It’s a new era for the Toronto Raptors. Sort of. Only three players remain from the 2018-19 championship run, with Pascal Siakam as the longest-tenured Raptor. O.G. Anunoby was on the team but was on the shelf the entire post-season run, while Chris Boucher was predominantly on the Raptors 905 that season. Gone is Nick Nurse, his coaching staff (except for assistant coach Jim Sann), and his clunky offense, as part of Raptors president Masai Ujiri’s efforts to realign the team’s system and environment that deteriorated over the past couple of seasons.
It’s not a rebuild, at least not yet. The Raptors failed to trade and, instead, held on to Pascal Siakam and some of the ageing players on the team. With only five players on a standard contract under 25 years old and only three expected to be part of the rotation, this roster isn’t precisely a rebuilding group.
Instead, I’m calling this season a “Realignment.” Ujiri felt that the team needed to go back to what eventually got them their lone hardware: through the strength of their developmental system. The season will probably not be defined by the number of wins or whether they make the playoffs. It’s very likely that the immediate task for the new coach, Darko Rajakovic, is to overhaul the system for it to be more conducive to development and playing the right way.
Previously, on Toronto Raptors 2022-23 Season
The Raptors finished 41-41 last season, losing to the Chicago Bulls in the play-in. Coach Nick Nurse’s “try hard” Raptors’ wheels eventually fell off as he drove his core players to the ground for the fourth straight season. Nurse’s unhealthy appetite for winning at all costs sacrificed the runway that could have been given to their younger players to develop and contribute. The core players, especially the remnants of the championship team, embraced this; It gave them a platform to pursue personal accolades and bigger payday.
Unfortunately, Nurse’s win-at-all-cost boxed himself into a corner. His over-reliance on Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam on offense often led to stagnant offensive possessions. To Nurse’s defense, the Raptors’ set him up for failure by not adding complementary pieces that can contribute immediately, instead sticking to the “Vision 6’9” gimmick.
Nurse failed to get anything out of their bench and, often, did not even look their way to help alleviate the scoring futility, leading to the Raptors’ place as one of the worst teams in bench minutes and production. Nurse rode his key players hard to put the team within striking distance every game but came short repeatedly, often running out of gas late in games.
The Raptors were front and centre on most trade rumours up to the last minute of the deadline, with many expecting at least one of Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., or O.G. Anunoby flipped for assets. Instead, nothing materialized, and the earlier transaction bringing back Jakob Poeltl was the only significant move this front office made. The Jakob Poeltl trade provided stability in the middle, but his overall fit in the starting lineup wasn’t great, as he doesn’t offer floor spacing for his teammates.
The team scraped enough games late in the season to take them out of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes and stubbornly get into the play-in games. However, their flaws, bad habits, and worse, a coach that’s lost most of his players reared its ugly head in a play-in stinker against the Chicago Bulls, and perhaps the last straw for Ujiri, that’s led to this season-ending presser:
Nick Nurse got canned, and the coaching search took so many wild twists over two months, including reports like JJ Redick getting an interview for the job. Memphis Grizzlies assistant coach Darko Rajakovic pulled off an upset, beating the likes of Jordi Fernandez and Sergio Scariolo.
The Raptors ended up with the 13th pick and selected sharpshooter Gradey Dick and picked up Markquis Nowell as a Two-Way Contract player. Free agency saw Gary Trent Jr. opting into his Player Option before the Raptors’ Front Office fell asleep at the wheel, losing Fred VanVleet and Dalano Banton without getting anything in return. They did manage to re-sign Jakob Poeltl to a decent 4-year deal, while they picked up Jalen McDaniels and Dennis Schroder in free agency.
The Raptors put up one of the worst Summer League teams in recent memory, and the Damian Lillard trade request dominated the rest of the summer. Like clockwork, the Raptors were attached to the rumour, but they also generated non-Lillard trade rumour, as Pascal Siakam may or may not have been shopped. Apparently, he killed any trade ideas by saying he wouldn’t sign an extension with any team that would trade for him.
