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2021-22 NBA Season Preview Series: Toronto Raptors

Tim Nwachukwu. Getty Images.

I have to be honest, I did not expect the Raptors to walk away victorious in this poll. When I hit send on the tweet I thought we would have had a runaway win for the Rockets given how their offseason has gone (really well). But the people want what the people want so today we'll talk about the Raptors rebuild. Last season there were few teams that were hit harder in terms of injuries and covid than the Raptors. No other team in the league was banned from playing in their home arena. That shit matters when you evaluate their season. So while we all know the Raptors are rebuilding, it's not crazy to think they actually look better this year now that they can finally play at home. Guys being able to sleep in their own beds, see their family, get back to their old routine should only help. 

What's unique about the Raptors rebuild is it's not really a complete teardown like we seen at times across the league. Their foundation is still there outside of Kyle Lowry. That's what makes them so hard to gauge as we enter next season. How much of what we saw was a weird covid year and how much is actually just who they are? The Raptors aren't alone in this line of thinking. The same is true of fellow East teams like BOS/MIA/IND. To try and answer that question, let's dive in

As it stands today, this is how the Raptors summer went

Added: Goran Dragic, Precious Achiuwa, Sam Dekker, Scottie Barnes

Lost: Kyle Lowry, Aron Baynes, Rodney Hood, 

Re-signed: Gary Trent Jr, Khem Birch

and this is how their roster looks as they begin camp

You see what I mean when I say their core is still around. Siakam, OG, FVV, Trent Jr, Boucher are all carry overs from the last few seasons (Trent Jr last year). We have evidence of those guys actually being good at basketball, which makes you feel like last year was an exception. If you look at their games played, OG only played 43, Lowry 46, FVV 52, Siakam 56 etc. Their main guys were missing 20+ games so obviously that's going to impact their record. You would think that with normal health (notice I didn't say perfect) and the addition of Scottie Barnes that this team should get back to being a competitive team rather quickly.

I also wouldn't sleep on the back half of their roster either. Precious and Khem Birch are solid reserve bigs. Certainly better than Baynes/Len we saw last year. They added some good shooting depth in Svi/Dekker, and as long as Dragic actually stays at the roster, if he's healthy he's a solid guard option as well. It's not without questions though. What's the deal with Malachi Flynn? Is he actually going to show legit progress in his second season? They are relatively thin at guard so his development will be pretty crucial. 

We know that things won't change much in terms of their system, but there's also no denying that last year was a bit of a step back. They were league average in both offense (16th), defense (15th) and net rating (19th). Things were a disaster whenever they played anyone good considering they had a 12-27 record against teams over .500, but they weren't all that better against bad teams either, finishing with a 15-18 record against teams under .500. Unfortunately, things were rough right from the start of the season. They got out to a 1-6 start and never really recovered. The Raptors didn't hit .500 until their 32nd game of the season. That lasted until their 34th game, and then the tanking hit its stride. They went 1-13 in the month of March and that was that. They were destined for the lottery.

So how do they fix things? Obviously getting guys back will help, but a big part of this puzzle will be what type of development they get from their best player in Pascal Siakam. Here's the deal with Siakam. He was awesome during their title run. They do not win that ring without what he did in the postseason. But life is different as a #1. You need more than 1 basketball move in your arsenal, and all Siakam has is that spin move. Everyone knows it's coming, and I think it's OK to say he got exposed a little bit in this #1 role. It started in the bubble and things continued into last season. He has to figure that out. Being a 29% three point shooter isn't going to cut it either. That was a massive drop off from the 35% we saw in 2019 and the 36% we saw in 2018. You didn't even have to gaurd him last year from behind the arc, that's an issue. It's not like he was a total scrub, he still put up 21/7/4.5/1.1 in his 36 minutes a night

but this is definitely a prove it year for him. If he wants to show that he really can be a #1, it's time to see it. The biggest thing for Siakam is he has to show that he's no longe predictable on the offensive end. If you take away his spin move, he's basically cooked. 

I am really interested in seeing how Scottie Barnes fits though. In the East, specifically the division in which the Raptors play, you need wing defense. With Siakam, OG, and now Barnes in the mix, this team has real length at that position. He looked great this summer out in Vegas

and as we know the quickest way for a team to rebuild is taking a leap defensively. Nick Nurse even talked about how the plan is to play more zone given their length

and this could be valuable for a team that at times has a hard time scoring. The Raptors were great in terms of creating transition opportunities, but stunk when it came to actually scoring. They finished in just the 37th percentile in transition offense. You add an athletic freak in Barnes, that should improve. It'll also be interesting to see if this length/zone can limit opponents lighting this team up from deep. They were just 26th in opponent 3PM last year and 24th in opponent 3P%. In 2019, they gave up a good chunk of threes, but were #1 in opponent 3P%. What's interesting is if you look at another team that had a similar underachieving year like the Celts, they were 2nd in opponent 3p% in 2019 and 22nd last year. Those aren't accidents. If the Raptors can get back to their 2019 version, which they should since guys are back healthy, that area should improve. As a result, it's not a stretch to think their record can rebound from what we saw last year. 

It's also fair to think that we may be on the cusp of a leap year from OG. It's how he's trending, we now have back to back seasons of at least 39% shooting from deep, and if he's healthy I'd say he's about as legit a two way option as you can find. He has great size, he can guard multiple positions, and the improvement in his shot is no joke

Remember, he's still young. This is just his age 24 season. It's silly to think he's not going to continue to get better, but what type of leap the Raptors get will ultimately help decide their ceiling. If we see something similar to Jaylen Brown's Year 4 or 5, the Raptors really have something. If the leap never comes and he continues to just be a solid 16/5 guy, that's fine but it's not going to get them over the hump. They need him to turn into an All Star caliber player. Someone who may not get voted in, but is putting up close to All Star production from the wing spot. 

Now that they've been able to turn the Kyle Lowry page and are back to being healthy and on their home turf, there's plenty of evidence that suggests this should be a much more enjoyable season for Raptors fans. Another season in the lottery or maybe even a play in loss will force the team to ask tougher questions. Do they need to move Siakam or FVV? Can this core actually compete in the ever improving East? That's what's on the line for the Raptors this season in my opinion. It may not be championship or bust, but it's a pretty important season when it comes to the potential future direction of the franchise.

Official Greenie Prediction: 41 wins