The Toronto Raptors were, once again, the subject of tons of trade rumors this summer, but, once again, they enter this season attempting to run it back one more time.
They did have to make one major change after Fred VanVleet departed for Houston in free agency, swapping in Dennis Schröder at point guard. Despite making a reported attempt to get into the Damian Lillard sweepstakes, most of the rest of last year’s roster that went 41-41 has returned. Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby survived another round of rumors, while Jakob Poeltl and Gary Trent Jr. return after having the chance to take a look at free agency. Their biggest additions beyond Schröder this year were drafting Gradey Dick and signing Jalen McDaniels, as they’ll hope a fresh coaching perspective from Darko Rajakovic can change their fortunes.
However, we have a pretty big sample size of what this team looks like as constructed, so there’s not a ton of optimism there’s a big step forward available for Toronto to take. If they are to move into the top-6 conversation of the East, they’ll be reliant on a big leap from one important young player and must answer a perennial question north of the border.
Biggest Question: Can They Diversify Their Offense?
The Raptors were a perfectly solid offense last year (11th in offensive rating, per Basketball-Reference) but their biggest issue on that end is their best players want to do a lot of the same things. Siakam and Scottie Barnes both want to get on the ball and attack downhill. OG Anunoby has become a very reliable three-point threat, but also would like to see more of the ball to create going towards the basket as well. Now, replacing VanVleet with Schröder brings in another questionable shooter whose main focus on offense is driving at the rim. There’s only so many opportunities to do that, and if the starting lineup is those four and Jakob Poeltl, the spacing is going to be extremely cramped.
Gary Trent Jr. and Gradey Dick will be their best floor spacers off the bench and can alleviate that issue a bit, but there just isn’t a lot of reason to think this team is going to improve dramatically from being 28th in the league in three-point percentage a year ago (33.5 percent). The challenge for Rajakovic is going to be designing an offense that can maximize the talents of this roster, but how you do that when guys are at their best occupying very similar areas of the floor is a mystery that Nick Nurse’s staff was not fully able to solve.
X-Factor: Scottie Barnes
If there is a player capable of a major leap, it’s Scottie Barnes, but the former Rookie of the Year stagnated in his second season (and actually saw his efficiency dip a bit as a scorer). The question for Barnes has always been whether he can develop a reliable jump shot, which is one of the hardest things to do once you reach the NBA level. On another team, the pressure on Barnes to diversify his offensive repertoire might not be as high, but as long as Siakam (and to a lesser extent Anunoby) shares the floor with him, there’s just not going to be much space. Siakam, at this point, is who he is and is in his prime years. Barnes is the young guy with theoretical upside and the runway to still add those skillsets to his game. Whether he can do it or not is an entirely different question, but if there’s a leap to be made by this Toronto team, it will almost certainly have to come from a massive step forward from Barnes as an offensive player.