Just weeks after setting the basketball world on its ear by winning the first title in franchise history, the Toronto Raptors world was turned upside down when Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and starting shooting guard Danny Green elected to sign with the LA Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers, respectively.
Masai Ujiri quickly picked up the pieces with a number of free agent acquisitions including the likes of Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, but in terms of stepping up to replace the production lost from Green and Leonard, the solution could very well already be on the roster.
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With the Raptors reputation for developing talent to reach - and surpass - their potential, the focus shifts to three players in particular this upcoming season.
Here's who will be looked upon to step up and how.
VanVleet's early postseason struggles now seem like a distant memory as he came on strong for the final nine games of the Raptors title run. So much so, that the undrafted guard even earned a vote for Finals MVP after making his mark on the series by averaging 14.0 points per game and sinking five triples in the clincher.
By taking a step back to look at VanVleet's body of work over the past three seasons, the improvement that he's made has been gradual as he continues to trend upward.
The 2018-19 season saw the 25-year-old set new career-highs in a number of major statistical categories and excel as a starter both alongside and in place of Kyle Lowry. The choice to start VanVleet alongside Lowry was usually a product of Leonard's load management. With his absence, we could see this lineup combination at times this upcoming season.
With Green's departure, the Raptors have a glaring need for perimeter shooting that VanVleet can help satisfy should he pick up where he left off in the postseason. VanVleet starting in place of Green to begin the second half of the NBA Finals allowed him to have such an impact on the games.
As a point guard, VanVleet must also continue to display an ability to create for both himself and others on the offensive end as well.
Nick Nurse won't shy away from experimenting with different lineups throughout the season, meaning VanVleet will likely see time both off the bench and as a starter in 2019-20.
While VanVleet could very well see time in the starting unit, Powell is by far the most logical replacement for Green in the backcourt.
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At 6-foot-4, Powell brings some size as well as athleticism to a backcourt that also features the 33-year-old Lowry. Although he started in a career-low three games last season, the numbers show that more Norm should translate into good things for the Raps.
During the regular season, Powell scored in double figures 29 times and the Raptors were 20-9 in such games. In the postseason, Toronto was 4-1 in the five games Powell scored 10 or more points, including his big-time 19-point performance in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Unlike VanVleet, Powell's improvement hasn't been as linear, with last season serving as somewhat of a career resurgence despite a midseason shoulder injury.
The next step for Powell offensively could be for him to become that consistent double-digit scorer the Raptors will desperately need. He'll also be looked upon to knock down shots from the perimeter at a higher volume, something he has shown he is very capable of doing.
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Perhaps the biggest void left by Green and Leonard is on the defensive end and Powell will be now looked upon to take on tough defensive assignments on the perimeter, something he has also proven to be capable of doing.
Powell isn't expected to become an All-Defensive Team selection like Leonard or one of the league's top marksmen like Green, but he can certainly do his part in stepping up to fill voids that can only truly be filled by committee.
Of all members on the Raptors roster, Anunoby is the most likely candidate to be considered an X-Factor, as a big leap in his third season could help propel this team into the top half of the Eastern Conference.
Complications surrounding an emergency appendectomy at the beginning of the postseason prevented the 22-year-old from making his impact felt on the floor during the Raptors title run, but he's primed to get back to it in year three.
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OG's familiarity with Toronto's system makes him a logical replacement for Leonard at the small forward position, giving him the platform and opportunity to put his development on display. Last season, the Raptors were 13-2 in the 15 games that Anunoby scored in double digits, including a win over the Wizards in which he posted a career-high 22 points while Leonard sat out.
Anunoby has the size and strength to fill in nicely as a starting forward and has displayed the potential to develop into an elite perimeter defender. Lost in the whirlwind of this past season is that Anunoby started in 10 postseason games as a 20-year-old rookie and held his own when tasked with guarding LeBron James, who was in the midst of one of the best postseason runs in league history.
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OG's been there before and competed at the highest level against the very best. He showed growth despite having to re-adjust to a reserve role in his second season and a shift back to a starting spot in year three could be just what it takes for Anunoby to become the player the Raptors will need him to be.
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