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Roundtable: Looking back on the Raptors’ 2021-22 campaign

36 mins read
Photo via Sportnews

Here we go again! By the way, I just want to put it out there that the Tampa Bay Raptors missed the postseason last year… But the Toronto Raptors?! Haven’t missed the playoffs since 2013! Overall, what a season it’s been. We saw this team grow before our very eyes and to be honest, it was beautiful. Watching this core grow over the season and develop on the fly is rewarding beyond belief, especially when you begin to ponder their potential. But before we go forward, let’s take a look back on what our Raptors Republic fam thought:

What one word would you use to describe the Raptors this season? Why?

Don:

Overachieved – Did not expect them to make the playoffs comfortably.

Adon:

WORLD WAR Z ZOMBIES

This was what the dream was always about. The pressing, the yelling, the reckless abandonment for rebounding workplace safety standards, the deflections, the raunchiness. All of it: the chaos Nick Nurse and Masai Ujiri envisioned and what Brad Pitt feared.

Lucas:

Overlooked. In France, very few people talked about the Raptors during this season and it was really a team that nobody expected in the playoffs, even less with the 5th seed. I really got the impression that a lot of people realized that the Raptors were in 5th place and that players like Siakam or VanVleet were having a remarkable season with only a few games left in the regular season. That’s why the Raptors’ season is overlooked in my opinion.

Louis:

Copacetic. Just a chill-vibes season. What could possibly have gone wrong? They added a big draft pick — and he was better than anyone could have expected! All their stars game back better than ever. The team is inventive and gelling. Everything is hunky dory.

Brendan:

Confusing?

If you had told me that you expected the Raptors to be a 5th seed in the preseason, I would have had you labeled as one of the more unashamed homers of Raptors fandom. The roster changes from the Tampa season (aside from the addition of Scottie Barnes and the loss of Lowry) had the team’s core pieces remaining mostly the same, and the other moves were incredibly minor. The team lacks a true first option, their depth remains extremely poor, and they’re still searching for an actual starting tier big man. They started off slow, won some games, hit a few bumps along the way, played well against top seeded competition and faltered against teams that they easily should have beaten.

I personally thought they’d be a play-in team, but they got hot at the right moments in the season and managed to get higher than what I think a lot of people expected. I personally don’t place a lot of weight in the regular season so I’m very intrigued to see if this roster can rise to the challenge of the playoffs or if we’re going to see some concerning patterns going forward.

Matt D.:

Satisfied. Last off-season we had to deal with ridiculous “trade Siakam” takes, we were still decompressing from the Tampa season, and no one knew what was up with that Scottie Barnes pick. Siakam has been an absolute stud, Scottie Barnes for ROY would be unanimous if he were in any other market, and we finished 5th when most commentators said we’d maybe finish 10th?Yeah. Satisfied.

Freddie:

Visionary: Everything about this team is original, imaginative and rewarding. Masai, Bobby and Nurse have been bold and successful, winning and developing at the same time. It’s been great.

Adam:

Satisfying. As Raptors fans, we have obviously been spoiled as fans during the 7-year playoff run before the Tampa Bay experience. Honestly – going through the season we had last year as a fan was worth it for where the Raptors are at now as a franchise.

Kyle:

Charmed. All the little things the Raptors needed to get lucky on – the young guys, the bench, the Stars – came up aces. Scottie Barnes is on a superstar trajectory, Precious Achiuwa looks like next great 3 & D big, and Pascal Siakam has returned to borderline-superstar form – what more could you even ask for?

Matt S.:

Joyful.  No clear expectations, an assumed development season, exceeding anyone’s wildest hopes, and the emergence of our next generation.  This season was a joy to experience.

Jamar:

Resilient – had a full team for what, less than 10 games? no fans for 3 months, numerous comebacks and key wins.

Manny:

Growth. Remember how it felt to watch Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas grow? This is even better because the team took a gap year, selected the ROY and here we are.

Anyone that exceeded your expectations? Did anyone disappoint you?

Don:

Everyone exceeded my expectations except for OG. His ability to stay on the court is a problem.

Adon:

Exceed: Many Raptors did, which is why we finished 5th. 
 
Gary Trent Jr. narrowly takes the cake. Scottie, I had 0 expectations; Precious, I half-anticipated his rise; even Pascal and FVV hit a potential I did not exactly anticipate. 
 
