It is the end of perhaps one of the most unusual seasons in NBA history for the Toronto Raptors, and they could not be more relieved.
The team had to navigate the perils of a global pandemic, they played in an unfamiliar setting in which they were booed nightly by what were supposed to be home fans, and worst of all, they let Aron Baynes and Pascal Siakam on the court together. The Raptors ultimately finished with a 27-45 record, landing 12th in the Eastern Conference.
For the first time in eight seasons, the team will miss the postseason. For the first time in five years, the team will be in the draft lottery and with the 2021 draft class looking extremely promising, there is a chance for the Raptors to seriously raise their ceiling. They will have the seventh-highest draft lottery odds when the draw takes place on June 22nd.
The Raptors also have plenty of roster flexibility this off-season, with a handful of players under guaranteed contracts. However, there are also plenty of questions with some core pieces, particularly the free agency of Kyle Lowry and Gary Trent Jr.
Trent will be a restricted free agent, which means the Raptors will have the right to match any offer presented to him and should have a great chance of retaining him. Lowry, on the other hand, will be an unrestricted free agent.
In the final edition of Raptors Insider Roundtable for this season, we will attempt to make sense of the bizarre season that just unfolded, and address the biggest questions heading into the summer. Joining me today are fellow Raptors Insiders Olivier Neven, Jacob Fogel, and the founder of the publication, Zvi Katan. This will be a piece of history, as it is Zvi’s writing debut!
Without further ado, let’s get into it!
Shane: Consistency, all across the board. The Raptors had many critical disruptions this past season that led to many missed games, rotations being shuffled, and lots of growing pains. The end result was the Raptors never finding a rhythm for any long stretch, and everything that could have gone wrong essentially did. The hope is that the team may return to Toronto prior to the start of the season, they can stay healthy, and they can put this hellish year behind them.
Olivier: I think many of the Raptors’ issues this year had to do with below-average production from their big men. There was no established paint presence offensively, anywhere to put the ball when outside shots aren’t falling, and interior defending was a glaring weakness as teams with dominant big men operated freely inside. Lapses of concentration during long stretches and the paint being prone to collapsing cost the Raptors a lot of winnable contests.
Jacob: In short, everything. However, if I have to pinpoint one thing that did more damage to the Raptors this season than any other, I’ll choose the obvious answer: the pandemic. The difficulty and unfairness of being the only team in the league to play their entire season on the road and be booed by their so-called “home fans” in Tampa cannot be understated. Then, as if COVID hadn’t done enough already, it wiped out half of the coaching staff and three of the five starters for multiple weeks just when the team had finally started clicking and climbed over .500. By the time the team returned to full health, the hole was too deep to climb out of.
Zvi: There were plenty of things that went wrong for the Raptors this year, whether we look at lack of bigs for most of the season, injuries, COVID and even playing in Tampa instead of Toronto. I can’t pick one thing because all these mentioned play a huge role in the rough season for the Raptors. They simply were not dealt good cards this season.
Shane: Many players showed growth throughout the year, but the one player who stood out was OG Anunoby. He is slowly transforming into a complete offensive player, and continued to add more to his arsenal as the season progressed. With in-game reps, he improved his coordination on drives, post-ups, and even flashed a bit of playmaking potential. The way he’s continued to add elements to his game has been remarkable, and there’s no reason to think he can’t continue to evolve on this end while already being one of the game’s elite defensive players.
Olivier: I was really happy to watch Chris Boucher’s continued ascension into a competent and respectable NBA player. He is a confident scorer, finishing nicely at the rim and shooting efficiently from outside, and offers nice length to contest shots defensively. His future is likely at the four spot, mostly due to his lack of size relative to the average NBA centre, but he is an important piece off of the bench for Nick Nurse going forward.
Jacob: Honourable mention to Chris Boucher, but I have to go with Anunoby for this one. I spent most of last season screaming at the team through my TV to give OG the ball more often offensively, and it seems like they finally listened. It’s unfortunate that injuries and COVID protocols limited him to just 43 games this season, but his offensive evolution was such a pleasure to watch. I am so excited to see his continued development next season, and if he can stay healthy, I fully expect him to be the Raptors’ x-factor going forward.
Zvi: Personally, the guy that has most impressed me was Anunoby this season. We’ve been seeing him take more control on the offensive end and prove that he is more than just an elite defender. His future is extremely bright, and this is only the beginning for him. I want to mention Chris Boucher here as well, I have always been a big fan of his and knew he would be able to play this way if given the chance.
