There was a lot of speculation surrounding the success of the Raptors in the NBA Finals, particularly after Kawhi declared that he will be signing with the Los Angeles Clippers this past summer. In the 33 games Kawhi Leonard played as a Raptor, the Claw, averaged a bold 26.9 points.
There is no doubt that Nick Nurse (Raptors Head Coach) wanted the ball in Kawhi’s hand in clutch moments of the game. Even Kyle Lowry admitted that the sole cause of the Raptors success, in the 2018-19 season, was in fact Kawhi Leonard. When Lowry was asked in a post-game press conference on what the reason behind the success of the Raptors last season was, he just grinned and looked right at Leonard who was sitting beside him.
It is crystal clear to everyone that Kawhi Leonard was one of the driving forces behind the Raptors winning their first championship. But now that he is no longer a part of the team, the question that has been lingering on everyone’s mind is; how successful will the Raptors be this season? And what impact will the absence of the Claw have on the team if/when they play in the playoffs?
The CLAW Effect
For starters, star players such as Kawhi Leonard push and motivate the players around them to become better as well. His worth ethic, drive, and overall presence as a Raptor has had a lasting effect on the rest of the team. For example, Pascal Siakam went from a regular role player to a now an All-Star Candidate in 2020, which is in addition to him being named the Most Improved Player of the league.
Kawhi’s presence on the Raptors team gave the rest of the players the confidence to take shots and plays without hesitating. Players such as Norman Powell and Fred Vanvleet, who had never been in the playoffs before, were able to step up to the plate and hit clutch shots when it mattered the most.
The CLAW effect has, with no doubt, left a lasting impact on the team. Kawhi has given the young Raptors the confidence to step up and be confident in stressful situations, which has carried out into the new season. We have become champions for the first time in franchise history, which means we now possess that championship gene. So as grateful as we are to Kawhi and everything he has given to Toronto, I think it is our time to prove that being champions is in the Raptors DNA, with or without Leonard.