Then there’s also that hilarious New York Knicks lawsuit that clouded what should be a fresh new start for the Raptors under new coach Darko Rajakovic. The Raptors poached Ike Azotam from the Knicks’ video room, but the transition hasn’t been the smoothest, to say the least. The Raptors have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
Training Camp and the Preseason
President Ujiri’s presser at the start of training camp made him dig his own hole even deeper, somewhat addressing but not addressing the Fred VanVleet sweepstakes and getting even weirder regarding Pascal Siakam extension talks. That’s enough about the distractions. The training camp gave us an early indication of this team’s direction as coach Rajakovic slowly started rolling out some of the changes we should expect: A bit more clarity on the 0.5 offense, and how some key players could be used, like O.G. Anunoby, Jakob Poeltl, and Precious Achiuwa.
Injuries hit the Raptors early, as the Raptors announced that Christian Koloko would be out indefinitely due to a respiratory illness, while Achiuwa injured his groin, which led to him missing a big chunk of the training camp.
The preseason games gave the Raptors fanbase a small sample size of coach Rajakovic’s offense, and a 4-0 record, with Scottie Barnes looking like a stud, with a 30/10/5 Per 36 in limited action. The offense flowed much better without Nurse and VanVleet, and heck, even Gary Trent Jr. was dropping dimes. Gradey Dick showed flashes of his talent, but looked a little wet behind the ears, while Jalen McDaniels’ defensive versatility’s keeping the Vision 6’9” hope alive.
Dennis Schroder likely solidified his starting spot, and Malachi Flynn likely won the 3rd point guard spot, as the Raptors waived Jeff Dowtin Jr. after the preseason finale. It was a disservice to Dowtin Jr., who did everything the Raptors asked of him and perhaps more. He missed most of the summer due to ankle surgery and could not fight for his roster spot. To add salt to the injury, the Raptors didn’t even showcase him in the preseason. Bad vibes aside, here’s the preseason top performers:
Scottie Barnes has 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting at halftime.— Keerthika Uthayakumar (@keerthikau) October 21, 2023
He's already made 3 threes tonight, something he'd only done in 5 games last season. pic.twitter.com/NOLPMoc1BA
- Scottie Barnes: 22.1 minutes per game — 18.5 points, 50% 3P% (3.5 attempts), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.8 blocks
- Pascal Siakam: 23.5 minutes per game — 15.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.3 steals
- Gary Trent Jr.: 21.2 minutes per game — 13.7 points, 42% 3P%, 2 boards, 2.3 assists!, 1.7 steals
Honorable mention goes to Javon Freeman Liberty, who’s a bundle of energy whenever he’s on the floor:
Coach Nick Nurse - now dealing with the James Harden drama as the Philadelphia 76ers coach. He brought the following assistant coaches with him as well:
- Rico Hines
- John Corbacio
- Fabulous Flournoy
Assistant Coach Adrian Griffin - lucked out landing in Milwaukee Bucks to replace Mike Budenholzer and an opportunity to coach Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard.
Assistant Coach Earl Watson Jr. - Siakam’s guy that was probably the coach rumored to have beefed with Nick Nurse last season
Fred VanVleet - secured the bag with the Houston Rockets
Dalano Banton - The Raptors front office got weird and did not retain him
Will Barton - no explanation needed
Joe Wieskamp - got cut after the Summer League before his contract guarantee date
Jeff Dowtin Jr. - got led on by the Raptors front office the entire summer, only to be cut once the training camp wrapped up
Coach Darko Rajakovic - The former Memphis Grizzlies assistant coach will also bring the following to his staff:Pat Delany - previously as an assistant coach with the Washington Wizards
- James Wade - WNBA Chicago Sky’s GM and head coach
- Mike Batiste - previously an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets
- Vin Bhavnani - previously an assistant coach with the OKC Thunder
- Ivo Simovic - previously an assistant coach with the University of California-Los Angeles
- Drew Jones - previously an assistant coach with the Detroit Pistons
Gradey Dick - the Raptors’ 13th overall pick and social media influencer
Javon Freeman-Liberty - parlayed an excellent Summer League with the Chicago Bulls into a 2-Way contract with the Raptors
Jalen McDaniels - a rare quality free agent signing by the Raptors front office
Dennis Schroder - Masai Ujiri’s fallback plan once VanVleet cashed out
Jama Mahlalela - returns to the Raptors as front-row assistant coach under coach Rajakovic
The Raptors’ 23-24 roster can’t be easily boxed in based on the positions on the table below. On the flip side, the roster doesn’t offer enough versatility that one would expect if you see nine players standing between 6’6” and 6’9” due to the lack of shooting and above-average skillset versatility. The depth chart doesn’t paint a clear picture, so we took a stab at potential offensive “role cards.”
