Toronto Raptors Team Previewby Darius Walker October 13, 2021 0 comments
The Toronto Raptors missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years last season. They dealt with injuries to key players throughout the year, and as a result, could never find their rhythm. There were rumors about Pascal Siakam being unhappy, and in addition, Kyle Lowry was never at full strength. The departures of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol hurt the team more than expected, and they struggled early on in the campaign.
Things started to get back on track shortly after and there was even a point when the team was 17-17. However, things went downhill soon after. It was obvious that with both the injury struggles and chemistry issues, the team decided to tank. That caught the attention of commissioner Adam Silver, who fined the team $25,000 for irregular rest habits. Toronto ended the season with a 27-45 record.
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Toronto was included in one of the biggest moves of the offseason. Lowry was sent to the Miami Heat in a sign-and-trade in exchange for Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa. After acquiring Gary Trent Jr. in a midseason trade with the Portland Trail Blazers, the Raptors decided to bring him back on a three-year deal. Khem Birch re-signed with the team on a three-year deal. The Raptors landed the No. 4 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and selected forward Scottie Barnes. Barnes will be an immediate contributor as a defender and playmaker. His potential is through the roof. The Raptors’ goal this offseason was setting themselves up for the future, and that is exactly what they did.
The Starting Five
PG – Fred VanVleet
SG – Gary Trent Jr.
SF – OG Anunoby
PF – Pascal Siakam
C – Khem Birch
The Raptors lack the star-power that some of the other Eastern Conference teams have, but they do have a starting lineup full of quality players. VanVleet and Trent Jr. are both good shooters from deep and above-average shot-creators. Both are better shooters than what their 2020-21 percentages say. Anunoby averaged a career-high 15.9 points per game last season and began to show his promise offensively. Already one of the top defenders in the NBA, Anunoby has the potential to be a star if he takes another leap on offense.
Siakam is a former all-star who is looking to get back to that level of play, after a disappointing 2020-21 season. Siakam is the leader of the team now that Lowry is gone, so it will be interesting to see how he rises to the challenge. He will be the go-to scorer on a Raptors team with a lot more youth than have they’ve have in recent seasons. Birch serves as the rim protector in this lineup. They will rely on him to do the dirty work and to make hustle plays.
The team’s newly acquired point guard, Dragic, will lead the second unit if he and the team fail to reach a buyout agreement. Dragic gives the team a veteran off the bench and has a history of making big shots. Malachi Flynn showed promise as a rookie and he could see the floor with Dragic on the second unit. Flynn and Dragic provide tremendous depth for the team at point guard. Barnes is going to have a big role as a rookie. He is one of the most NBA-ready prospects and his positional versatility allows him to play multiple roles for the second unit.
Chris Boucher had a career-year last season and should be in for an even bigger role in 2021-2022. Boucher is a stretch big who shot 38 percent from three-point land last season and showed growth on the defensive end. The Raptors are thin in the frontcourt, so Achiuwa should see a good amount of playing time as the backup center. Achiuwa is an above-the-rim athlete with the potential to be a defensive stopper.
One Potential Move to Make
The Raptors roster is pretty much set. The team has their core group of young players that they are building around. As a result, there is not much wiggle room as far as roster moves is concerned. There could be a Dragic trade, but the Raptors seem content with keeping him on the team. With a thin frontcourt, the team should be open to all options in free agency. Ed Davis and Aron Baynes are both on the market. Neither player is much of a game-changer, but they provide depth and some more defense.
Two different injuries could cause the Raptors to get off to a slow start. Siakam is going to miss the first month of the season with a shoulder injury. Boucher was one of the candidates to fill Siakam’s spot, but he suffered a finger injury and will be out at least three weeks. Look for the rookie Barnes to get the starting nod early on until Siakam returns. The Raptors are going with youth and preparing for the future. They will not contend for a title, but there’s a chance that they could exceed expectations. Nurse is one of the top head coaches in the NBA and he will get the most out of this roster.
Anunoby is a candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year award. His development is the key to the Raptors’ season. Trent Jr. is only 24-years-old and could also be in for a breakout season. The team will be leaning on these two early on in the season with Siakam out. At full strength, the Raptors will push for a playoff spot and earn a spot in the NBA’s play-in tournament.
Season Prediction: 41-41, Last Place in the Atlantic Division
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