Meet the new Raptors trying to fill the Kawhi-shaped hole in Toronto’s heart
In case you missed it: Kawhi Leonard is gone. So who will be suiting up in Raptor red and OVO gold in his place? The Raps have signed a trio of relatively unheralded swingmen to try—emphasis on try—to replace the irreplaceable Kawhi. Here’s a primer on the newest Dinos.
The backstory: Johnson, who is originally from California, has played for the New Orleans Pelicans and the Detroit Pistons, and joined Toronto the day Kawhi said goodbye. Many casual fans probably have no idea who he is—but at least he was affordable. The 23-year-old was signed to a cheap (in NBA terms, at least) contract of two years and $7.5 million. It’s a low-risk signing. We might look back a year from now and see the Johnson deal as a bargain.
What he brings to the team: Last season, according to ESPN, Johnson ranked 11th in the NBA in Real Plus-Minus, a statistical measurement of how much a player contributes to a team’s offence and defence.
Fun fact: Johnson’s mom, Karen Taylor, was his mentor: she played basketball for Jackson State University and was inducted into the school’s Sports Hall of Fame. She died in 2015.
The backstory: The 24-year-old Thomas won a championship this spring, but not in the NBA. He helped lead Valencia, a team in the top Spanish division, to its fourth EuroCup title. And on Canada Day, he decided to sign a three-year deal with the Raptors to see if he could win a title on North American soil.
What he brings to the team: Thomas was one of the best shooters for Iowa State University during his four years there, and he was arguably the best shooter in the Spanish league. When he leads the NBA in three-point percentage, you won’t even remember who Kawhi Leonard is. Okay, that’s blasphemous—but his smooth shooting might help soften the blow of Kawhi’s departure.
Fun fact: Last year, he set the Spanish league record for shots made in the official three-point contest.
The backstory: In college, Hollis-Jefferson was a standout at the University of Arizona, where his athleticism and hard-nosed defence earned raves from scouts. When he declared for the draft following the 2014–2015 NCAA season, he tried out for the Raptors, who held the 20th overall pick. The Raps ultimately passed (they selected Delon Wright instead). After four seasons with the Brooklyn Nets, he needed a new home. By signing a one-year deal with Toronto, he found just that.
What he brings to the team: With a seven-foot-one wingspan, Hollis-Jefferson is a versatile defender with offensive potential yet to be realized: he has struggled to develop an outside shot, hitting just 22 per cent of his three-point attempts. But as an athletic, still-young forward, he should be ready and able to run the floor with Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry.
Fun fact: His baby boy is already showing some aptitude for the game.