Potential Offensive Role Cards
Toronto Raptors 2023-24 Projected Role Cards
|Dennis Schroder||Primary Ball Handler, Shot Creator|
|Scottie Barnes||Secondary Ball Handler, Shot Creator|
|OG Anunoby||Perimeter Shooter, Finisher|
|Pascal Siakam||Shot Creator, Secondary Ball Handler, Post Scorer, Slasher, Finisher|
|Jakob Poeltl||PnR Big, Hub Reset|
|Gary Trent Jr.||Perimeter Shooter, Finisher|
|Chris Boucher||PnR Big, PnP, Stretch Big|
|Precious Achiuwa||Slasher, Finisher|
|Jalen McDaniels||Perimeter Shooter, Finisher|
|Gradey Dick||Perimeter Shooter, Finisher|
|Christian Koloko||PnR Big, Vertical Threat|
|Malachi Flynn||Secondary Ball Handler, Perimeter Shooter|
|Thaddeus Young||Locker Room Vet|
|Garrett Temple||Locker Room Vet|
|Otto Porter Jr.||Part-time Perimeter Shooter|
|Markquis Nowell||Primary Ball Handler, Shot Creator|
|Ron Harper Jr.||Secondary Ball Handler, Shot Creator|
|Javon Freeman-Liberty||Finisher, Slasher|
Based on what we’ve seen in the preseason, the starting lineup’s essentially the same, with Dennis Schroder taking Fred VanVleet’s spot. A Schroder-O.G. Anunoby-Scottie Barnes-Pascal Siakam-Jakob Poeltl’s decent on paper, but it doesn’t really maximize the talent of Siakam and Barnes. Gary Trent Jr. in place of Schroeder could be on the table soon, especially if Schroder looks shaky at the point and if Barnes can take over as the starting point guard. Poeltl’s fit with Siakam and Barnes is clunky at best unless either becomes a passable perimeter threat.
Gary Trent Jr. should be the team’s first player off the bench. Precious Achiuwa and Jalen McDaniels should find their way into the rotation, and likely Chris Boucher as well. That’s already nine rotation players, and with coach Rajakovic’s promise to expand the rotation to 10, somebody will be the odd man out.
Could Malachi Flynn make the cut? The case here is that he’s the only natural point guard off the bench. Gradey Dick looked a bit wet behind the ears, but you don’t draft a lottery pick that fills a need only to play them in the minors. Christian Koloko may be out of commission for a while, but where does he fit in the rotation when he is healthy?
I asked Darko what he's looking for from Gradey Dick early in the season. His answer (not unlike the rook's preseason usage) didn't exactly scream rotation player: "It's going to be a lot of patience and time... He's gotta slow down himself before the game slows down for him" pic.twitter.com/2W4nFRsmRI— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) October 19, 2023
The Raptors need to showcase Otto Porter Jr. so that some team could fork up a 2nd round pick for him, so that should eat some minutes, at least in the first half of the season. Regardless of the rotation, the only major head-scratcher here is if we see Garrett Temple and Thaddeus Young get rotation minutes, much like what happened last season.
