2023 NBArank: 67
2022 NBArank: 75
2023 NBA preseason
Swing skill: Anunoby is an elite defensive player, strong and skilled enough at that end to guard virtually any player or position. What goes unnoticed at times, however, is that he’s become a very dependable 3-point shooter, hitting more than 38% on more than six attempts per game over the past three seasons. If Anunoby keeps that up, he’s going to be in for a massive payday next summer — either in Toronto or elsewhere.
2023 NBArank: 25
2022 NBArank: 30
Why he rose five spots: Siakam led the NBA in minutes per game for a second consecutive season, putting up another impressive stat line while just missing out on an All-NBA spot — one of the few bright spots in an otherwise disappointing season in Toronto that ended with a loss to the Bulls in the play-in tournament.
One huge question for the season: After Fred VanVleet left the Raptors as a free agent last summer, the fact that Siakam is entering the final year of his contract is going to be an ongoing storyline in Toronto this season. If the Raptors struggle under first-year coach Darko Rajakovic, Siakam’s future — and whether he’ll be in Toronto after the trade deadline — could easily become a big theme.
Had the pleasure of a really great photographer and videographer ( @the_picketfence ) covering the Raptors in BC for us. This video does a great job of showing you how training camp went. https://t.co/3gnc0AIcsW
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) October 12, 2023
Masai Ujiri’s and Pascal Siakam’s answers on media day were parsed in microscopic detail. The Raptors star didn’t seem to like it very much, but he’ll have to get used to it.
This is what happens now when a star gets as far as training camp without signing an extension the year before he’s projected to be a free agent.
The first few months of the season will be an observational period for the star, who plays the same position as Scottie Barnes, Toronto’s future and the 2022 Rookie of the Year. If the Raptors play uninspiring, ill-fitting .500 ball for another season, exchanging the 29-year-old Siakam for a package that helps the team get younger will make more sense than paying him. Every extra dribble and end-of-clock midrange jumper Siakam takes this season will be viewed through the lens of Ujiri’s comments on the team’s selfishness.
The Raptors’ early returns under rookie head coach Darko Rajakovic—30 assists on 39 field goals in one preseason game—and a peppier step after a season characterized by bad vibes offer signs of a potential turnaround.
These are the things Ujiri, who has taken heat for not offering Siakam an extension already, will be focusing on when he evaluates the star’s future with the franchise.
Even if everything in Toronto does end up being copacetic, holding off on an extension is likely in Siakam’s best interest. The most Toronto could offer him right now is $202 million over four years, which is $100 million and a year less than the supermax Siakam could be eligible for if he has an All-NBA season. But only Toronto could sign him to a supermax, which is probably part of the reason Chris Haynes reported that Siakam won’t sign an extension with a team that trades for him in an effort to dissuade potential suitors.
Portland, entering a full-scale rebuild, is off the board as a potential suitor. Offers from teams like the Pacers and Hawks are only likely to get worse for the Raptors as each day passes. Let the free agency departure of Fred VanVleet be a lesson: The sooner the Raptors can find clarity, the better.
Schroder replaces VanVleet in the lineup, but Barnes will probably need to take on a larger playmaking role. He’ll also need to shoot better. His effective field goal percentage of 38.5% on shots from outside the paint last season was the second-worst mark among 212 players with at least 200 attempts. Barnes showed the potential of a do-everything star as a rookie, but it’s still not clear what of the “everything” he’s going to do well. — John Schuhmann
Although we haven’t had much of a chance to see him play NBA basketball, we’ve seen flashes in the opportunities he’s been given so far. He got extended run in that preseason game last Sunday against Sacramento, in which he scored five points, one assist, and three rebounds in fourteen minutes. Obviously, we aren’t going to take a preseason game too seriously, so let’s look back on Gradey’s college years.
Gradey Dick played collegiate basketball for the University of Kansas, his home state after becoming a 5-star recruit in high school. He won Gatorade National Player of the Year in 2022 as a high school senior. He only played one season in the NCAA (2022-2023), being named to the second team All-Big 12, as well as the Big-12 All-Freshman team.
In 36 games played for the Jayhawks, he averaged 32.7 minutes per game. He had 14.1 points per game, 1.7 assists per game, and 5.1 assists per game. Maybe most impressive of all was his 40.3% three-point percentage.
One of the biggest talking points as Gradey has transitioned into the NBA has been his shooting ability. Maybe it’s really that good, maybe the Raptors are just desperate for some shooting prowess on the roster. Time will tell. He was regarded as the “best shooter in the NBA draft” this year — and the Raptors, desperately needing that on their team, lucked out when he dropped to thirteen.
He’s a tall wing at six foot eight inches, and that size gives him the match up advantage in a lot of cases. He can also become a rebounding threat with some development at that size — another thing the Raptors definitely need on the roster. Of course one of the things he will have to work on as he enters the NBA is bulking up, so he is able to match the physicality of many NBA guards in the league, as well as be a true defensive threat. Think how O.G. Anunoby operates — his size makes him a defensive POWERHOUSE and he can also shoot from distance. Gradey is nineteen years old though, born in 2003 (feel old? same), and again, that will take time. Another highlight for him in draft talks was his quick release — already on display in the Raptors’ first preseason game.
