Folks, it’s that time of the year! The weather is getting colder, midterm exams are just around the corner, and the NBA season is starting on October 19. The Raptors went through a myriad of changes this off-season in an attempt to return the team to its former glory. Of course, there’s nothing worse than going into an NBA season excited for your team just to see them tank, which begs the question: what should fans expect from the Toronto Raptors this upcoming NBA season?
If the history of the Toronto Raptors was a story arc, the 2019 NBA championship would be its climax, and everything else since then would be categorized as ‘falling action.’ In 2020, they got knocked out of the playoffs by the Boston Celtics, and then they failed to make the playoffs the following season. This year’s NBA draft seemed to provide a sliver of hope to Raptors fans.
Having been given the number four pick in this year’s draft, the Raptors were destined to get a box office player. Analysts, fans, and journalists alike expected the Raptors to draft Gonzaga University star Jalen Suggs at the number four spot. However, to everyone’s surprise, the Raptors glossed over Suggs and instead picked Florida State power forward Scottie Barnes.
Barnes’ résumé is more impressive than most college athletes. In the 2020–2021 Atlantic Coast Conference season, Barnes was named the Freshman of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year, all while averaging 10.3 points per game.
As brilliant of a college career as Barnes had, his accomplishments are dwarfed compared to Suggs’. The athletic point guard averaged 14.4 points per game, had a career high of 27 points in one game, and scored a three-point buzzer beater against the University of California, Los Angeles in the Final Four. In basketball terms, the rookie quite literally has ice in his veins, and in terms of sheer offensive talent, every basketball fan knows that Suggs comes out on top.
This leads to the most painful question for Raptors fans: why did the Raptors choose Barnes over Suggs? The answer to this question becomes clear when you look at the bigger picture of what the Raptors are planning to do with their team. Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri commented in a press conference that the Raptors “don’t have to go with the wave of what the NBA is doing. [It’s] such a copycat league… and for now our opportunities are building around the young players that we have and letting them grow.”
It’s clear that while Suggs is the better player now, the Raptors believe that Barnes will be a better fit for the team in the long run. This, coupled with the fact that Barnes is a defensive threat, justifies the Raptors’ seemingly shocking decision.
With regard to veteran players, the Raptors also traded Kyle Lowry for Goran Dragić and Precious Achiuwa on August 6. The feisty point guard will be missed, but he had to go for the team to improve. Not only does the addition of Dragić and Achiuwa add stability to their bench, but the release of Lowry allows the Raptors to play a less Lowry-dependent basketball. With leaders like Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoby, other players should be able to grow around the type of basketball that the Raptors play.
While it’s impossible to predict a team’s performance in an upcoming season — the Phoenix Suns’ performance last season is an example — one shouldn’t expect too much from the Raptors this season. The team is still in their developmental phase — and develop they shall, considering the improvements they’ve brought about in their star players. This season is more about the Raptors gaining solid footing than anything. Coach Nick Nurse needs to play around with his roster and see which players mesh, what formation works, and how to ruffle the feathers of teams that are better than them.
Considering their performance in the 2020–2021 NBA season, making the playoffs would be an accomplishment for our Raptors. However, their performance this upcoming season depends on a few key factors.
Firstly, the new blood has to mesh well with the old team. The faster Barnes can work his way into the starting lineup and start performing, the better the Raptors will be.
Secondly, one of the older players must step in to fill the void of power that Lowry created when he left. Whether it’s Siakam, VanVleet, or someone else, one of the veteran players needs to act as the bonafide leader for the team.
Thirdly, the Raptors need to try their best to stay away from injuries, as that was one of the main reasons for their disappointing performance last season.
So, in short, if you’re looking for another championship season, you’ll probably be let down — but that doesn’t make the Raptors any less interesting to watch. They’re a group of scrappy, underestimated, competitive basketball players trying to mesh together in time to bring a second Larry O’Brien trophy to the city. If that’s not prime NBA basketball, then I don’t know what is.