NBA 2023-2024 Preview: Can the Toronto Raptors Rise Above Mediocrity?

Toronto Raptors NBA Preview 2023 2024 copie 7

Who will take over the NBA championship title from the Nuggets? Over the next month, we’ll delve into the prospects of all 30 teams in America’s premier basketball league. Today, we turn our gaze northwards, focusing on the Toronto Raptors.

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2022/2023 Season Review: A Lackluster Year

If one had to pick a word to describe the Raptors’ performance in the 22/23 season, it would be “average”. Their win-loss record stood perfectly balanced with a 50% win rate. In terms of spectator appeal, not much enticed fans to tune into the Raptors last season. Scottie Barnes, who was the highlight of the 2021/22 season, failed to impress. Additionally, the rapport between players and their coach, Nick Nurse, seemed to hit an all-time low. The Raptors’ starting five endured excessive playtime, and Nurse’s sometimes stern methods weren’t resonating within the locker room.

Teamwise, their shots were often off the mark. To secure victories, Toronto had to lean heavily on their defensive tenacity and team spirit. In these areas, the Raptors didn’t falter. Every game felt like a war, with scores neck and neck after 48 minutes. Offensively, Pascal Siakam played at a level high enough to keep his team in the middle of the pack. However, grit alone doesn’t cut it during the postseason. It requires an extra push. Facing the offensively superior Bulls in the play-in, Toronto met their match and were defeated.

Offseason Moves

Departures

Fred VanVleet (to Rockets); Dalano Banton (to Celtics); Will Barton (free agent); Nick Nurse (coach, to 76ers).

Extensions

Jakob Poeltl (4 years).

New Additions

Jalen McDaniels (from 76ers); Dennis Schröder (from Lakers); Garrett Temple (from Pelicans); Gradey Dick (13th pick in the 2023 draft); Darko Rajakovic (head coach).

Toronto Raptors’ Starting Lineup

Dennis Schröder – OG Anunoby – Scottie Barnes – Pascal Siakam – Jakob Poeltl.

Bench Rotation

  • Point Guards: Malachi Flynn; Markquis Nowell (two-way contract); Javon Freeman-Liberty (two-way contract).
  • Shooting Guards: Gary Trent Jr.; Gradey Dick; Garrett Temple; Ron Harper Jr. (two-way contract).
  • Small Forwards: Otto Porter Jr.; Jalen McDaniels.
  • Power Forwards: Chris Boucher; Thaddeus Young; Precious Achiuwa.
  • Centers: Christian Koloko.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Weaknesses: Overabundance of Similar Profiles

When thinking of the Raptors in recent seasons, a recurring image emerges: a collection of roughly 6’7″ players known for their defense and hustle. This trend continues this season, with 10 players on the roster standing between 6’6″ and 6’10”. While there have been efforts to diversify the lineup compared to last year, the departure of Fred VanVleet, the team’s primary point guard, remains unaddressed. Consequently, the projected starting five lacks a consistent deep shooter. Off the bench, the team will largely rely on Gary Trent Jr. and rookie Gradey Dick for three-point shooting. This might not have been a major concern in the 90s, but in 2023, it poses challenges for their offensive strategies.

Strengths: Robust Defense

One thing that remains constant for the Raptors this summer is their bulldog-like defensive mentality. Their top defenders remain, making it a challenge for opponents to score against them. Despite this, there’s a feeling that, collectively, the team could still outperform their previous season in this regard. Their 11th place in the defensive rating standings last year seems slightly underwhelming. This year, the Raptors should aim to firmly place themselves within the top 10 defensive teams. Especially since without Fred VanVleet, their offense might face significant challenges on the other end.

Player to Watch: Scottie Barnes

Rookie of the Year in 2022 and then Toronto’s biggest letdown in 2023, the spotlight should firmly be on Scottie Barnes for the upcoming season. He is arguably the most promising talent on the team. Amid a roster where almost everyone seems to be involved in trade rumors, Barnes stands out as untouchable. This season, he should emerge as the team’s clear number two, just behind the irreplaceable Pascal Siakam. If not, the Raptors might be heading for rough waters.

End of Season Prediction: 10th in the East

The Raptors’ current trajectory seems to be coming to an end. The loss of VanVleet remains unaddressed, and a team that was already average with him could pay a steep price. While their defense is expected to be top-tier, a significant void in playmaking and shooting might weigh heavily on their offense. Given the recent trade rumors, the real question might not be whether the Raptors make the playoffs, but rather, what remains of this squad after the trade deadline.

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