He’s definitely entered into a good situation to develop over his rookie season. He’s under a head coach in Rajakovic who has has history in player development, with a staff who have the same experience and dedication to developing young NBA talent. He may have more run in this NBA regular season than he may have had on another team or even another iteration of the Raptors. Still, he has to come behind O.G. Anunoby, Scottie Barnes and Gary Trent Jr. in his position as a wing. If Gradey can develop into a true bench back up wing, it could be a huge positive note for the Raptors.
It’s fair to say acquiring Poeltl helped the Raptors avoid (in the most technical sense) a losing season, and secure a play-in spot. Now, whether or not that was worth trading away a future first… well. This is a player preview, not a front office review, so let’s just focus on Jak for now, shall we?
Poeltl checks pretty much all the boxes you need checked from a non-superstar centre. On offense, he doesn’t need the ball, he’s got good hands and a soft touch around the rim, he’s a capable passer and a solid screener. He knows where to go on the floor and how to make himself big.
He’s also a good roll man, and with Schröder, should prove to be part of a solid pick-and-roll two man action. And he runs the floor well for his size. He can’t shoot threes (or score much at all past eight feet from the hoop) but for a fifth option, that’s fine.
Defensively, he’s not a shot blocking menace but Poeltl’s got a good defensive IQ, decent timing, and he can box out the opposing team’s best rebounder. He still seems to pick up too many fouls, though I’ll argue all day that dozens of other big mean set more egregious moving screens and don’t pick up half the calls Poeltl does.
This year, with new had coach Darko Rajaković preaching an offensive system predicated on ball movement, Poeltl should thrive. The Raptors were awfully stagnant last year, slow to make decisions, with the offensive typically taking 20+ seconds to get anything done (they were 25th in the league in pace, despite being third in the league in fast break points!). If the 2023-24 Raptors get up the floor and into their sets quickly, and get the ball moving, Poeltl can play a huge role, despite his scoring limitations. As I said, he knows where to be on the floor and he’s a good passer; and with a full preseason to build chemistry, he has the potential to be a hub in the middle of the floor from which the team can spread the ball around. (Whether or not the team has enough shooting to make that matter, well…)
And defensively, this team should be solid; Schröder isn’t the defender VanVleet is, but he’s solid, and Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby are both above average wing defenders. Scottie Barnes is still a question mark on D but Poeltl should be able to backstop any deficiencies on the perimeter.
The problem is, for all the good things Poeltl can do, and all the good things he brings to the team… I don’t think the Raptors are the right team for him. I kinda hate that the Raptors paid Poeltl the 4-year, $78 million contract; they had to give him the payday, because if they didn’t and he walked away, it would have made trading away a future first so much worse, but this just doesn’t seem like the right situation to pay your fifth-option starting centre that much.
Buy-in comes only if the respect is there first and, despite this being his first NBA head-coaching job, Rajakovic has already earned that as far as Young is concerned.
“He’s his own person,” the third-year Raptor said. “He’s a one of one. He’s tough. He knows what he wants to do. He gives us the ability to kind of give him feedback and talk to him about certain things and to make tweaks here and there. And then he has the ability also as a coach — sometimes coaches get stuck into their schemes and stuck in their ways. But he recognizes the personnel and he recognizes how stagnant a play may look and then he’ll say, ‘OK, I effed up. Let’s do it this way or let’s make it easier for you guys this way.’
“I love that in a coaches’ abilities, when they can really dive in and nitpick their own stuff and say, ‘OK, this is how we’re going to run it to make it better for us,’ as opposed to just trying to make it better for him,” Young said. “Because he’s not playing in the game. We’re playing. So he has to make it adaptable for us … to win a basketball game.”
There are certain non-negotiables with Rajakovic, too, and No. 1 sounds very much like it’s something akin to this: Don’t hold the ball on offence.
According to Young, every time in practice the ball starts to stick, Rajakovic stops the proceedings and points out where the ball should be going at that point, whether it’s a pass, a drive or a shot.
“He’s been around,” Young said. “He understands the game. He knows it. It doesn’t feel like he’s (a) first-time (NBA head coach). But obviously there’s going to be things that first-time coaches have to kind of adapt to, like the structure of our practice schedule is a little bit different than the norm around the league or anything I’ve played for. But those are all things that are easy tweaks and stuff like that. … But he’s been great. It’s like he’s a veteran out there.”
As for picking up Rajakovic’s new offensive and defensive schemes, Young is quick to point out that while they may be new compared to what the Raptors ran a year ago, the concepts are still basketball concepts that everyone in a Raptors uniform grew up playing.
Certainly, they are nothing Young hasn’t seen over 17 years and he’s ready to do his part to make the transition period as easy as possible.