But, Gary, Gary I feared would be a year away, at least, from getting anywhere near the player he’s transformed into. His has defence shocked me. I know, it’s not fundamentally sound, but his hyper-aggro gambling, dun-give-a-shit swagger, and incessant pestering is what Toronto wants from him. Apply pressure and foment chaos. Chaos, remember? 
Disappoint: Goran FUCKING Dragić. It’s the last I’ll speak of him in the context of the Toronto Raptors. I really had high hopes for his leadership and veteran edge. He’s washed. He’s self-centered. He’s disloyal. He’s a Brooklyn Net; he’s among brethren. 

Lucas:

I didn’t expect to see Scottie Barnes at such a high level so quickly, he really exceeded my expectations for his rookie season. Not that I didn’t expect anything from him, far from it, but mostly that he showed an excellent level in his first season. As soon as I saw his attitude at the scrimmages of the draft combine, I immediately understood that he was different, that he was an excellent teammate but above all a true vocal leader on the field in addition to having an impact on the game. He is a winner and the Raptors did well to bet on him.

On the disappointment side, I would say OG. Not in terms of the level of play he has displayed, but for the number of games he has missed on the season. He only played 48 games this season and only played 43 last year because of his injury prone nature. So of course it’s not his fault and it’s even rather reassuring to see that the injuries are not necessarily linked to each other. So we can think that this is a real bad luck for him and I hope he can finally splash us with his talent on a full season next year.

Louis:

I mean, pretty much everyone exceeded or met my expectations. Precious, Gary, Scottie, Pascal, Fred, Boucher — exceeded. Maybe OG, Khem, Thad met my expectations. If anyone disappointed it was really just Goran Dragic, who I unfortunately thought would really help the Raptors. Boy oh boy was I wrong.

Brendan:

I was a vocal Jalen Suggs supporter. Although I believed that both he and Scottie Barnes would be future all stars, I was still very concerned when Scottie’s name was the one that was called on draft night. I watched all of Scottie Barnes’ college games and I don’t think even the most staunch of Scottie Barnes fans expected this season from him. He has been doing things this year that he didn’t even show flashes of at Florida State. The playmaking and rim-finishing was expected, but his shooting improvement as a whole is something that’s rarely seen in prospects like Scottie. I still believe that Scottie’s natural position is point guard, and I would like to see him become a permanent fixture in that role, but many if not all of my concerns about his game have practically vanished. Just give him more opportunities please, he’s ready.

Malachi Flynn continues to be a disappointment. I understand that he’s had some poor injury luck to end the season, but the Raptors’ lack of depth has been a weakness all year long and he still struggled to break into the lineup earlier on. When he did get chances, he was constantly disappointing with inefficient shooting and poor decision making on both ends of the floor. His starts with the Raptors 905 were also wrought with poor performances (averaging 9 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists on an alarming 37% true shooting percentage). Granted, he had a four-game hot stretch in March when Fred was out with an injury. Two of those games were wins against the Nets without Kyrie and KD, and two of those games were losses against Orlando and Detroit. If you need your 24 year old sophomore guard to be in a starting role against subpar talent in order to produce effectively, it may be time to look in another direction in the very near future. If Flynn was capable of producing even close to a replacement level consistently, the Raptors’ depth concerns would be greatly alleviated. I shed a tear whenever I see Desmond Bane shattering franchise records for the Grizzlies.

Matt D.:

I won’t say I was a Masai/Bobby doubter, but I was a bit worried that Suggs was gonna show us what mistake they made drafting Barnes. Scottie’s play, his IQ, his enthusiasm, his look-back before he dunks… He’s blown past my expectations and made me truly excited for the post-Kyle era. The one player that disappointed me was Dragic. The way he handled the trade to Toronto, then leaving the team to go sit court-side back in Miami… just not something you expect from a vet. What message does that send to younger players, you know?

Freddie:

Almost the entire team has exceeded my expectations. I had a pretty positive projection of the team (6th in the east) before the season started, but the player development and instant success of guys like Scottie, Banton, Champagnie has been incredible to watch.

I can’t say anyone really disappointed me. Dragic was a little bit of a bummer and it was kind of frustrating when Nurse was playing the starters such heavy minutes, but it all sort of settled as the season carried on.