Schedule and Key Dates
Raptors full 2023-24 TV/radio broadcast schedule: pic.twitter.com/rnQdxmhX7G— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) October 17, 2023
- October 25: Home Opener vs Minnesota Timberwolves
- October 27: Nick Nurse’s return vs Sixers
- October 28: NBA G League Draft
- October 30 - November 9: NBA G League Training Camp
- November 10: NBA G League Season kickoff - Raptors 905 @ Long Island Nets
- November 17: 1st In-season tournament game vs Boston Celtics
- November 21: 2nd In-season tournament game vs Orlando Magic
- November 24: 3rd In-season tournament game vs Chicago Bulls
- November 28: 4th In-season tournament game vs Brooklyn Nets
- December 4/5/7/9: In-season Tournament Knockout Rounds
- December 19-22: NBA G League Winter Showcase/Showcase Cup Championship
- December 27: Start of NBA G League “Regular season” leg of the season
- January 5: 10-day contracts may now be signed
- January 17: Kyle Lowry farewell game? vs Miami Heat
- January 18: Nationally televised game vs Chicago Bulls (TNT)
- January 26: Rare appearance by Kawhi Leonard vs Los Angeles Clippers
- February 8: NBA Trade Deadline (3PM ET)
- February 9: Fred VanVleet’s return vs Houston Rockets
- February 12: victor Wembanyama and the circus
- February 16-21: NBA all Star Weekend + Break
- March 1: Playoff Eligibility Waiver Deadline
- March 31: another chance to boo Nick Nurse and the Sixers
- April 2: NBA G League Playoffs
- April 16-19: NBA Play-In Tournament
The Promised New Offense
Coach Darko Rajakovic put it succinctly:
Point five offense means making quick decisions. Every time that a player catches the ball, he needs to be ready to attack, to shoot, or dribble or pass the ball. And we want to make good decisions; we want to be able to play with a ball very quickly. We want to be able to execute in a half-court offense to play an unselfish style of basketball.
We got a glimpse of the offense during the preseason, but what should we expect? It’s easy to say it’s a change in a style of play, and the 0.5 offense doesn’t mean the players would treat the ball like a hot potato. They will still be running several popular play calls like the Spain PnR, albeit tweaked to their personnel and sprinkled in with customization by the coaching staff for various purposes. But in general, we should see:
- Plenty of ball movement to avoid getting the ball contained in one area and/or player;
- Plenty of player movement to bend the defense and create misdirection;
- less reliance from traditional PG playmaking;
- Plenty of weakside action; and
- Pushing the pace — not necessarily to get a fast break, but to get the offensive set going early and create mismatches.
The majority of these principles aim to solve the spacing issues that the Raptors have and should give Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes more breathing room than if they have to ISO against a set defense. Hopefully, this should help improve the Raptors’ perimeter shooting, as these principles should give them more open looks around the perimeter. That’s definitely better than seeing Fred VanVleet dribble the ball for 10 seconds and pull up for a contested three-point shot.
If implemented well, the Raptors’ offense will look drastically compared to Nick Nurse’s ISO-ball/Mismatch basketball. However, it won’t be pretty like the legendary San Antonio Spurs, but it’ll likely be closer to a European style of play. Raptors HQ’s Chelsea Leite caught up with assistant coach James Wade, and here’s a snippet of her feature on the new Raptors assistant coach:
When asked what he will bring from his time in the WNBA to the Raptors — that European style of play is top of mind. He notes that the WNBA plays more of a European style of basketball than the NBA — with a lot of ball movement, cutting and spacing, less individual play. It makes sense, given a large portion of WNBA players go to play overseas in Europe during the WNBA offseason. That European style of play has highly influenced Toronto’s new offensive system heading into the season.
X-Factor - Scottie Barnes’ Leap Year
The biggest beneficiary of VanVleet’s departure is none other than Scottie Barnes. Barnes was misused last season: his inconsistent role led to an underwhelming season. With opportunities to playmake and be featured more on the offense, Barnes can take that next step.
