward averaged 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game to lead the Spurs to 61 wins. In nine games played through discomfort in 2017-18, the two-time All-Star put up solid numbers, averaging 16.2 points and 4.7 rebounds while playing just 23.3 minutes per game.

Leonard, who says he has been pain-free throughout the preseason, is primed for yet another big year provided he is healthy. Led by a healthy Leonard, Toronto can be even better than it was last season.

MORE: Kawhi looks like an MVP at training camp | Takeaways from Kawhi's latest preseason performance

The Nick Nurse System

With a new coach comes a new culture and system for players to adjust to.

Fortunately for Toronto, newly-hired head coach Nick Nurse was promoted from within the organization, meaning there is a pre-existing sense of familiarity between him and the majority of the team. In 2017-18, Nurse was credited with the revamp of Toronto's offence , emphasizing the importance of 3-point shooting.

In 2016-17, the Raptors shot 24.3 3-pointers per game, last season, the team shot 33.0 3-pointers per contest . How many will the team shoot in 2018-19? Judging by the 62 3-point attempts in the team's first two preseason games, 3-point shooting will continue to be a staple in Toronto's offence.

Can the Raptors contend for an NBA Title?

While it will be difficult to improve upon last season's total of 59 wins, Toronto's additions and adjustments make the team better equipped for postseason success.

Whether or not the Raptors finish first, second or third in the East this season, the departure of LeBron James means the conference is wide open Masai Ujiri has composed a team with all the components of a title contender: a top-five player in Leonard, a perennial All-Star in Kyle Lowry, the interior presence of Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka and a versatile supporting cast that makes the team one of the deepest in the league.

Postseason success is largely dependent on having the best player and making the proper adjustments; with Leonard in the fold and Nurse at the helm, Toronto is poised to make a deep run.

MORE: Who will rise to top of the East ? | Vegas sets unprecedented expectations for Raptors

5 games to watch

Oct. 19 vs. Boston Celtics

The Celtics and Raptors are without a doubt two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Just four days into the 2018-19 NBA season, the two East powers and division rivals square off in Toronto for the first of four meetings.

Last season, Boston and Toronto split the season series, with the home team winning each game. After opening the season against the Cavs, the Raptors will look to make an early statement with a win over the Celtics.

Oct. 30 vs. Philadelphia 76ers

With the Raptors and Sixers projected to finish neck-and-neck this year, an early-season win could come to be crucial down the stretch of the season.

Led by Joel Embiid and 2018 Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons, Philadelphia feels it can compete with the East's elite, and rightly so. It will another statement game for the Raptors, who hope to have fully incorporated offseason additions Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Greg Monroe by then.

MORE MUST-SEE GAMES

Nov. 14 vs. Detroit Pistons

Despite a record-breaking regular season, a playoff shortcoming resulted in the Raptors parting ways with head coach Dwane Casey.

Casey, who was named the 2018 Coach of the Year, quickly found work elsewhere, as he was hired by the Detroit Pistons this offseason. Casey will make what is sure to be an emotional return to Scotiabank Arena on Nov. 14 - a special reunion for him with his former players, fans and the city of Toronto alike.

Jan. 8 vs. Atlanta Hawks

Hawks forward Vince Carter, who appeared in five NBA All-Star games as a member of the Raptors, is entering his 21st NBA season this year.

If this year ends up being Carter's last, Toronto fans will get their last look at Carter as a professional when Atlanta makes its lone visit to Scotiabank Arena in January. It's no secret: Carter put basketball on the map in the city of Toronto and in Canada as a whole.

For one final time, fans will get the opportunity to express their appreciation for all that Carter has done.

Feb. 22 vs. San Antonio Spurs

Over nine seasons, DeMar DeRozan earned four All-Star selections and rose to the top of the Raptors' All-Time scoring list. He is, without a doubt, one of the greatest players in franchise history.

After being traded in July, DeRozan will make his first trip to Scotiabank Arena as a visitor when he and the Spurs come to town in late February. It will be a night filled with emotion, and an inspired DeRozan, who definitely has this night circled on his calendar.

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