Adam:

Precious really exceeded my expectations when it came to him. I knew he had potential as a defensive stopper but didn’t project him to be where he’s at offensively at all. What’s even more impressive is his improvement from the start of the season to now. He’s just so sound, so confident and so comfortable in the offence. If there’s anyone that’s disappointed me, it’s probably Malachi. I know he had that decent stretch of games but I was hoping for more from him in his second year. I still think he’s talented but it looks like it’ll be tough to find him consistent minutes on a team as good as this when they’re at full strength.

Kyle:

My go-to answer to this question all year has been Scottie. Everyone knew he’d be successful in Toronto, but unless your name is Matt Shantz I don’t think you were all in on Scottie Barnes. As far as disappointments, it has to be OG Anunoby. Injuries definitely were a factor, but it’s hard to ignore that not only did OG not take the leap we here at RR were promising, its possible he actually regressed this year. Here’s hoping he disproves me with an excellent playoff run.

Matt S.:

Exceeding expectations was the theme of the year, but nothing surprised me more than Dalano Banton not only getting minutes (in stretches) but often being a positive contributor.  I had assumed it would be an entire G-League season for him, and while he showed out during his time with the 905, he also showed with the big club that he has a chance to be a contributor moving forward.

And while he’s looked better late in the season, the player who has been the most disappointing is Khem Birch. I love him, but failing to grab hold of consistent minutes was shocking.  He was supposed to be the reliable vet.

Jamar:

Precious Achiuwa exceeded expectations over last month, I didn’t know what he was. I also only expected 10/6/5 from Scottie and he’s much better than that. OG disappointed me thought he would take a bigger leap, also he’s been out way too much.

Manny:

I’ve been on the GTJ bandwagon from day one and I never plan on getting off. It’s been a thrill watching him get at it on both ends of the floor. I’m giving him all his flowers for the rest of my life and the rest of his.

Nobody really disappointed me. I didn’t have many expectations coming into the season and whenever you have that mindset, you can never go wrong.

Most memorable moment of this season.

Don:

Raptors vs Cavaliers where their 8 man rotation was a bunch of 10-day contract players.

Adon:

First undrafted dude to do it since Ben Wallance in 2004 and only one of five players ever.
Freddy is the ultimate success story who’s rise to NBA Elite was totally unforeseen by everyone but him. That was a very special moment, so freaking well-deserved, and the symbol of this team’s evolution.

Lucas:

The moment of the season that stood out to me the most was most definitely the 124-120 win over the Heat after THREE overtimes. It was a game that lasted forever (even more so here in France where the game ended at something like 6am) but it also showed the DNA of the Raptors, with players who don’t give up despite 55+ minutes of playing time. This game really showed that the Raptors are not a good team to take in the playoffs.

Louis:

Raps beat the Heat in triple freakin’ overtime as VanVleet just goes bananas from deep in the second and third overtimes. So so fun.

Brendan:

Scottie’s 28/16/4 game with 5 steals against Brooklyn.

Matt D.:

I loved seeing Gary’s hot streak, where he was averaging around 30 for five straight games, and him doing pressers dressed like the Terminator. I like when players are unintentionally funny like that. “Is the Zoom call frozen?” “No, Gary’s just not moving.”

Freddie:

The return of Kyle Lowry.

Adam:

I have 3 – Scottie’s game at Boston when he took over, FVV’s game-winner in Philly (LOL), and Pascal’s recent game against Philly when he completely took over.

Kyle:

Although it may not count as part of THIS season, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget the excitement of Barnes’ draft night. Scottie was so full of joy when he realized the Raptors believed in him enough to take him at #4, a reaction that was completely foreign to long-time Raptor fans who had to endure so many years of forced smiles on Draft night. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.

Matt S.:

I’m assuming most people will either go with Kyle Lowry’s return or something with Scottie Barnes (toe-to-toe with LeBron??? Come on!), so I have to go off board a little.  It’s likely some recency bias, but Precious Achiuwa getting the defensive rebound against the Philadelphia 76ers, pushing it up the court, and walking into a straightaway 3.

Jamar:

Most memorable moment is probably Kyle’s ovation but from a Raptors perspective their 3OT win in Miami was probably the coolest game.

Manny:

Man how can anything from Scottie not be memorable? This dude plays hard and he’s amazing for the locker room. You see the way Pascal acts like the annoyed big brother and you can’t help but smile.

