The Toronto Raptors’ “run it back era” finally hit a dead end last season, prompting Raptors president Masai Ujiri to move on from coach Nick Nurse in an effort to jumpstart the stalled development system and exorcise the team’s selfish habits.
The Raptors HQ team is back at the figurative roundtable, with JD Quirante (@jdkeyrants), Mitch Orsatti (@thirstyvillain), Conor McCreery (@ConorMcCreery), and Alex Higgins (@higgs31_) providing our takes on five big questions that will likely define the Raptors’ 2023-24 season.
Let’s get started!
1. What will the team’s win-loss record be in 2023-24, and where will the Raptors be at the end of the season? (play-in and out, 1st rd exit, 2nd rd exit, lottery, etc.)
JD Quirante: 40-42 wins, most likely a 40-42 record making the play-in and out. I expect the Raptors to play more of their prospects, but tanking is not an option as the Spurs own our ‘24 1st rd pick (top 6 protected) and it doesn’t make sense to sacrifice the ‘25 pick as that class is loaded.
Mitch Orsatti: I don’t know if it’s the homer in me, but it feels like the Raptors should be a little bit better than the league/media-wide expectation. Mark me down for 44-38 and a play-in victory or two. I am too afraid to predict any playoff success beyond that.
Conor McCreery: 43-39, play-in win in the 7-8 game and a surprisingly frisky first round exit (Unless we get Cleveland, I think we beat them).
Alex Higgins: 42-40, finish as the 7th or 8th seed, lose the first play-in game then win the second at home. Put up a fight in the first round then inevitably fall in 5 or 6 games to the Bucks or Celtics.
2. Will Pascal Siakam get traded?
JD: Most likely not. It would take a combination of a bad start and a great offer to pry off Siakam from the Raptors. Siakam’s best option is to re-up with the team as that’s what makes most sense financially for him even if the relationship’s soured. Worst case scenario should be Siakam getting his bag and find a trade once he’s eligible again the following season.
Mitch: Firmly feels like “no”. If he was going to be traded, we would have seen it by now. Show me an extension, baby!
Conor: I’m also in the “no’ camp. Siakam has made it clear that he’s not planning on signing an extension with a team that trades for him, that’s going to depress the market enough to make an extension the better play. If only to keep the asset for a future deal.
Alex: Not anymore. Masai Ujiri understandably set the price high for the 2-time All-NBA star and no one was willing to match. I expect him to extend with the Raptors, even if that means a trade is eventually worked after this season.
3. Are we going to see a Scottie Barnes breakout season?
JD: Yes, but not an emphatic one. Barnes was already a 15/7/5 last season, and I know it’s preseason, but his PER36 is already a whopping 29/10/6. I know it’s preseason, but the combination of the new offense, Barnes’s ability, activity, and perhaps motivation, it’s not hard to see him put up at least a 20/10/8 season. With Fred VanVleet out, there’ll be plenty of minutes and touches to go around. Barnes should move up the pecking order, perhaps the 1B to Siakam at times, and I can’t wait to see Barnes involved in the offense on every down, and as Jay Rosales said, Barnes will have great powers and great responsibility this season!
Mitch: Absolutely. I’m never the one to buy into preseason results, but vibes? I’ll buy into preseason vibes and Scottie seems like a vibes-first kind of guy. A happier, noticeably stronger and more decisive Scottie equates to a breakout season. Book it.
Conor: No, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be progress. I think Barnes will continue to improve, and will make a big jump in figuring how to exploit his gifts, but the shooting, ballhandling, and (perhaps) one-on-one defense won’t QUITE improve enough to call this a break-out.
Alex: Yes. With Fred VanVleet out of the picture, more playmaking responsibilities and shots will fall on his shoulders. Barnes already increased his assists and assist-to-turnover ratio in Year 2, building upon this and becoming more efficient with his jumper will lead to an offensive breakout for the former 4th overall pick.
4. Who’s the team’s X-Factor?
JD: Malachi Flynn. Just Kidding! I’m going with Dennis Schroder. He’s probably best fit to run the 2nd unit and big enough to allow coach Darko to utilize a 2-PG lineup. He’s playing with confidence, coming off an MVP FIBA WC stint, this guy was putting up 19 points per game off the bench in OKC while sharing the ball with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Chris Paul.
Mitch: 6MOY Gary Trent Jr., that’s who! Gary seems to be locked in now that his role is clearly defined. I fully expect Gary to take command of that second unit on both the offensive and defensive end; rounding an all-energy unit with Precious and Boucher.
Conor: I love those answers, so I’ll zag and say Precious Achiuwa. At various times Precious has shown sustained stretches of above average three-point shooting, elite rim protection, and intelligent, if not, exceptional on-ball play. If those packages come together that would not only make Precious a top-end role player, it would provide roster cover to allow Ujiri and Webster to make a big roster move knowing that an Anunoby-sized hole could be (mostly) filled from within.
Alex: Jakob Poeltl. This team lacked a true centre for most of last season and unsurprisingly, improved once they brought Poeltl back. Having him from the jump this year with his ability to consistently stay in the lineup will prove more impactful on the grander scale than I think many will credit him for.
5. What’s your Raptors hot take for the 2023-24 season?
JD: Sorry Conor, we’ve hit the ceiling with O.G. Anunoby offensively T_T. I just can’t see him getting significantly better than what he already is (15-18PPG 3+D). He just doesn’t have the “bag” to be a regular 2nd option offensively.
Mitch: I feel like I’ve spiced in a couple already, but, what’s another going to hurt? Jakob Poeltl averages over 5 assists per game for a clear career high as he fully realizes his transformation into the lite version of Marc Gasol.
Conor: Gary Trent Jr. will be in strong consideration for the 6th man of the year awarded. Trent Jr. will thrive as the leading man in reserve-heavy units, and the new ball movement offense will help GTJ’s playmaking reach a new level.
Alex: Sadly, we finally see OG Anunoby traded. He’s stalled offensively, Scottie will take a step forward and the combination of Barnes, GTJ, Gradey and Jalen McDaniels will be more than enough to fill the SG/SF spots. Memphis is still looking for a wing defender and with Ja out for 25 games plus Steven Adams done for the season, they step up their offer for OG