After winning the NBA championship in 2019, the Raptors have seemed to steadily decline rather than continue to compete. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green signed with new teams after winning rings. Then, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka left for new pastures. Finally, the true icon of Toronto, Kyle Lowry, was a member of a sign-and-trade to the Miami Heat, while Normal Powell was traded at the trade deadline.
From that 2019 team, there are a few holdovers like 2019 Most Improved Player of the Year Pascal Siakam and sharpshooting reserve turned starter Fred VanVleet. Outside of them, this Raptors team features new names leading the charge. After missing out on the playoffs last year, the Raptors are stuck in purgatory. Could this be the start of a firesale, or is this team going to be a sneaky playoff contender?
Point Guard – Fred VanVleet
The unfortunate truth is that if Fred VanVleet is going to get paid more than 20 million dollars, then he has to be more efficient for the Raptors to contend in the Eastern Conference. Last year, VanVleet took the second-most three-point attempts right behind Buddy Hield among all point guards. The difference between VanVleet and Hield is that Hield led all point guards in three-pointers made and shot nearly five percent higher than VanVleet.
Among point guards, VanVleet ranked 36th in field goal percentage but did rank seventh in three-pointers made. VanVleet averaged 19.6 points per game last season to go with 6.3 assists. These are very solid numbers, but now that Kyle Lowry is gone, VanVleet has even more responsibility.
Shooting Guard – Gary Trent Jr.
The Raptors are trying to rebuild on the fly. When the team traded Norman Powell, who was in a contract year, they traded for a player that had similar stats but was five years younger. Trent averaged a career-high 16.2 points and shot 35.5% from the three-point range. He gives the team another shooter, like Powell, but will be someone that grows into their prime years with more upside.
With that said, Trent also needs to be more efficient. Trent ranked near the bottom in player efficiency rankings among shooting guards, finishing with the 34th best ranking. While his stats were nice, it wasn’t all that great as a complete package. The good news is that Trent is just 22 years old, so he has room to grow.
Small Forward – OG Anunoby
When Anunoby was healthy, he produced a solid-state line. He averaged 15.9 points and 5.5 rebounds, but his best stat was his outside shooting, clipping at 39.8% from the three-point range. Also, Anunoby is an underrated defender. Anunoby is listed at 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot wingspan and weighs about 230 pounds. The way he moves shoots, and defends, he has been said to be looking like a version of Kawhi Leonard.
Anunoby is just 24 years old, but even if he gave the team a great value version of Leonard, that is top-100 player talk. Based on the flashes from last year, Anunoby could be a darkhorse for Most Improved Player of the Year this season.
Power Forward – Pascal Siakam
Since signing his max contract, Siakam has produced like a max player statistically. Last year, Siakam averaged 21.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.1 steals. It was the second straight season that Siakam averaged over 20.0 points as well. Siakam is the building block of this team and it appears that the Raptors are firm in building around him. The best comparison with what the Raptors have is what the Knicks had last season with Julius Randle. Can the team make the jump though?
Siakam and Randle have similar versions of their game, but Randle improved his outside shooting, Siakam shot just above 29% from three-point range last season. That is not going to lead too many teams; however, that is why the Raptors have three pieces in the lineup that are deep ballplayers. Siakam is an All-Star caliber swingman, but if the Raptors want to take the next level, he also has to take that same level with his game.
Center – Chris Boucher
It should be noted that Boucher is expected to miss three weeks due to an injury, so he could miss the beginning of the season. With that said, we are assuming that Boucher is going to make it back and be the team’s starting center. Last year, Boucher had a career year with 13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, and shot 38.3% from three-point range. He also shot 51.4% from the field, making it a full seven-percent increase since he began playing consistently two years ago.
What stands out about Boucher is that not only can he draw defenses out to the perimeter to guard him, but that he can convert inside as well. Defensively, Boucher averaged 1.9 blocks, which was an eye-popping stat. Can Boucher be the new and improved Serge Ibaka, or maybe even a version of Ibaka from his younger days? If that is so, the Raptors have a real defensive devil on their side.
Goran Dragic, Malachi Flynn, David Johnson, Scottie Barnes, Sviatoslav Mykhaliliuk, Dalano Banton, Ishmail Wainright, Isaac Bonga, Justin Champagnie, Yuta Watanabe, Freddie Gillespie, Sam Dekker, Khem Birch, Precious Achiuwa
For now, Goran Dragic appears to be a Raptor, but this has trade deadline value all around it. Dragic was expected to be traded by now to a contender, but it looks like teams are going to see where the market value lies. Dragic was a key piece of the Miami Heat for years. He remains a strong backup point guard and should benefit members of the Raptors.
All eyes will be on Scottie Barnes, who was a surprise selection at No. 4 overall in the 2021 draft. Fans will need to be patient with his offense, but as a defender, Barnes was viewed as potentially the best overall defender. Along with Barnes, the Raptors have a new face in Precious Achiuwa, who was the key prospect in the Kyle Lowry sign-and-trade. Achiuwa played in 64 games last year and could contend for the starting job with Boucher out. Outside of these three players, the Raptors bench is filled with names that are not familiar with fans in the league.
The Toronto Raptors Potential Starting Lineup: A Promising Team That Won’t Make The Playoff
Two points stick out about this team. For starters, the outside shooting is going to potentially keep the Raptors close in games. The team has four starters that can shoot close to 40% from outside. The old saying of living and dying by the three will be evident when it comes to this franchise. VanVleet leads that charge, while Trent, Anunboy, and Boucher are other options that can contribute too.
These outside shooters are such a perfect complement to Siakam, who was just a terrible outside shooter last year. In the last two years, Siakam has shot worse from outside. When he won Most Improved Player in 2019, Siakam shot 36% from outside. What has happened since then? That is why all these players must continue to shoot well from outside, so Siakam can focus on getting to the rim.
The second part of this team that sticks out is the potential defensive hell that this team can display. The backcourt has some iffy parts, but Anunoby, Siakam, and Boucher are one strong defensive frontcourt. Head coach Nick Nurse lived off the defense a couple of years ago. This team is a little bit different from the combination of Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Marc Gasol. With that said, the frontcourt has potential, and Nurse will need to find a way to bring the best out of it.
If the Raptors shoot well from outside and defend, they have the potential to cause some havoc in the East. Right now, the Raptors are not a playoff team. They lost their emotional leader in Lowry and didn’t improve much in the offseason. It appears that they are doubling down on what they have. If the team can’t make the playoffs, it was expected and their young core took a step forward. With that said, every year there is a bad team that is hard to beat. That team could be the Raptors this year.