With the general landscape in the East and the Raptors’ series of roster changes, will the team finally make it back to the playoffs? Let’s try to predict what awaits Toronto in the 2021-22 NBA season.
3. The Raptors will make progress in defense
The Raptors posted a defensive rating of 112.0 last season to place 15th in the league. It’s a pretty decent record and maybe that’s why the team have been able to keep their heads above water throughout the season. This is a combination of Nick Nurse’s know-how and the current makeup of the roster.
As for one, of the 15 players in their roster, a total of eight players have a wingspan of at least seven feet. Chris Boucher, the tallest in the lineup at 6ft 10in, has a 7ft 4in wingspan. Their smallest player with a massive wingspan (7ft 1) is Ishmail Wainright, who is 6ft 5in tall. Even Scottie Barnes, their fourth overall pick, has a massive 7-foot-3 wingspan.
Basketball has always been a game of height and length. We all know how long players can disrupt passing lanes, deflect passes, and effectively block or challenge shots. Not only that, if you look at the team, almost all of them can hold multiple positions. This is a great advantage in positionless basketball today. The Raptors will have no problem with the switches. Targeting Fred VanVleet makes the most sense, but what will you do once you get on track with a group of long-haul players who gang up on you?
Nurse will likely put more emphasis on defense this season. And once again, he will keep his head above water.
2. Nick Nurse and Co. will fail to qualify for the playoffs
Much like last season, the Raptors will likely fail to qualify for the playoffs again. The Eastern Conference accumulates year after year. The likes of the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks – teams that have struggled to qualify for the playoffs over the past two years – will likely be eternal contenders for seasons to come. The Charlotte Hornets, with the emergence of LaMelo Ball, could also advance to the playoffs.
Also, let’s not forget the Washington Wizards who received a major boost with the Russell Westbrook trade.
These realities in the East will make it even more difficult for Nick Nurse to guide his team to a playoff appearance. However, this does not indicate that they are heading in the wrong direction or that they should completely revise their list. The loss of Kyle Lowry has undoubtedly made a dent. It’s also important to point out that they have lost key players like Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and Normal Powell since winning the title in 2019.
Although they still have Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, it’s not as solid and formidable as their championship core before. Are the Raptors rebuilding? Or are they waiting for the emergence of OG Anunoby or their precious recruit Scottie Barnes? Either way, even though the Torontonians fail to make the playoffs, they’re still in good shape.
1. Masai Ujiri to make another blockbuster with the Raptors in February
Masai Ujiri was set to become the laughing stock of the league or the greatest front office executive of all time after acquiring Kawhi Leonard through trade. As a reminder, Leonard had to stay only one season with the Raptors and leave. This would mean that if Toronto lost, they would get next to nothing from the trade.
As fate willed it, the Raptors won it all. Leonard was immediately put on the pedestal as the god of basketball. More importantly, Toronto has a great basketball spirit in Ujiri.
On last year’s trade deadline, Ujiri sent Norman Powell to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood. It was quite a courageous move considering that Powell has grown steadily as an offensive weapon. That says a lot about Ujiri’s state of mind – how he’s prepared to part ways with even his best players.
At first glance, no one is untouchable on the Raptor roster. Ujiri will likely continue to strengthen his squad. That said, don’t be surprised if a commercial package again includes one of the key elements of the Raptors.