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Roundtable: Previewing the 2021-22 season part two

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Photo credit: Raptors.com

The return of the Roundtable! and NBA basketball! So we put up the Raptors symbol into the sky and gathered as many staff as possible to discuss the season. This is part two of two wherein we discuss the season, what to expect from the Raps, and what a successful season will look like. You can find part one here.

Do you have any hot takes you want to share in terms of predictions for the season? Lowry gonna get traded back to the Raps? Perhaps a Simmons shall you seek?

Zarar: The Raptors will trade Pascal Siakam before the season is over.

Brendan: I don’t know if it’s a hot take among Raptors fans, but I think this will be the year that OG Anunoby will be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, provided he stays healthy. Regarding the rest of the league, I think the Chicago Bulls are going to be must-watch TV, I think De’Aaron Fox is going to be an all star and establish himself as one of the best point guards in the league, and Ben Simmons, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Dame Lillard are all guys I expect to generate some heavy trade buzz. 

Oren: I think it’s very possible the Raptors sell high on Chris Boucher at the trade deadline. Not anything against him, because he is rounding into form recently and will play a big role on this team, with his shooting being particularly valuable to the Raptors. But I think we learned last year that his best position is the 4 and Scottie Barnes, who they just drafted, is also going to play the 4 a lot, and their best player, Pascal Siakam, is also a 4. I just don’t see the Raptors wanting to sign Boucher to a long-term deal after this season when they will need to find more and more minutes for Barnes going forward.

Kristian: Mild hot take? Precious Achiuwa ends up finishing games for us, especially if he becomes respectable out of the corner. And then the NBA world asks “how did we let Masai do it again?” Spicy hot take? Yuta Watanabe becomes the leader of the new bench mob. I’m talking most reliable scorer, super vocal, solid defense, and a bit of playmaking all before pushing for starter type of minutes.

Mac: Hmmmm, so many to think of… Okay, one I had in mind is the Raptors are right in the playoff mix and want some help at the center spot, so they trade Chris Boucher before the deadline, either in a deal for Ivica Zubac or Jusuf Nurkic to help solidify our size up front.

Manny: Not sure this is such a hot take and I’m sure someone else has already said the same thing, but I think the Raptors will trade Chris Boucher by the deadline. He’s clearly progressed beyond what anyone expected him too and he’ll get paid next summer. He’s a long, athletic big that can shoot the three and play tough defense. He’s a Canadian and he’ll always be loved in TO, but the Raptors are going to play him a lot right out of the gate, his value will rise and then Toronto is going to send him somewhere that he’ll get paid.

Adam Robles: This probably isn’t a hot take depending on who you ask but I expect Pascal to make an all-NBA team and either FVV or OG to make an all-defense team.

Sam Holako: I’d support a trade for Ben Simmons that doesn’t involve OG and Siakam.

Bowen: I think Gary Trent Jr. will drop 50 in a game. Precious Achiuwa will throw down at least 7 “Highlight Of The Night” dunks. Also, I feel like they’ll be very active at the trade deadline. Dragic will obviously leave, but don’t rule out a Siakam trade either.

Adon: OG: MOST. IMPROVED. PLAYER.

He’s going to get respect to his name on Defence. 

He’s going to be hitting pull-up threes like he’s Paul George.

And he’s going to average 20/7/5/2(stocks)

Am I speaking this into existence because I have placed a few pieces of currency upon a wager, perhaps, but I also truly believe it’s OG’s year to COME ALIVE!

 

Louis: Fred VanVleet is going to win multiple pieces of hardware this year. How about one (1) All-Star nod combined with one (1) Third (3rd) Team All-NBA slot? 

What would constitute success for a team that spent so long contending, then won a championship, but was also one of the worst in the league last year?

Zarar: Success would be finishing fourth in the conference beating out one of the teams that everyone has slotted to be in the top four (MIL, PHI, BKN, MIA). But for me personally, who cares about the record, success to me is sweeping the Celtics in the regular season.

Brendan: Depends on who you ask. In my personal opinion, success would result in either being at the top or bottom of the league. Being around the middle would just put the Raptors on track to be a first round exit with a middle-of-the-pack draft pick. That’s the worst case scenario and definitely not what I would view as a success for a team in the process of retooling/rebuilding. Being at the top would mean the Raps have greatly overperformed expectations and probably had some drastic internal improvements from players like OG and Trent. Being at the bottom would mean the team could get a much-needed top end talent once again, so while most would view that as a failure, I think the opportunity to draft another Scottie Barnes level talent is a success in itself. Personally, I want more high end young talent on the team since we’re nowhere near contending in the meantime, so we should focus on building as best we can… and being a treadmill team is something that nobody should want. Play-in for what? 