Consider this if you’re Barnes: You’re heading into the season with a chip on your shoulder. You’ve heard of all the criticisms and spent time in the lab working on your conditioning and the skills you need to work on. Your management has made it clear that they want to make you a centrepiece and prioritize your development to the extent that the entire coaching staff and system got overhauled. Then, the opportunity to prove it on the floor. With VanVleet out, there’s a big void in terms of minutes, shots, ballhandling, and leadership.
Barnes should have the motivation, support, coaching and conditioning to help you succeed. Being in a position to be a big part of the offense and a big part of why the Raptors win should give Barnes more pep in his step and the focus to bring the best out of his abilities while he’s on the floor.
It remains to be seen whether Barnes is ready to take his game to the next level, but based on the preseason games, it makes sense to be optimistic. At the end of the day, the Raptors’ ceiling, and perhaps their immediate future, might come down to his performance this season. Regardless, expect Barnes to improve upon his near 15/7/5 output last season.
Projected Season Record and Outcome
The expectations are lower this season, and without Nick Nurse on the sideline, we will not see the “try-hard” Raptors of old. Coach Rajakovic was not brought in to win a championship this year but to help reset the culture and the developmental program. The Raptors also do not appear to have the top-end talent to compete with the best in the East unless Scottie Barnes goes Super-Saiyan this season.
That said, the mainstream media and even the betting sites are expecting the Raptors to finish somewhere in the range of 8-12 spot in the East, which is fair, considering the Raptors have a similar team as last season, and that team only managed to get in the 9-10 play-in despite being coached hard to win every game.
The HQ did a roundtable here to talk about a lot of things, and here’s our prediction:
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.
Regular Season Awards?
Gradey Dick is a long shot to win the Rookie of the Year, as he doesn’t have the path to minutes and touches compared to the other rookies with the keys to the franchise. However, he might catch fire later in the season to make a run for the all-rookie team.
O.G. Anunoby should be in the running for one of the all-defensive teams. Still, it’ll take the team’s winning record, defensive notoriety, and, sadly, campaigning for him to get in the DPOTY conversation.
If Gary Trent Jr. Embraces the 6-man role and comes out firing as he did in the preseason, he should be in consideration for the 6th man of the year award. This award should motivate him to play well for better chips on the bargaining table.
Scottie Barnes taking a big leap should position himself into a most improved player conversation, and if the team finds success early, he might even be in consideration for an all-star nod.
Pascal Siakam should be at least in the all-star mix, but expect him to push for an All-NBA selection. The path for the latter is harder unless a couple of top forwards become ineligible for the selection. Also, there’s a chance for the Raptors to miss the playoffs, and voters factor in regular season team success.
Darko Rajakovic could find himself in the Coach of the Year conversation depending on the team’s success. The national media coverage left this team for dead, and an overachiever season can catapult him into the COTY conversation.
And no, even with moderate regular season success, this Raptors front office should be disqualified for any Executive of the Year award.
Looming Trade Deadline and Free Agency
The Raptors are entering the season with several key players entering the final year of their contracts. Pascal Siakam dominated the non-Damian Lillard trade rumours during the offseason, and the lack of extension only added fuel to the fire. Siakam’s eligible to sign a four-year, $190 million extension, but it looks like both sides are not in a rush to do that right now, as Siakam will likely see if he’s in the All-NBA conversation and potentially get the supermax. If Siakam’s not positioned to get an All-NBA nod, both sides can talk about the standard max extension until June 30th next year.
Precious Achiuwa (along with Malachi Flynn) did not get extended ahead of the rookie extension deadline the other day but should get at least a qualifying offer next offseason. Gary Trent Jr. picked up his player option for this season, so if he doesn’t get extended, he can walk as he will become an unrestricted free agent this summer (hello, Masai?). O.G. Anunoby is expected to opt out of his player option and look to get paid handsomely.
