The youth movement will be on full display when the Toronto Raptors open their season at home Wednesday night against Washington.
There was no major Canadian professional sports team impacted more by COVID-19 than the Toronto Raptors. Last season, the Raptors were displaced to Tampa, Fla. all year and a combination of a COVID outbreak and injuries meant all of their starters missed at least 16 games. Now, franchise legend Kyle Lowry is gone and it’s a new era in the Six.
Despite last season’s down-year, there should be plenty of optimism around this team. The architect of Toronto’s 2019 championship team, Masai Ujiri, is officially signed on for the long-haul and there’s some promising young talent in the system, including 2021 fourth overall draft pick Scottie Barnes. Also, with members of the 2019 championship team like Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby still firmly in their prime, there’s a lot to like about this 2021-22 Toronto Raptors team.
Toronto Raptors Projected Opening Night Starting Five
Goran Dragic: Dragic’s time in Toronto didn’t exactly get off to the best start as he originally seemed less than thrilled to join the Raptors, but he’s here now and if he plays his best basketball, he’ll be an impact player. The 35-year-old is a rare veteran piece who can be a mentor on a young roster. He can also still produce. Dragic averaged 13.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists in 27 minutes over 50 games with Miami last season and he’s comfortable starting or coming off the bench. The 13-year NBA vet is one of those players you hate to play against, but love to have on your team. Toronto needs that type of player badly.
Fred VanVleet: VanVleet is essentially the face of this franchise now. Ujiri and head coach Nick Nurse expect big things from VanVleet, as he’s raised his scoring every year and averaged a career-high 19.6 points per game last season. Perhaps his biggest contribution though, is on the defensive side of the ball. VanVleet led the league in deflections last year and has established himself as one of the best defensive point guards in the NBA. That defensive ability is going to be huge, especially early on, for a young team that will make mistakes.
OG Anunoby: Anunoby, the first British person to ever win an NBA championship, is another elite defender. He’s got the size and strength to defend most bigs in the league. He also uses his quickness and speed to keep himself in front of opposing guards. Anunoby is also becoming a two-way threat. He’s a career 37.5 per cent shooter from three and last year saw a spike in his points per game average. Anunoby averaged 14.3 points before the trade deadline and bumped that number to 18.2 after the Norman Powell trade. This season is a huge opportunity for Anunoby to go from effective player to star player.
Pascal Siakam: Siakam will miss the first part of the year because of off-season shoulder surgery, but he remains a prime candidate for a bounce-back year. Siakam’s four-year $130 million contract, signed in 2019, came with a lot of pressure. It seemed like the two-way player was trying too hard to prove his worth, rather than just play his game. If Siakam can come back healthy and focused, Toronto could finish the year as a top-10 defensive team.
Khem Birch: Birch still has a lot to prove, but he’ll get a much better opportunity and bigger role in Toronto. The Raptors picked up the Canadian centre off waivers from Orlando last season. Through 19 games, the Raptors were +8.5 points per possession better with Birch on the floor. They also shot +4.4 per cent more effectively and turned the ball over less, -3.6 per cent. Birch has the potential to be one of the best Raptors’ centres in franchise history.
Toronto Raptors Key Reserves
Scottie Barnes: As the fourth overall draft pick, Barnes is +662 to win Rookie of the Year, trailing only Jalen Suggs (+530), Cade Cunningham (+248) and the favourite, Jalen Green (+244). The Raptors will slowly ease Barnes will into the lineup. His shooting needs work, but his superior ability to handle the ball could give him an opportunity to play alongside Anunoby and Siakam.
Malachi Flynn: Flynn had a slow start to his rookie campaign last year, but he showed noticeable improvement in the final two months of the year. He started 14 of the final 21 games and averaged 21.5 points per game on 40 per cent shooting in April and May. Expect steady improvements for Flynn in year two.
Gary Trent Jr.: Trent will likely end up starting ahead of Dragic at some point this year. He’s an above average shooter and he led the NBA with 41 field goal attempts per 100 touches last year. Expect the 22-year-old to begin the season coming off the bench and eventually move into the starting lineup.
Precious Achiuwa: After a solid Summer League showing, Achiuwa started all five of Toronto’s pre-season games. He was the teams third-leading scorer with 12.4 points per game. He also shot 50 per cent from the field and led the team with 8.6 rebounds per game. This will be a big development year for Achiuwa.
Chris Boucher: Boucher will miss the start of the season as he recovers from surgery on his finger. The Canadian averaged 13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 24.2 minutes per game last season. Entering the final year of his contract, Boucher has a lot of motivation to have a big year.
Toronto Raptors NBA Betting Odds
Toronto’s regular season win total on the NBA futures board is listed at 36.5. This is a much different roster than years past, but I’d lean towards the Over 36.5 wins at -170. Outside of last season, the Raptors had over 50 wins in four straight years. There’s some value with the Raptors at +180 to make the playoffs. At +1900 to win the Atlantic Division, I’d rather take the Nets at -215 or the 76ers at +265. The long shot bets are Toronto to win the Eastern Conference at +2200 and win the NBA championship at +4600.
The best Raptors player props are Anunoby as a second-favourite to win Most Improved Player at +900 and Barnes to win Rookie of the Year at +662. Dragic has already said he’d prefer to eventual come off the bench, so he might not be a bad value option to win Sixth Man of the Year at +2500. Some long shot player props include the NBA Most Valuable Player being Siakam (+13700) or VanVleet (+25700).
Toronto Raptors Season Prediction
For the first time in a decade, the Raptors will enter a new season without Lowry. The future is bright, however, with a solid part of their 2019 championship team’s core still on the roster and emerging stars like Barnes, Flynn and Trent ready to take the next step in their development. The East is more competitive than it’s ever been, so it’s not reasonable to think the Raptors have a shot to actually win the conference, but they’ll compete for a spot in the play-in tournament.
Mark Toronto down for a 42-40 regular season record. They’ll take a step forward and make it through the play-in tournament, but won’t get past the first-round of the playoffs.