Oren: I would say making the playoffs constitutes success, which means getting past the play-in tournament for a real best-of-7 series. I maintain that last season was not representative of the team, and even though they lost a ton of games, they were much more competitive than people made them out to be (until they tanked). The margin for error is small in the NBA. This core mixed with decent depth and a good coaching staff should be able to make the playoffs, assuming health, and if they don’t… see my next answer. 

Kristian: It’s funny because the whole Tampa ordeal is a convenient benchmark that sets the stage for a reset. For me, a successful season would include getting back into the playoffs without the need for a play-in game. This meant that Pascal, Fred, and OG evolved even while being surrounded by several pieces we’re looking to develop. 

Mac: A successful season for this Raptors team would be earning a spot back in the playoffs. Even if it means a 1st round exit, our young guys would benefit greatly with that type of experience so early in their careers. Obviously, a championship would be the ultimate measure of success, but I’m too sober to make that a potential achievement with this current squad.  

Manny: Playoffs. Everybody that says otherwise needs to understand that as Raptors fans, we’ve been spoiled for the last seven years. I get that winning a championship has set a certain precedent and may prompt people to think that every season is championship or bust but Toronto just experienced the greatest seven-year run in franchise history. Let’s not get too greedy.

Adam Robles: I think these guys are a fringe playoff team with their current roster so success to me would be the 6th seed and avoiding the play-in.

Sam Holako: Calling them one of the worst teams in the league last year feels intellectually disingenuous to me; I don’t need to go into the why, but to me, success means a team that works hard and that other teams don’t look forward to playing against. I’d like another lottery pick this year, but I don’t want to be tanking for it, if this team is in the play-in mix, that’s a win.

Bowen: At least the play-in right? But I am not sure Bobby and Masai would consider the season a success if that’s the case, as you are stuck in the NBA’s dreaded middle ground. A successful season would hinge on massive development for Scottie Barnes, Gary Trent Jr taking another step, and OG Anunoby getting on an All-Defense team. The record wouldn’t particularly matter if that development is shown.

Adon: The East is stacckkkkeeddd and a bunch of up-and-coming teams (Chicago, Washington, Charlotte) think they got what it takes [they don’t]. 

Success: 1st or 2nd in the play-in is mission accomplished

Cherry-on-top: Going full Baron Davis-Stephen-Jackson-Al Harrington Warriors in the first round to upset an uninspired post-championship Bucks team or a Phili team in turmoil or a ne’er healthy Nets or Heat team.

Louis: I don’t think any realistic team success would constitute success. The Raps won a championship two years ago, so just going to the playoffs is old hat for these guys. Individual growth would constitute success. OG Anunoby adding to his off-the-dribble game. Malachi Flynn becoming more efficient. Developments like that would be success because the Raptors are thinking championship. They’re not winning one this year, so it’s about taking steps forward to get there in the future. 

Masai re-signed, Nurse re-signed, Pascal / Fred / OG  re-signed, Lowry gone — it seems like all the mystery about the future has been solved, and we know what the next era will look like. Are you happy that the future is clear? Do you wish there was more left in the balance?

Zarar: I’m good with the future. Not because I’m exceptionally excited about any particular player on the roster, but because there’s enough pieces on here to pull a trade that could get you someone who is exciting enough (think Kawhi) at some point. The interim product isn’t bad, and certainly a lot better than we’ve had in years past. I’d take this team over the DeRozan teams any day.

Brendan: The future doesn’t look all that clear to me, so I’m hoping that there’s more to come. I’m disappointed that the cap space we spent 4 years saving for just ended up being used to absorb Dragic’s contract. There is still a gaping hole at the centre spot and there’s no real shot-creating presence on the team. It doesn’t seem like any players on the team will be able to step into those specific roles in the next couple of seasons either. Retaining Masai and Nurse is great! OG, Scottie, and Trent are some young pieces that have me very optimistic! But the current core just isn’t one that I can see seriously competing for a championship. It’s going to take a few years at minimum to build back to that point. Pascal and Fred both have three years left on their contracts(Fred actually has two, since he has a player option in 2023 that he’ll most likely decline), so some major decisions will have to be made before those contracts run out if the team doesn’t look as good as we hope. We can hope for a home run trade to land a star and jettison the Raptors into contention, but let’s be real: the Kawhi trade was one-in-a-million, and it’ll take a lot of our own assets to try and get a star that’s better than Siakam to pair beside him. I don’t know if that’s a realistic option.