Kyle Lowry coming back was pretty cool too.

If you could pick one Raptor to win an award this season (other than Scottie), who would it be?

Don:

Nick Nurse for COTY.

Adon:

Chris Boucher, 6th Man of the Year. Freddy deserves All-Defence. Pascal’s going to get All-NBA (he damn well better). No one’s giving Bucci much amour. Classic mainstream NBA. Everyone just cares about points. Tyler Herro is the “run away favourite”. That’s a loaf of baloney. Boucher should at least be within nominee chatter. He’s not. He had a tough start to the year. Nurse exiled him on Bench Island. His forgiveness came way of being the Energy Guy. Which is who he remains as today. From Jan 1 onward, Nouveau Boucher averaged:
23 minutes | 10 points | 31% from 3 on 3 attempts | 3 offensive boards | 7 total boards | 1/2 a steal | 1 block
Among bench players who played at least 30 games and averaged at least 15 minutes, he’s 1st in offensive rebounds, 2nd in rebounds, 4th in blocks, 3rd LAST in turnovers, and 6th in +/-. In more complicated statistics, he has the 5th best on/off defensive RAPTOR in the league and were he properly referred to as a forward in Cleaning the Glass (he’s a “big”), he’d be in much higher percentiles in block % (77th percentile) and offensive rebounding % (66th percentile). And were we able to discern substitute players from starters in several other advanced statistics, he’d be highly ranked among other benchers.
Nonetheless, we know what he means to this team. He’s hardnosed, persistent – if only the NBA tracked how many fouls he’s drawn on offensive rebounds), hardworking, and a primary element of the Raptor’s defensive deployment. In fact, Toronto is 5 points better when he’s on the floor, which is 3rd highest on the team (Champagnie doesn’t count) and in the 79th percentile in the league. Without him, this bench is latrine juice. Few across the league can make such stinky, grandiose claims.

Lucas:

I think Pascal is very deserving of his All-NBA selection, and the Samson Folk article I recently translated reinforces that idea in my head. He had a great season on both sides of the court and was able to carry his team and win to take the Raptors to the playoffs. He showed that he could be the leader of this team and would deserve an All-NBA selection.

Louis:

I’ll go with Nick Nurse for Coach of the Year! There are other possibilities, for sure, but Nurse did a hell of a job. He was given a roster without guards, without shooting, and without initiation, and he turned the team into a defensive menace. He basically reinvented how to play offense by just running in transition and snatching every offensive rebound available. He decided to just … not use a backup point guard. Creative decisions, all. He maximized basically everyone in the rotation, and he squeezed more wins out of this group than I would have thought possible. All while development remained fantastique. Come to think of it, maybe he actually should win Coach of the Year.

Brendan:

Pascal for third team All NBA? Does that count? If not, I’d consider Trent for Most Improved.

Matt D.:

I’d honestly like to get the Guinness people in to measure Boucher’s headband for what might be the largest headband ever worn in pro sports.

Freddie:

All-NBA for Siakam. He’s been so great and had such a wonderful redemption season. It would be max feel-good.

Adam:

I know the COTY was already announced but It would have been nice to see NN win it. He’s just such a great coach and what he’s been able to do with this team with all their new personnel has been incredible.

Kyle:

Precious probably deserves some love for MIP. The magnitude of the jump from a borderline G-leaguer to 6th man on a playoff team is huge. There is no way he’ll win this year, but I’d keep an eye out for him next year in 2023. 

Matt S.:

This is a cruel question. Since I have to choose, I’ll pick Fred VanVleet for All-Defense.  His production on that end is highly underappreciated and this is a few years in the making.  Siakam missing All-NBA would be acknowledged by many as a slight/mistake, but Fred’s defense would remain overlooked.

Jamar:

Pascal will be third team All-NBA. Fred has a smaller shot at 2nd team all defence.

Manny:

I’m giving Nicky Nurse COTY because he’s the modern-day Harry Houdini. Or at least, the closest thing to.

If you could go back to when the season first started, knowing what you know now, what would you tell the world about the Raptors?

Don:

Raptors will show you how the organization should be operated.

Adon:

Yuta Watanabe deserved better.

