NBA Season Preview, Toronto Raptors

NBA Season Preview 2020-21: 5 big questions for the Toronto Raptors

The Raptors managed to retain Fred VanVleet in free agency, but will that be enough to keep them in the hunt for an Eastern Conference title?

Masai Ujiri and the Raptors front office quietly had a lot of work to do this offseason. They managed to retain Fred VanVleet which was crucial for the team’s hopes of remaining amongst the Eastern Conference elite. Unfortunately, losing strong veterans like Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol have the Raptors’ roster looking weaker than it did just a season ago.

The best thing the franchise still has going for them is the coaching genius of Nick Nurse on the sidelines. Don’t rule out the idea that he can find a way to make this team even better despite the loss of key veterans.

If he is going to make that happen, he’ll need to answer the five following questions.

1. Fred VanVleet: Overpaid or Kyle Lowry’s worthy successor?

The answer is somewhere in the middle of these two options. Giving VanVleet a four-year, $85 million extension wasn’t bad value in terms of this offseason’s market, but it’s a lot of money for a guard who should never be Toronto’s No. 1 option.

On the other hand, VanVleet is overqualified to be the team’s No. 2 option on the perimeter. He’ll never be as good as Lowry was in his prime, but if Ujiri can find a way to bring in another elite guard to play alongside VanVleet then he’ll continue to provide the franchise strong value despite his rising cap number.

2. How do the Raptors keep chugging along going from Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol to Aron Baynes and Alex Len?

The mistake of this question is that Chris Boucher isn’t mentioned alongside Baynes and Len. He was on the roster last season, but his role was pretty minimal behind Gasol and Ibaka for most of the season.

Baynes is the favorite to be the starter, but look for Boucher to supplant Len as the backup against most opponents. The sheer energy he plays the game with will give Nurse’s team a big boost.

Add it all up and the Raptors have suffered a downgrade at center, but it’s not going to be crippling. The three-headed monster of Baynes, Boucher, and Len will still profile as comfortably above league average during the regular season. Don’t look for the wholesale personnel change upfront to change much for Toronto from a tactical perspective.

3. What’s next in the development of Pascal Siakam?

Siakam took on a much larger role in the Raptors’ offense last season, but his efficiency took a meaningful step backward. His challenge for this year is simple: maintain his volume while recapturing some o the efficiency that made him so effective during the 2018-19 campaign.

In particular, that means he needs to shoot the ball much better from inside the arc. There’s no reason a player with his athletic gifts should shoot 45.3 percent from 2. If he can push that statistic back over the 50 percent plateau then Toronto should see a major boost in their offensive efficiency.

4. What can OG Anunoby add to his offensive game?

Unlike Siakam, Anunoby is in a position where he needs to add significant volume to his offensive game. Specifically, the young wing needs to find a way to get more 3-pointers up this season. Only taking 3.3 shots from distance per night is a waste of his ability to stretch the defense.

If he wants to increase his volume dramatically, he’ll need to improve the versatility of his jump shot. Right now, the majority of his attempts come on catch-and-shoot attempts from the corner. Developing the ability to run off screens and pin downs to get three-pointers up would be huge for Anunoby.

5. Which bingeable tv-series is crucial to understanding Norman Powell?

Powell remains one of the more enigmatic players in the NBA. When he’s locked in and rolling, he gives the Raptors a really valuable player on the wing. When he’s not, he becomes unplayable in an entirely different sense of the word.

The key for Powell is to avoid returning to the island of mediocrity. That’s something the creators of “Lost” should have avoided during the series’ abominable final season. If Powell can stop himself from regressing to his old ways, he could develop into an above-average starter for a team capable of making a deep postseason run.

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