A couple of critical segments on the Raptors’ calendar dictate whether the Raptors may cash out, embrace the rebuild, and blow the team up. The first segment is the first 12 games of the season. Can the Raptors maintain a .500 record through that murderer’s row? It gets soft a little bit after that, but they can’t dig a hole too deep. The next is the trade deadline. It’ll be interesting to see how the front office will respond if the team is firmly in the playoff hunt or just right outside of the play-in. The Raptors owe the San Antonio Spurs their first-round pick next season, but it’s top-6 protected. Next year’s draft class might not be the best draft to tank for, considering the following draft could be loaded.
Pascal Siakam - It’s Siakam Season on and off the court by Casey Dobson (@caseydobson_)
The biggest upside to signing Siakam to the long term deal is convoluted as it would likely make him easier to trade, given that the team on the receiving end would be bringing in a franchise piece rather than a rental. Signing him and playing him until a trade does come through though, again given who else is suiting up for Toronto, would more than likely keep this team middling in mediocrity, not bad enough to get a fate-altering pick and not good enough to actually do anything about it.
Dennis Schroder - Dennis Schroder could impact the Raptors in many ways by Rebecca Schapelhouman (@beccaschaps)
To be honest, I’m less concerned with the conversation of who starts the game for the Raptors this season, and more concerned with who finishes it. If you watched the Lakers play last season, there were a lot of story lines to get lost in that may have overshadowed what Schröder did for the team. Schröder has a knack for showing up in big moments.
Markquis Nowell - Markquis Nowell, the Raptors’ next great success story by Jay Rosales (@rosalesaurus)
Rewatch the first clip on this post. Look at the joy on Markquis’ face as he receives the call from Masai Ujiri, welcoming him to the Toronto Raptors. That joy is a product of understanding the grind, betting on yourself, and **insert another former Raptor’s motto**. Nowell’s journey is only starting but he may have more fuel than anyone from this draft class.
Chris Boucher - Brand new Boucher? How Rajakovic’s presence can boost the big-man by Casey Dobson (@caseydobson_)
On the note of good decision making, though, that has been one element of Boucher’s game that has seemingly lacked over the course of his career. By this point, it is somewhat of a yearly tradition for him to come out and say that through watching film he has identified himself as a ‘chucker’. While it’s hard not to love his honest, slightly self-deprecating analysis of himself, the fact that the same observation is being made year after year is a red flag that it has not translated to change. Nobody would love anything more than for this to be the year that Boucher cleans up his shot selection and leaves the label of ‘chucker’ in the past, if the same self-effacing comments are made again this season, it might be time to concede that change will likely never happen long-term.
Javon Freeman-Liberty - Javon Freeman-Liberty betting on the Raptors’ developmental system by JD Quirante (@jdkeyrants)
The NBA G League season doesn’t start until early November, so expect JFL to start the season on the bench for the Raptors. Could he see some non-garbage time minutes before he gets sent for the minors? Unlikely, here’s a possibility: The game’s in a rut, and coach Darko Rajakovic needs someone to come in and change the flow of the game. Just think of the non-garbage minutes that Justin Champagnie got during his rookie year. His impact as a mood changer through his hustle and effort bought him more minutes initially. JFL can have a similar impact in limited minutes, if not better. What JFL’s got going for him is, unlike Champagnie, he’s a much capable ball handler, and much further along with his perimeter shot.
Jalen McDaniels - If he can shoot, he’ll play by Conor McCreery (@conorMcCreery)
McDaniels was a low-risk, likely low-ceiling bet this off-season. If McDaniels’ late season shooting surge from last year was real, or Toronto can find a way to improve his mechanics, then they’ll have added a guy who could play in the bottom half of most NBA teams rotations - given McDaniels size, willingness to defend, and dash of ball-handling.
Christian Koloko - Christian Koloko is on the cusp of clutch by Casey Dobson (@caseydobson_)
With his limited minutes, however, it will be key for Koloko to clean up the fouls. Last season, of players logging 600 or more minutes, the Cameroonian had the second-most personal fouls per minute. Sure, Koloko was on the receiving end of a few unfriendly whistles, but that was to be expected as a rookie rim protector.