Oren: I would push back on the idea that the future is clear. I think the Raptors are trying something somewhat unprecedented in the modern NBA with a roster full of wing-sized players who can handle the ball and pass and really defend but not necessarily create advantages (outside of Siakam). And I think anytime you try something unprecedented, you have to accept that there are risks and, if it doesn’t work, you have to be willing to pivot (which in this case would involve prioritizing more half-court creation on the roster). So, if this season blows up in their faces and they can’t rely on their core to win them upwards of 36 games, I hope the Raptors are willing to pivot. Plus, the Raptors will always be players on the trade market, so I never worry too much about stasis. 

Kristian: Between Kawhi, Kyle, and Masai, I’m good on all the mystery stuff. It’s nice to have a set path in place. However, I am curious to see if Pascal can officially become the man, and I’m sure this season will provide us with all the insight we need on that topic. 

Mac: I think it’s great that we have some clarity about our future. Gives the team the ability to organize an elaborate development plan for the players and staff instead of gambling with negotiations and changing course season to season like many other organizations tend to do.

Manny: I’d say that the future is optimistic. It may not be as clear, in respect to how this team will gel together but I can sleep at night knowing that Masai, Bobby, and Nurse are all at the helm of a roster with such high potential.

Adam Robles: Definitely. I feel like the last couple of years were transition years after we won the title. I was never a fan of FVV/Lowry backcourt because we’d always get killed playing teams with bigger 2s like Boston and Brooklyn. The team as constructed is going to be a nightmare to play against on defence and I can’t wait to see all of this unfold.

Sam Holako: This is a great starting point for the next chapter of this franchise. We have a young, athletic, switchy team that has oodles of length and energy. If we can add some elite shooting/shot creation, this turnaround will come faster than people expect.

Bowen: On the cap sheet the future looks clear, but are we forgetting what happened with James Harden last year, and the Ben Simmons fiasco this season? Both players are locked into long-term contracts, and both are or have bullied their way onto another team. I think the same could be done with Siakam, as he has already been in rumoured trade talks! This league never sleeps, so a bombshell Siakam trade is not unrealistic.

Adon: Nothing is not left in the balance in the NBA.

Definitely, nothing is not left in the balance with Masai Ujiri as your team’s Team President.

Louis: Looks like this question was unpopular, which means the brunt of staff expect the unexpected. I’m not so sure. In VanVleet, Siakam, Anunoby, and now Barnes, Toronto has the heart of its core under contract. Masai Ujiri is known for making swings, but remember he only traded DeMar DeRozan after giving the DeRozan-Lowry partnership multiple chances in the playoffs. I think Toronto is in a similar place now. The current core will have its shots, improving around the edges, until they’ve proven they can’t do it. The Raptors won’t make chances just to make changes, so barring the availability of Bradley Beal or another scoring phenom, I think the future (in terms of who is getting major minutes on the roster) should be fairly stable going forward.

What single element of the season are you most excited for? 

Zarar: Pascal’s one-on-one offensive game; specifically, how well he deals with physical guys he can’t just blow by but who can play him tough in isolation. He needs to dominate those matchups for him to move up to the next tier of player. And no, being a good passer and creator in those situations is not good enough. He. Must. Dominate.

Brendan: An increase in OG’s usage. PLEASE, let my guy get more touches, he’s ready. Let him show off. We have low expectations this year anyway, let’s at least have some fun with it.

Oren: I think it’s OG Anunoby’s off-the-bounce game, for me. Of everyone on this roster, Anunoby has the most room to pop and expand his game beyond the 3-and-D box the Raptors have pushed him into. He will have an especially big load at the start of the season until Siakam returns from a shoulder injury, and I’m curious to see how he develops as a pick-and-roll player, including what his dribble looks like and how his playmaking develops. I think some people have gone too far asking Anunoby to be the primary option this season, because there is no reason to rush his budding offensive game, but giving him plenty of reps should be a priority. 

In terms of how to utilize Anunoby, I have always seen him as more of a Zion Williamson than a Kawhi Leonard. His strength is overpowering, but his game is not measured and controlled like Leonard’s. It’s chaotic and spontaneous, and he can bully his way to the rim a lot more comfortably than he can stop on a dime and pull-up from mid-range. That’s why I wrote about a VanVleet-Anunoby two-man game having a lot of utility, with inverted pick-and-rolls giving Anunoby some downhill momentum to get to the rim, similar to what JJ Redick and Zion Williamson did in New Orleans. I hope we see more of this. 

Kristian: OG’s game off the dribble for me. I think he’ll always be a bit stiff and mechanical, but we need to see him grow more confident with creating for himself, even if it’s more of a bully ball type of approach. 

Mac: I’m most excited to see Precious Achuiwa’s development and if he can actually turn into Bam Adebayo 2.0.

