The Toronto Raptors could have made the collective decision to trade for Kevin Durant this offseason. After all, they had one of the more intriguing hypothetical trade packages that included Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes. However, they elected to keep the key to their “now” and their “future” in the hopes that Barnes can lead the franchise to long-term success.
Other than being discussed in the Durant sweepstakes, the Raptors had a fairly quiet offseason. However, they made re-signings and signings that fit their culture and what the team does best.
The Raptors re-signed Chris Boucher and Thaddeus Young – two players who bring a variety of skills and know their roles – and also signed Otto Porter Jr. – the quintessential Raptors player. Porter brings a 3-and-D mindset that the Raptors have had the past few seasons and should slide into what they do perfectly.
Even though Toronto did not make a big splash in free agency or with a trade, the Raptors still have a core that has proven they can compete with the best of the best, even if they may not be on the same talent level.
Can they avoid the Play-In?
It won’t be easy, but yes, there’s a scenario where the Raptors finish as the sixth seed or better to avoid the Play-In Tournament. The Raptors finished as the fifth seed last year, but with teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks making major acquisitions in the offseason, the Raptors will have a much tougher time getting that top-six seed.
Since their roster didn’t experience many turnovers, there should be more familiarity within the roster. Every player in the organization knows how they want to play because Raptors president Masai Ujiri and head coach Nick Nurse have established one of the best cultures in the past few seasons. With their well-established culture and play style, the Raptors might be able to take advantage of teams that are still trying to find their identity early on in the regular season.
However, Barnes and Pascal Siakam will be the two players that will have the most impact on how far the Raptors will go this season.
Barnes is coming off a rookie year where he displayed how he can impact all facets of the game, but he’ll need to improve as a shooter to raise the Raptors’ ceiling. Barnes shot 30% from three last season and shot 41% when he was more than 10 feet away from the basket. If Toronto is going to avoid the Play-In, Barnes’ improvement from outside is of the utmost importance.
Alongside Barnes’ outside shooting, Siakam’s consistency will be another storyline to watchout for. Siakam had his best season last year and he made strides to become a more reliable scorer off the dribble. Until Barnes can become the Raptors go-to guy on a more consistent basis, Siakam will play a big part in generating the Raptors offense, especially towards the end of games.
Of course, their role players will also need to do their part in order for the Raptors to be successful, but since Kawhi Leonard’s departure in 2019, they have lacked someone they can trust in crunchtime situations. If Barnes or Siakam can prove that they are able to score consistently at all three levels, the Raptors’ chances of making a deep postseason run will be a lot higher.
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