Jakob Poeltl - Jakob Poeltl’s skills aren’t in question, but his fit on the 23-24 Raptors is by Josh Kern (@joshuakern)
The problem is, for all the good things Poeltl can do, and all the good things he brings to the team... I don’t think the Raptors are the right team for him. I kinda hate that the Raptors paid Poeltl the 4-year, $78 million contract; they had to give him the payday, because if they didn’t and he walked away, it would have made trading away a future first so much worse, but this just doesn’t seem like the right situation to pay your fifth-option starting centre that much
Otto Porter Jr. - Otto Porter Jr. has a lot to prove by Mitch Orsatti (@thirstyvillain)
Which brings us to the present. Porter Jr. picked up his $6.3 million dollar contract and once again will hope to showcase why he was so sought after in the first place. Because every team in the league needs a guy like Otto Porter Jr. off the bench, or, at least the idea of a guy like Otto Porter Jr. off the bench.
Gradey Dick - Gradey Dick has the potential to have a fantastic rookie year by Chelsea Leite (@chelsealeite)
Even looking forward past Gradey’s rookie campaign, there are many questions surrounding the Toronto Raptors roster past this current season. Anunoby and Trent Jr.’s futures are both unknown, and Gradey could be next up if either of them decide to move on when their contracts are up.
Malachi Flynn - Can coach Darko rehab Malachi Flynn’s career? by JD Quirante (@jdkeyrants)
Now we’re here. Flynn is entering his fourth season and a contract year, with his best stretch as a professional basketball felt like a decade ago. He’s not just fighting to keep his roster spot but also to keep his NBA window open. The NBA pumps in dozens of new point guards every season, and at age 25 and three years in, his runway is getting shorter by the day.
O.G. Anunoby - Will O.G. Anunoby take a leap this season? by Conor McCreery (@conorMcCreery)
Basically, while this isn’t necessarily Anunoby’s peak, it’s likely close enough. That’s fine, Toronto fans still get to enjoy watching an All-Defense level wing - one of the four or five best players in the NBA at his role (and for my money, there may not be a better Nikola Jokic defender in the league).
Precious Achiuwa - Precious Achiuwa’s development could be a big highlight this season by Rebecca Schapelhouman (@beccaschaps)
Last year Precious scored 1.25 points per play when he was utilized as a cutter. In fact, he scored on 67% of his shots when cutting, which proves this to be his highest statistical offensive play. Cutting is used in virtually all offensive systems to some extent, but last year specifically his involvement in horns offence was effective by an eye test
Ron Harper Jr. - Can Ron Harper Jr. avoid road closure to his #RoadToTheSix? by JD Quirante (@jdkeyrants)
Harper Jr. had an underwhelming 2023-24 Summer League appearance. He put up 12 points, 4.5 boards, and two dimes but shot poorly, hitting at a 34.9% clip from the field, including 30% from behind the arc. The typically chaotic summer league hid the fact that the Raptors front office fielded perhaps one of the worst Summer League lineups in history, and players like Harper Jr. and Markquis Nowell had to overdo things for the most part.
Gary Trent Jr. - Gary Trent Jr committed, but will the Raptors? by Casey Dobson (@caseydobson_)
What will define this starter/bench player balance for GTJ is simply the fact that he’s playing for a contract and, well, starters tend to get paid more than reserves. So will the money he may think he’s losing come into play and mess with head? Or can he find comfort in being the leader in what the Raptors can only hope will be the revival of the Bench Mob?
Scottie Barnes - Scottie Barnes is the franchise’s direction by Jay Rosales (@rosalesaurus)
Here’s where that “great responsibility” kicks in. In addition to developing at an individual level, while learning a new system, Barnes has to show enough maturity and leadership to meld with Siakam AND prove the trust that’s been given him from the front office is warranted.
Make sure to watch as the Toronto Raptors kick off their season tonight against the Minnesota Timberwolves at 7:30pm ET on Sportsnet!