Manny: Malachi Flynn’s improvement. After how he performed with a bigger role in games last year, I cannot wait to see his game improve even more. Coming out of college, Flynn was touted for his defensive ability. Now, we’re well aware of just how effective he can be by driving, dishing, and shooting the ball. I still can’t believe he fell to the Raptors at pick 28 in last years draft.

Adam Robles: I’m excited for Pascal to bounce back after an “off-year”. To me, he plays his best feeding off the energy from fans and that’s really been missing the past two seasons. I think this year will be his revenge season.

Sam Holako: I’m excited to see if OG can make the leap to the next level. He’s a top-five defender, can knock down corner threes, and tough off the bounce. If he can stay healthy, and play a full season, a lot of people will be talking about him.

Bowen: I want to see how much the second-round draft picks play. I think this will be another season riddled with injuries, with the shorter offseason and the league heading back to an 82-game slate, so there will be plenty of minutes to go along for Dalano Banton and David Johnson. Hopefully one, or both can impress enough to crack the full-time rotation for the 2022-23 season.

Adon: Defensive rotations. This team is going to be all about ball pressure: switching, trapping, helping, retreating, yelling (in Barnes’ case). If you haven’t figured it out yet, I get my jollies from stifling defenses and the ensuing chaos. 

I’m getting Bob Huggins defense vibes tingling down my spine. 

The question will be how well it works. It didn’t last year: Toronto was 2nd in opponent points scored in the paint last year; they were also 26th in three pointers allowed.

I suspect Toronto’s bulk order of 6’something Mandalorian clones is an attempt to shrink the gap on closeouts at the end of a hard-fought scramble.

Louis: I’m looking for the VanVleet floater to make an appearance. He finally delved into the midrange last season after spending his entire career as a Morey-ball disciple. His midrange jumper is solid, but when he gets into the short midrange, adding floaters, push shots, and other quick-release looks that can just get the ball on the rim before a rim protector can bother him and trust his touch to do the rest should help him immensely. 

Put your reputation on the line. What will the Raptors’ record be, and how deep into the playoffs — or not at all — are they going?

Zarar: 40-42. Get ready for play-in excitement.

Brendan: I don’t think the Raptors will make the playoffs. The Eastern Conference got a lot better this offseason and the Raptors had a big loss with not a lot of real additions. Siakam’s going to miss some time as he recovers from his surgery and is going to need more time to get back into the swing of things, which may lead to a rough start that the Raps might not be able to recover from as they try to transition to the post-Lowry era. If they do make the playoffs, I expect them to be in the play-in race (7-10 seed) but not make it very far. If I have to give an exact record, I’ll guess 38-44. 

Oren: I’ll go with a bold 41-41. I think they will finish 7th or 8th in the East behind Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Miami, Phili, Boston (in that order if I’m putting my whole ass reputation on the line). They get past the play-in tournament and lose in the first round of the playoffs.

Kristian: The Raptors were a .500 team before COVID hit in Tampa, so they’re at least that again this year if you believe playing back in Toronto will help. I don’t want to participate in the play-in, and a .500 record seems to put you in that spot, so we’ll go with 44-38 and a 5th or 6th seed finish. We then bow out in an intense 7-game series against Miami, Atlanta, or Philly. Can you imagine a playoff series against Kyle Lowry? Jeez. 

Mac: I predict a 45-37 record for the Raptors and maybe a 5th-6th seed in the playoffs, with a 2nd round exit.  

Manny: 38-44. In the east, that might just be good enough to contend for one of the last two playoff spots. I think the biggest issue with last years team was that Nick Nurse played as though Aron Baynes was a serviceable replacement for Marc Gasol/Serge Ibaka and that’s ultimately the sword Toronto fell on. With a fresh, new strategy, I’m intrigued to see what Nurse cooks up as he incorporates new pieces into his ever-changing system.

Adam Robles: If everything breaks right, I’m calling a 45-37 season, sixth seed and they’ll take Miami to six games before bowing out.

Sam Holako: Raptors will be battling for .500, but ultimately miss the playoffs and win the lottery.

Bowen: 40-42, the eight seed and a play-in tournament spot. They’ll win the play-in game but fall in the first round, in five hard fought games.

Adon: I already foresee spending the entire year fending off TANK-IT ADVOCATES, but I want the Raptors to compete and see what their core can actually accomplish. 

Record: 43-39

Regular Season Finish: 9th

Playoffs: 1st Round loss to the First Seed in six games.

Louis: I’m more or less in agreement with most of the other takes here. The Raptors should be solid when they’re healthy, but they won’t be healthy until Siakam gets back. If they had him all year, I’d be bold. But as it is, I’ll say 42-40 and a grimey, six- or seven-game loss in the first round. Something to be proud of.

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