Many fans in Toronto got their hopes up for a potential trade that would bring superstar Kevin Durant to the North – now that he’s staying put, where does this leave the Raptors?
There were many questions and possibilities heading into the offseason for the Toronto Raptors. After a better-than-expected season in what many called a “development year,” the Raptors ended up fifth in the East AND with the Rookie of the Year in Scottie Barnes.
Masai Ujiri – President of Basketball Operations for the team – expressed his confidence in the roster at the end of their short-lived playoff run, mentioning that the team was a few pieces away from being a true contender.
Kevin Durant Wants Out
All of that shifted significantly at the beginning of free agency when it was announced that Kevin Durant wanted to be traded from the Brooklyn Nets. Quickly, the Raptors rose as a potential trade contender, seeming to have the pieces and picks that could get Kevin Durant to Toronto. There was much debate between fans and media alike about what that deal could look like – do you include Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes? Gary Trent Jr.? OG Anunoby? How many picks? It seemed like the Nets were looking to get as much as they could (understandably) for the superstar.
Then, it was announced Tuesday that KD would stay put in Brooklyn. So – where does this leave the Raptors?
Many had their sights set on Durant joining the team for an epic year, much like the 2019 run where Kawhi Leonard helped the team to their first NBA Championship. Yet, with all the chaos of free agency, people seem to forget the Raptors still have a decent amount to work with going into the season – even without KD.
The Raptors Path Forward
Keep in mind there is still lots of free agency to go and lots of moves that could still happen. Ujiri and Raptors General Manager Bobby Webster are famous for keeping tight-lipped about their plans for the team – so any moves from here on out may be sudden. For example, fans quickly switched their attention from Durant to Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz after the KD news dropped – an intriguing pickup that could solve a lot of the Raptors’ problems in the post.
Until that happens (or doesn’t), let’s focus on what the Toronto Raptors DO have. We know based on Durant trade talks the Raptors will NOT be moving Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, or Scottie Barnes. If they weren’t going for Durant, there is little to no chance they would be going for Mitchell.
Stars Of The North
Starting with the 2021/22 Rookie of the Year – Scottie Barnes is expected to deliver BIG things this year. When he was traded fourth in the 2021 NBA Draft, many were worried about his ability to shoot – a trait that the Raptors desperately need. Not only did he exceed expectations on that front, but Barnes also proved he can be an asset all over the court.
His playmaking skills blossomed and as of right now it seems like he could take over some of the ball-handling responsibility during times Fred VanVleet is off the court. He averaged 15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game – numbers that are only expected to grow after getting his reps in all summer.
His size gives him the ability to guard almost anyone, and playing him at the Point Guard position makes the Raptors lineup SCARY big. Per BBall Index, Scottie Barnes was the most versatile defender among every NBA starter. He has otherworldly defensive skills.
Other notable talents include his shot-making skills at the rim, the volume of blocks per 75, passing creation, offensive rebounding, and the endurance to play a healthy amount of minutes for the Raptors. All of this as a first-year player is remarkable.
To top it all off, he quickly became a fan favorite and seems eager to develop his game with the Raptors. What more could you ask for?
Another player we can't wait to see hit the floor this season is Pascal Siakam - who is arguably playing the best ball of his life at the moment. He missed a big chunk of the start of last season recovering from shoulder surgery, but once he got out there it was The Pascal Siakam Show. The Raptors system, plus their lack of a seasoned center AND point guard depth last season, forced Siakam to modify his game - and it worked.
He was already an All-Star caliber player, but he's elevated his game to new heights. He's stronger, faster; and has developed into a scorer, shooter, AND playmaker. His 5.3 assists per game was a career-high, but he also achieved career highs in rebounds (8.5 per game) and steals (1.3 per game) in the 2021/22 season despite getting a late start. He's obviously stronger and that's evident from the way he is able to find his way to the net in a variety of situations against virtually any opponent. Expect him to continue on this as we head into the season.
You can't talk Raptors basketball without mentioning All-Star Fred VanVleet. He stepped up in a HUGE way last season following the trade of Kyle Lowry - and expect his leadership skills to continue to develop as we head into the new season. As much as he is a leader off the court, he demands attention on the court as well. He averaged a career-high 20.3 points, 6.7 assists, and 3.7 three-pointers made through the season, played insane minutes, and broke a couple of franchise records along the way.
VanVleet isn't just a good 3-point shooter; he is an outstanding one.
In terms of pure ability, VanVleet stands alongside the league's marquee shooters. Trae Young, Luka Doncic, Steph Curry, Luke Kennard, Desmond Bane, and Fred VanVleet stand atop the crossroads between shooting talent and shot-making.
Depending on how the rest of free agency works out, Toronto could add another star to their already solid core. If not, you have Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, and Precious Achiuwa who are set to take huge developmental leaps this year. The team recently picked up Otto Porter Jr. who will be an excellent veteran presence on the team. You have a rookie center in Christian Koloko who could make an impact. Hey, Malachi Flynn has been looking good in the off-season as well - maybe he makes a huge impact.
The great thing about the Toronto Raptors is that the sky is the limit. They have a young core, lots of talent, and even more potential. What seemed like a few years of heavy rebuilding is turning into a fun developmental experiment that seems to be turning out great results. We can't wait to check back in later in the season to see what this young team is getting up to.
Keep an eye on this team in the upcoming season to see if the pieces come together for an incredible run!