Toronto Raptors are the model for Orlando Magic’s building

Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard proved himself a superstar in breaking down the Orlando Magic. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard proved himself a superstar in breaking down the Orlando Magic. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic are no longer alone in facing the wrath of the Toronto Raptors. Their five-game series was a roadmap for Orlando’s improvement.

Tobias Harris has turned in an incredible season — even better than anything anyone imagined in his short stint with the Orlando Magic — and his attitude and belief he will score was always present. He was going to get to the basket an make something happen. His confidence is such that he believes he can score on anyone.

Anyone is not Kawhi Leonard. Not with how he has played in this postseason.

Leonard swatted Harris shot away at the rim. The drive had caught the Philadelphia 76ers out of position. So as Fred VanVleet caught the ball, he only had to forward it quickly to Pascal Siakam for a two-handed jam, an emphatic play in the Toronto Raptors’ 108-95 tearing apart of the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 on Saturday.

If anyone thought Leonard and Siakam were simply taking advantage of the seventh-seeded Magic, Game 1 proved otherwise.

Leonard scored 45 points and Siakam had 29 and the Raptors held the 76ers to 39.3 percent from the floor. Their defense put a vice grip on anyone who tried to get going whether it was Joel Embiid or Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris. Ben Simmons got some shots to go in, but hardly enough.

The 76ers were turned into a series of isolation plays. Only J.J. Redick escaping in the third quarter to make the game a bit closer. But the 76ers were never really in this game. The Raptors had control from start to finish in much the same way they controlled the Magic in their first-round series.

To be sure, the 76ers will find ways to put up a bigger fight than the Magic did. Philadelphia has more offensive weapons to break down Toronto’s defense. The 76ers have players who can break down the defense without a screen and they will make their plays. Orlando’s deficiencies in the series were its inability to get into the paint.

But Philadelphia did not have much luck doing that in Game 1. And, as if to prove a point, the 76ers defense could do nothing to slow down Leonard. Then again, the Magic’s defense was better than the 76ers’ defense in the regular season.

That is to say, it was not just Orlando’s defense. Leonard is that good.

Toronto looks impressive through its first six games this postseason. The Raptors are all arms and energy swarming defenses. They can attack off the dribble and move quickly with their length, whipping the ball around the perimeter when they get into the paint.

It is the swarming defense that gives an offense a glimmer of hope for an attack before surrounding them and forcing hurried passes. It is the defense that forces the offense to act quicker, unsure of where the pressure will come next. The Magic were missing open shots unsure of where the Raptors’ defense would attack next.

It is hard not to sit and watch this team play and have a sense of admiration. And to see the similarities and hints in how Orlando is building its team.

Shortly after the Magic’s elimination from the first round, the question immediately became: Can Jonathan Isaac take the same leap Pascal Siakam made? The whole series seemed to be a Spider-Man meme of the two pointing at each other.

Siakam clearly had a leg up at 25 years old and a few more years of experience underneath him (including a few more years in college). But everyone sensed throughout the five-game series that Isaac could cause problems.

Judging by how the Magic have drafted, length is a tool the team wants to use. And it is easy to see from the Raptors how much they have valued that.

Kyle Lowry is not particularly long but is big for his position — and famously does not allow anyone to post him up, giving up 0.77 points per possession on post-ups in the regular season and 0.50 points per possession in the playoffs, according to Just ask Aaron Gordon how difficult it is to move him off his spot.

Leonard already established his defensive bona fides in the league. As had Danny Green and Marc Gasol, a former Defensive Player of the Year. And there is Siakam who has established himself as a great defensive player.

Obviously, the Raptors are good because they have very good players who fit into roles that serve them and the team. Everything fell into place for them. There is no easy formula — accumulate length makes a great team — the pieces still have to fit together.

But it is not crazy to look at what the Raptors have done — even before acquiring Leonard — and not be impressed with their patience and the way they have built a consistent winner. It is also not crazy to draw the connection to the team.

After all, the Magic’s president of basketball operations, Jeff Weltman, was an assistant general manager and then the general manager with Masai Ujiri in constructing the current version of the Raptors. They inherited Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and built an infrastructure around them to create the longest sustained success in the franchise’s history.

The Magic cannot build exactly like the Raptors. They do not have former All-Stars in Lowry and DeRozan to build around (or trade with to get bigger players like Leonard). Orlando is building around Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac and hoping they continue progressing along their strong development curve.

But the style that both Dwane Casey and Nick Nurse have employed is certainly possible.

A swarming defense that allows for constant switching. Orlando was unable to break down the defense because even Green and Lowry were able to switch comfortably onto anyone. And with Steve Clifford’s defensive schemes, the team was locked in with their rotations.

The length on the perimeter from guys like Isaac and Gordon will only further clog passing lanes. And having Mohamed Bamba potentially to use as a backstop and hedging option with his 7-foot-10 wingspan bodes well for the team have another disruptive defensive force.

There are hints of who this team might be. But it is still raw and unformed.

The Magic have some issues to resolve — particularly on offense. They will still need a lot of their young players — specifically Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Mohamed Bamba and Markelle Fultz — to continue developing. And when the opportunity comes along to take a big leap, they will need to seize it.

There are a lot of various issues the Magic have to address and many of them come to a head this year after the team’s surprising playoff run.

Next. Orlando Magic's postseason about Isaac, Gordon. dark

But Orlando got a glimpse of what their future could be and what their potential could be in facing Toronto. The Raptors play exactly how the Magic want to and have a roster construction that is similar to what the Magic may one day look like.