Even with just under a month until the NBA regular season is set to begin, there are a ton of questions surrounding the Toronto Raptors and their roster. As it currently stands, the Raptors are heading into the 2023-24 season with multiple big players set to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the year. They just lost Fred VanVleet in free agency, for nothing in return. Trade rumours swirl day in and day out involving Pascal Siakam, including the most recent reports on the Raptors involvement in talks surrounding Damian Lillard.
Still, there are a few players that we can be pretty certain will be on the Raptors roster come opening night. Inspired by a conversation she had on the Locked on Raptors podcast with Raptors HQ legend Sean Woodley, Chelsea highlights three Raptors players to keep an eye on this season.
New @lockedonraptors where @chelsealeite joins me to talk about the latest Dame noise, cause we have to, before ranking the three Raptors we're each most excited to watch this season. https://t.co/zdaxLsvN1Q pic.twitter.com/CDVbncuGKD— Sean Woodley (@woodleysean) September 20, 2023
Arguably the player most people will be watching this season, Scottie Barnes has a big year ahead. Third years are big for NBA players — especially when they were drafted fourth overall and won Rookie of the Year honours. Barnes’ second NBA season can really only be described as a plateau — it wasn’t bad but he also didn’t make the huge leap many expected.
As we head into his third NBA season, Scottie’s role on the Raptors is changing quite a lot. With Fred VanVleet gone, many are expecting Barnes to step up as a ball handler, shot maker, and leader. The front office seems reluctant to include Scottie in any trade talks, which leads fans to believe they are committed to making him the face of the franchise long term. If that’s the case, he’ll have to prove he is steadily improving each year, especially as it gets closer to the end of his rookie scale contract.
In his first season — his Rookie of the Year season — he averaged 15.3 points per game (PPG), 3.5 assists per game (APG) and 7.5 rebounds per game (RPG). He finished his rookie campaign with a 49.2 field goal percentage and 30.1 three point percentage.
His second season saw him put up the exact same numbers in PPG, but he improved his APG number to 4.8. His RPG went down to 6.6, and his field goal percentage also went slightly down to 45.6%. Most of his stats either stayed the same or slightly wavered one way or the other. Like previously mentioned, plateaued.
He’s shown flashes of the basketball player he can become, so hopefully Scottie can take more of a leap in his third season. It will also be interesting to see how he improves in ball-handling and shot making, as those were two areas he saw slightly dip in his sophomore season. He’ll also have to be more of an on court leader, so that will be something to look out for as well.
This was somewhat of a wild card pick. Gradey Dick was just drafted 13th overall by the Raptors a few months ago, and other than some Summer League action, we haven’t even seen him play yet. In previous seasons — with previous coaching staff — it may have been easy to believe that Dick wouldn’t get too much playing time as a rookie.
Now, we have a coaching staff that clearly prioritizes player development. Gradey Dick will likely get more minutes off the top of the season than he would have in previous seasons. Plus, if he’s the shooter he is advertised to be, maybe even more. The Raptors could surely use a sharp shooter.
Off the court, he could also become the vibes guy. Every team needs a vibes guy — the one that keeps it light for the team. Him and Scottie together could be fantastic for the vibes.
Gary Trent Jr.
Many were a little surprised to see Gary Trent Jr. opt-in to his player option earlier this summer. As a player who has steadily improved since signing his previous deal with the Raptors in the offseason of 2021, it was a little expected that Trent Jr would go and seek a bigger deal this year.
Maybe he wants to see how much more he can improve this season, and therefore how much more money he can get after this season. Maybe he just truly loves Toronto and the Raptors franchise and is hoping for a big extension with them. Either way, he’s going to have to show it this season.
There isn’t much info out yet that will tell us exactly what Trent Jr’s role on the team will be this season. It’s hard to know how the new coaching staff will opt to use him. Will he be the starting point guard now that Fred VanVleet is no longer on the roster? Will he continue to come off the bench like he did in the second half of last season? Last year, Trent Jr approached every change to his role with grace and did his job. It’s something really admirable about him. A lot of bigger personalities would have complained about being relegated to bench — GTJ did not.
On the podcast, Sean also made a good point about how Trent could be used on defence this season under a new system. In previous seasons, Coach Nurse used him as an “agent of chaos” on defence — trying to get steals and throw off the opposing players. Will Darko Rajakovic — who seems to value a more purist version of play — use him differently?
Gary Trent Jr has also struggled with consistency in the past few seasons. It will be a good sign (especially if the Raptors are thinking of extending his contract) if he can be consistent with his shot making this season.
There are certainly a lot of questions about this Raptors roster as we get closer and closer to the season. These players are only a few of the ones to watch in what will be a very transformative season for the Toronto Raptors.
Make sure to check out the recent episode of Locked on Raptors with Sean Woodley to hear the full conversation.