Shane: In a season that produced more lowlights than highlights, one of the biggest feel-good moments was Gary Trent Jr.’s game-winning three against the Washington Wizards. This buzzer beater capped a week-long stretch in which Trent surpassed his career high in points twice, before lifting the Raptors to a victory against a team they were in a playoff race with at the time. It was certainly an invigorating introduction for Trent to Raptors fans, and there’s plenty for him to build on heading into next year.
Olivier: My favourite moment of the year has to be Fred VanVleet’s 54-point game against the Orlando Magic in February. Not only did he break the record for points in a game by an undrafted player, but he also cemented his status as one of the league’s premier two-way point guards.
Jacob: I’ll pick the Raptors 53-point smackdown over the Golden State Warriors back on April 2nd. With so many games this season ending in disappointment or frustration, it was so nice to sit back and watch everything go right for a change. The team had their largest margin of victory in franchise history, Siakam got to celebrate his 27th birthday with 36 points in three quarters, and I got to pretend that the season wasn’t a dumpster fire for a night.
Zvi: Oddly enough, I think my favourite moment was the trade deadline. It was a day full of emotion but it was a day that was going to show the direction of their future, whether it was trading Norman Powell, or the speculation regarding Kyle Lowry. Seeing Norm go was super difficult, they let go of a guy who loved being in Toronto which is something you don’t see often. Even leading up to the day, we saw Lowry throw up those peace signs. Everything around the trade deadline would have to be most memorable for me.
Shane: A starting big man! The need has been there since December, and the Raptors should have a pretty good chance to address it this summer. Khem Birch is likely to return, but he projects as the backup next to his Canadian running mate in Boucher. Barring a scenario in which the Raptors land the second overall pick and draft Evan Mobley from USC, the best way the Raptors will be able to address this is via trade. Across seven players, the Raptors will have over 32 million dollars in non-guaranteed contracts, which they should be able to combine with assets and absorb a quality player on a bloated contract. For a team in need of shedding salary, the Raptors should be able to find themselves a capable rotation player while providing somebody cap relief.
Olivier: I would look to add a shot creator to come off the bench. The Raptors have been glaringly outscored in bench points this year, with few players capable of creating their own shot. Whether it be through the draft or offseason acquisitions, Toronto should consider bringing in a scorer to bolster the team’s bench production.
Jacob: Improved depth will be the biggest area of need for the Raptors this offseason. We know that the team prides itself defensively, but filling out the roster with defensive-minded players and unpolished offensive skill sets resulted in the Raptors producing the second lowest bench points per game (30.2) in the league. Boucher was the only consistent offensive threat off the bench all season, and the overall lack of production from the second unit put far too much pressure on the starters to carry the load. Luckily, with a lottery pick in this year’s draft and a lot of cap flexibility, the Raptors should be able to solve this issue in the offseason.
Zvi: The Raptors need a solution to their late game struggles, as that was the downfall for them plenty of times this season. Scoring in a slowed down, half-court game has been an ongoing issue for the Raptors. Acquiring a big man would definitely fill a rather large void, but bringing in a closer, or even having a guy like Gary Trent Jr. develop into that go-to scorer is going to be extremely important.
Shane: If the roster gaps are addressed, the team doesn’t play the entirety of the season on the road, and they’re not forced to play a long stretch with half the team and coaching staff out due to a global pandemic, then absolutely they can. There is still a solid foundation, even if the supporting pieces weren’t there this past season, and there will be ample opportunity to improve that aspect in the summer. They might not reach the upper-tier of the East, but a revamped roster should at least be able to capture a low-to-mid tier playoff seed while continuing to grow and improve, which would be terrific for the young core of Anunoby, Trent, Malachi Flynn, and the upcoming draft selection.
Olivier: I’m confident that the front office will address the needs of the squad and will look to field a very competitive team going into next season. The team has a strong core that is capable of competing with the top of the conference, and with a lottery pick added to the mix, I expect Toronto to be in the playoff picture again next year.
Jacob: The Raptors absolutely have the talent to start a new playoff streak next year. They were talented enough to make the playoffs this year, but were thrown too many obstacles for any team to overcome. Add a lottery pick and the continued development of Flynn and Trent Jr. to our existing core, and the Raptors will be poised for a huge bounce back year. I just hope it will be in Toronto instead of Tampa.
Zvi: 100 percent, and I say that with the utmost confidence. This is a very strong team when healthy, and is only going to improve with time and continuity. They didn’t have a full squad this season for many games, and never really settled into a comfortable rotation or proper roles with all the shifting pieces. If the team can add some promising talent in the draft this year and if they’re able to find a quality starting big, the sky is the limit for the Raptors.
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