The Toronto Raptors are off the map right now as a unit, having finished their run in the NBA’s Summer League. Now we’re all just waiting for the inevitable Media Day to kick off the 2021-22 season. As it stands, the team has 19 players on the roster, which looks both the same and very different from last year. By training camp, one more player could be added before the final cut down to 17.
The players we know are the ones the Raptors have been built around for the past couple of seasons. The players we don’t quite know are the ones that could raise the team’s floor higher than it is today. Could they also, in combination, raise the ceiling? It’s not impossible — but let’s review.
The Presumptive Starters
Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam
With Kyle Lowry gone, this team now belongs to the trio of VanVleet, Anunoby, and Siakam. They’re the longest-tenured and highest-paid Raptors and obviously, the franchise has been geared around what they can do together today and on into the future. With Siakam coming off a down year — and an injury, let’s not forget — all eyes will be on him upon his return. But keep a lookout for improvements from Anunoby and VanVleet. With these three together, Toronto’s floor always feels solid, now the question is can they raise the team’s ceiling?
It’s cool that Birch wanted to be a Raptor and is now a Raptor. And also, he tracks as a solid starting centre option, offering mobility and a decent touch at the rim. Is Toronto going to rely on his three-point shooting this year? Probably not — but I like his fit with this group. Now we just have to see if Birch’s good play was merely a product of Lowry setting the table for him on a nightly basis, or if he has more to give.
It’s been real quiet on the Dragic front since he let fly with some comments about not really wanting to stay in Toronto. Folks, I’m here to tell you that that is OK. Dragic doesn’t even make the top ten on the list of players being critical of having to play in Toronto. And to be honest, the Raptors don’t really want him either. Yes, he can still play, and he can be of use this season, but it’s clear it’s only a matter of time before they either trade him (to Dallas) or buy out his contract. I’m hoping for the former. Assuming he starts the season with the Raptors, Dragic could play as the off-guard with VanVleet, or come off the bench as a super sixth man. For now, given his reputation, we’ll put him here.
The Main Bench Unit
Malachi Flynn, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa
I decided to put all five of these players together because it’s so clear this is (or should be) Toronto’s bench lineup of note for 2021-22. The Raptors have a vested interest in seeing what Flynn can do in an expanded role, they obviously want to get as many minutes for Barnes as they can, and Achiuwa could very well be the team’s starting centre of the future (he’s 21 to Birch’s 28). Then there’s also the money Toronto spent on Trent Jr. and the role he fills as the shooter in this (and any) lineup. Toss in Boucher’s ability to mix it up, and that’s a nifty little lineup. Who knows if they’ll be good on a nightly basis — I’m here to say: they’ll be something to watch for sure.
The Utility Players
Watanabe has earned a spot in the group above, but for now, we’ll put him here. His utility is such that there’s a real chance we’ll see him in the Barnes or Boucher spot in the five-man unit above. He’s likely to be steadier than Barnes and he can sometimes be more reliable than Boucher (who, admittedly, can be far more spectacular). Being the 11th man maybe doesn’t sound great, but given where Watanabe was at this time last year — barely hanging on to a spot in the league — it’s remarkable.
This just in, the Raptors added another wing shooter. You can never have too many wing shooters. Mykhailiuk is just 24 and is a career 36 percent three-point shooter. There’s value there, even if it remains to be seen what else Svi can do with and for the Raptors. Based on those unknowns — and the fact that they obviously value the players above more — we’ve got him in this group.
Banton is going to be the player to watch this year, even though it feels like he’ll spend most of it in the G League. Watching him in Summer League was... something. The kid gets up and down, makes passes, grabs rebounds, blocks shots. Can he run an NBA team? He may get spot chances to try this season.
Justin Champagnie and David Johnson
These two are the Raptors’ two-way contract holders so... they’ll be around!
Hate to put Freddie down here but it feels like he is now firmly the third centre for Toronto. And what’s worse: after a disastrous run during Summer League, he may find himself sliding into the group below. Yes, the Raptors could always have more size up front, but Gillespie may not be ready for much of a role in the NBA.
The Training Camp Competition
Bonga feels like he should have a shot to make the Raptors — e.g. he’s not just training camp fodder — but the addition of Mykhailiuk calls that into question somewhat. Bonga tracks as more of a point guard though, which is something to keep in mind except of course the Raptors are likely more invested in Banton right now.
Definitely, a player the Raptors will enjoy having around training camp and potentially the 905. But that may be as far as Wainwright gets.
Come on, you serious?
The 20th Player
Maybe I jumped the gun writing this post. The Raptors can and likely will bring in a 20th player to fill out the training camp roster. It just takes a modest guarantee of money to do so, and there is no shortage of players looking for a shot to break into a team’s rotation. We’ll just have to wait and see.