Will the Raptors return to a path of success?
By: Eli Silverstone
The Toronto Raptors have had quite a journey. After a 27-win season in 2020-21 and the departure of their leader, Kyle Lowry, they responded with a 48-win season, the fifth seed in the East, and a Rookie of the Year award for Scottie Barnes in 2021-22. They entered last season with an almost identical roster but stumbled to 41 wins and lost an ugly play-in game to the Chicago Bulls. The promising upswing hit a roadblock, though there is still potential in a relatively young roster.
The question is, what version of the Raptors will we see this year? Will they get back to an above-.500 record? Or will the Eastern Conference prove too difficult once again? New coaching and the development of young players should play a factor.
Notable Additions: Coach Darko Rajaković, G Gradey Dick, G Dennis Schroder, F Jalen McDaniels, F Garrett Temple
Notable Losses: Coach Nick Nurse, G Fred Vanvleet, G Will Barton, F Dalano Banton
(The final roster will be cut to 15 players before Opening Day)
Gary Trent Jr.
Jeff Dowtin Jr
The departure of Fred Van Vleet creates an opportunity for new faces and returning players alike to lead the backcourt. Fresh off winning FIBA World Cup MVP, Schröder will shoulder a lot of the ball-handling duties (with Scottie Barnes) and have a good opportunity to mentor Toronto’s young backcourt. Gary Trent Jr. and Gradey Dick, the Raptors’ first-round pick in 2023, will have to provide practically all of the Raptors shooting this year as the team seeks significant improvement from last season, where they ranked 28th in 3PM and 3P%.
Depth at the back could also play a big part in the Raptors’ success. Malachi Flynn has not had an overly-impressive career to date, but Markquis Nowell has the potential to become the spark plug sixth man the Raptors would love. The undrafted 5’8 PG made headlines in March Madness when he had a record 19 assists in one game. More recently, he showed fantastic hustle and passing ability in Summer League for the Raptors.
Ron Harper Jr
With Vanvleet gone, fans will likely see a lot more of Scottie Barnes playing point guard. Barnes' game evolves when he can initiate plays and doesn’t have to worry about getting open off-ball. The role change could help him reach the lofty expectations set for him following a bit of a sophomore slump in 2022-23. That opens up more opportunity for Anunoby, who has a player option he can opt into for $19 million after this season but will be a 2025 free agent. If the season plays out poorly, he’d be a massive trade chip for the Raptors.
Beyond those two, newcomer Jalen McDaniels is a young rotational player who averaged 9.4 PTS and 1.0 STL on 45% shooting last season. He’ll get more of an opportunity than he did with Philadelphia last year and is a welcome depth piece at the wing position
Like Anunoby, Siakam had another fantastic season last year, but questions about his future as a Raptor continue. Siakam is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and probably wants a four-to-six-year deal. Masai Ujiri’s conviction to compete every year might just come into play in that situation, much as it did at last year’s trade deadline. Everyone thought Masai Ujiri was going to tear it down, but he did the exact opposite and brought in Jakob Poetl in exchange for the Raptors’ own 2023-24 first-round pick. The Raptors will hope the addition of a true starting-calibre center will push them to a successful regular season so the Spurs don’t get a lottery pick out of the trade.
The frontcourt fills out rather nicely with Achiuwa, Boucher, and Young as reliable backups, with Achiuwa showing the most promise out of the group. Koloko also had a decent rookie season with some flashes of good defence.
It’s a make-or-break year for the Raptors. They could bottom out, trade Siakam and OG for picks and young players and rebuild. Or, everything goes right and they return to being a top seed in the East. Coach Rajaković has the pieces; can he put them all together?