The Toronto Raptors enter the 2019-20 season with a roster similar to the one that won the championship last season, albeit for one glaring difference. In place of Kawhi Leonard is now Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, plus Matt Thomas, a shooting guard who went undrafted in 2017.
The three of them won’t come close to replacing Leonard’s production, of course, but they each bring a different skill set to the table that should help the Raptors maintain their place at the top of the Eastern Conference, especially if Pascal Siakam takes his game to another level and the likes of Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell and Marc Gasol succeed in expanded roles.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at one thing each of Toronto’s key additions this offseason bring to the team.
Thomas is a shooter, through and through.
According to Synergy Sports, almost half of his scoring with Valencia Basket last season came on an equal split of spot-ups and off of screens. He was incredibly efficient on both of those plays, ranking in the 97th percentile with 1.36 points per spot-up possession and the 73rd percentile with 1.10 points per possession off of screens.
Additionally, Thomas posted an effective field goal percentage (a statistic that accounts for 3-pointers being worth more than 2-pointers) of 99 percent on unguarded catch-and-shoot 3s last season.
That’s … quite good.
Being a knockdown shooter in Europe is obviously different to being on in the NBA – the 3-point line is several inches closer to the basket, for one – but Thomas might be Toronto’s best hope at replacing Danny Green as the team’s most reliable 3-point shooter, even if he only plays limited minutes off the bench.
According to Blake Murphy of The Athletic, the Raptors have been interested in Thomas ever since he broke shooting records at a pre-draft workout in 2017. The Raptors reportedly had plans for him to be on their Summer League roster that year, but he ended up playing for the Los Angeles Lakers instead and played a key role in them winning the championship with a monster performance in the finals.
– Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) July 18, 2017
If there’s anything holding Thomas back from becoming a staple for the Raptors, it’s his limitations defensively. Defence was seen as one of his weaknesses coming into the NBA and Synergy Sports graded him mostly as a poor or average defender last season.
For more on what Thomas brings to the Raptors, click here.
Johnson is almost the opposite of Thomas, in that he’s an inconsistent 3-point shooter but a top-notch defender.
One of Johnson’s most memorable performances last season came against the Raptors. In addition to scoring eight points in the fourth quarter to lead Detroit’s comeback in Dwane Casey’s return to Toronto, he forced Leonard to commit a handful of costly turnovers down the stretch, one of which came in the closing seconds of the game.
According to NBA.com, Johnson limited Leonard to two points (1-for-3 FG) and five turnovers in the 17 possessions they were matched up together in that game.
There’s only so much you can take away from one game, but Johnson spent time guarding a number of All-Stars last season, such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Ben Simmons to James Harden and Kevin Durant. His versatility on that end of the floor was a big reason the Pistons selected him with the eighth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, ahead of players like Myles Turner and Devin Booker.
Having lost two of their best wing defenders this offseason in Leonard and Green, the Raptors will likely look to Johnson to take on the responsibility of slowing down the opposing team’s best perimeter player on most nights.
Johnson, however, will need to become a more efficient scorer to live up to his potential in Toronto. He’s never averaged more than 8.7 points per game in a single season and he’s a career 37.4 percent shooter from the field.
He at least finished last season on a positive note, averaging 5.3 points on the best shooting splits (.418/.324/.692) of his career in the 18 games he appeared in with the New Orleans Pelicans.
For more on what Johnson brings to the Raptors, click here.
You’ll find Hollis-Jefferson listed as a small forward on most sites, but he’s best suited as a small ball power forward in today’s NBA.
Hollis-Jefferson is an even more limited 3-point shooter than Johnson, only he doesn’t shoot 3-pointers at nearly the same volume as Johnson does. 9.7 percent of his field goal attempts in his career have come from the perimeter compared to 41.1 percent for Johnson.
Instead, almost all of Hollis-Jefferson’s scoring comes in the paint.
Hollis-Jefferson makes up for being undersized as a power forward with his speed against taller defenders and his strength against smaller defenders. His high motor also makes him a factor on the boards and he is a solid passer, better than his career average of 2.0 assists per game would suggest.
Playing in lineups with either Serge Ibaka or Marc Gasol should do wonders for Hollis-Jefferson because they both have the shooting ability to allow him to function more as a centre on offence, beit by posting up smaller defenders, setting screens and rolling hard to the basket or making timely cuts.
Much like Johnson, it’s on the other end of the court where Hollis-Jefferson truly shines. Standing at 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, he should be a perfect fit in Toronto’s defensive scheme due to his comfort guarding upwards of three positions. Lineups built around some combination of him, Lowry, Siakam, Johnson and OG Anunoby will give the Raptors multiple players who can switch across the board and punish teams for turning the ball over by getting out in transition.
For more on what Hollis-Jefferson brings to the Raptors, click here.
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