Lucas:

I would tell the world that this Raptors team is going to surprise the entire NBA and have a season well beyond general expectations to finish ahead of the Nets, and all while playing very enjoyable basketball. Oh and also that Barnes will be ROY.

Louis:

I would tell the world to just slam the Raptors with every spread available. We’d all be rich! These people make Vegas look like fools!

Brendan:

Pascal Siakam is back.

Matt D.:

This season is going to light the lamps for a new era of Toronto Raptors basketball.

Freddie:

I would say enjoy the ride! This team is funky and doing something different. We’ve responded to the pace and space era with long arms and it’s working.

Adam:

I would tell the world that the Raptors are going to make life hell for every team they play.

Kyle:

Have faith in Masai. The Scottie pick was a massive risk at the time (don’t believe me? Check out RR’s reaction), and in retrospect it was yet another stroke of genius from Masai and Bobby. I’ll be the first to admit that I am more critical than most about the front office, and I stand by a lot of the criticisms I’ve levied over the years. That being said, I wouldn’t trade them for any other leadership tandem in the NBA.

Matt S.:

Believe in yourself. Believe in this city. Believe in this team.

Jamar:

This is something I already knew beforehand but put the fucking beyblade jokes away. Pascal is great.

Manny:

We know nothing and they know everything.

What’s one thing you would change about the season?

Don:

Free Yuta!

Adon:

Experimentation with our lineups. Lou and I have both written about how this team’s top-heavy line: FVV, GARY, OG, PASCAL, SCOTTIE, isn’t all that great. I would have experimented with Scottie or Gary as the 6th man spark plug early on in to utilize it in the playoffs without being a political transgression. Feels like that ship’s sailed.

Lucas:

This is a question I had a hard time answering because I think it would be hard to have a better season than the one achieved with the weapons the team had. So yes, nothing can be perfect and there are bound to be things that could have been better, but I think everything was managed very well overall. Maybe give more responsibility to Precious Achiuwa more quickly? And still…

Louis:

I would change Toronto’s ridiculous mental block against Detroit. Yeah, I get it, the Raps seem to have less to play for than the Pistons. Actually, that very reason just convinced me that I’m wrong. Who cares that Toronto lost to Detroit? Such games brought far more fun to the Pistons. So my real answer has to be injuries. If VanVleet didn’t hurt his knee, if Anunoby didn’t hurt his finger, the Raptors might just be the third seed — or, hey, the second! — in the East. And they’d be looking much more dangerous in the playoffs. Injuries suck for everyone, but they are even more harmful when teams have one point guard and three shooters on the roster.

Brendan:

I would not have included a first round pick in the trade for Thaddeus. If that pick was the dealbreaker, then I simply would’ve found another way to get rid of Goran Dragic. To put it plainly, the move simply felt like one that was made in order to save MLSE some money. Young isn’t winning you a championship in the near future, and he’s not someone you can develop to help you get to that point in the long term.

It doesn’t make sense to me, with the Raptors in the position that they are currently in, to trade a first round pick for an older veteran whose arsenal of skills overlaps with several other players on the team and doesn’t really fix or attempt to address any of their weaknesses. There isn’t even a guarantee that Thad is still on this team after the summer, at which point the Raptors may as well have given a first round pick to the Spurs for free.

I realize the Raptors also got the 33rd pick in the deal, but there is a massive talent drop off from the early 20’s to the early 30’s in any draft, and in one that is regarded as potentially weaker than normal, that talent drop off also has the potential to be much more drastic. With the early returns on the prospects I’ve scouted in that range, I’m not as enthusiastic as I normally would be unless someone surprising drops.

Matt D.:

Managing Fred’s load a bit better. Feel like his workload at certain points really contributed to his injuries.

Freddie:

I wish the Raptors had a more careful approach to monitoring minutes. It’s great that we finished with 48 wins, but it felt like the approach was a bit too short term at certain points of the season.

Adam:

Nothing at all. This season has been great. No regrets at all.

Kyle:

Get Scottie the Rock more. This is his team, and the sooner we embrace that the better.

Matt S.:

Honestly, why can’t we beat the Pistons?  This haunts me.

Jamar:

To be honest, I don’t know. Anything bad that happened (no fans, protocols, injuries) was out of their control. I think I keep it all the same, it made the team better.

Manny:

I’m still not liking the shade of red on those all-red uniforms. I care about fashion, OK?

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