What can we expect from the Toronto Raptors for the 2022-2023 NBA Season?
“I want you to put the word out there that we back up”
That epic line from The Wire’s Stringer Bell perfectly describes how the Toronto Raptors feel heading into a new season.
With Kyle Lowry in a Heat jersey and the city a year further removed from its championship run, Toronto seemed content last year to trust team president Masai Ujiri and methodically rebuild. It felt like the Raptors were taking its first major step backwards since Massai’s 2013 hiring and the infamous Rudy Gay trade.
Then, the Raptors bucked consensus and drafted Scottie Barnes over Jalen Suggs with the fourth overall pick. After a 15-17 start, Toronto found their footing and earned the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference, going 33-17 after New Year’s.
All of a sudden, talking heads across the league weren’t sure how a 76ers squad with both Joel Embid and James Harden would fare against the Raptors. Toronto lost to Philly in 6 but only needed half a season to go from a “long-term rebuild” to an asset-packed playoff team.
Scottie Barnes is one of the most coveted young players in the league, Pascal Siakam is better than ever, and VanVleet is an All-Star. Even in a stacked East, Toronto can compete with anyone on any given night.
So how can the Raptors build on last season’s success? It starts with the defending Rookie of the Year, Scottie Barnes. The one player Toronto refused to consider in a Kevin Durant trade will be looking to build on his debut season. Barnes showed the all-around game of a 10-year vet but looks to be just scratching the surface of his potential.
Barnes needs to improve his 3-point efficiency (30.1%) and become a bigger factor on pick and rolls, but there’s no doubt he is the cornerstone of the team at 21 years old, even with Siakim and VanVleet still their primes.
Speaking of Fred and Pascal, their transition from the Bench Mob days is something to marvel at. Pascal has proved all the haters wrong and set his sights on being a top 5 NBA player. Offensively he carries the Raptors in every facet you could imagine, and his playmaking skills are a big reason why the Raptors are a dominant fastbreak squad.
Fred VanVleet is coming off an All-Star year but wore down as the season progressed and needs to play fewer minutes. VanVleet can’t handle 38 minutes a game, and that means either Malachi Flynn or Danalo Banton must earn playing time and the coaching staff’s trust. Barnes and Siakim are elite playmakers for their size, but the team needs a natural point guard on the floor more often when Fred gets a rest.
Who will earn those coveted backup guard minutes? It seemed like Malachi Flynn had the upper hand with a make-it-or-break-it season on the horizon. Unfortunately for Flynn, a fractured cheekbone sidelined him for much of the preseason, and in his place, Danalo Banton has shined. During the preseason, Banton has displayed marked offensive improvement and confidence following a fantastic summer stint with Canada’s men’s national team. As long as he can keep Toronto’s half-court offence from getting stuck in the mud and hit the occasional 3, the Rexdale native will get plenty of minutes.
Entering his sixth year in the NBA, O.G. Anunoby is hoping for a bigger offensive role than in past seasons. Anunoby has constantly been praised for the ability to score without being a focal point of the offence but proved last year more looks should come his way. O.G. has improved year after year in a Raptors uniform, and if that continues, he could conceivably be considered the best 2-way player in the game by Valentine’s Day
Gary Trent Jr. needs to get more love for how he’s performed as a Raptor. It was clear during Toronto’s series against Philly how integral he is to the offence. If Toronto can’t get out in transition, Trent is always ready to take a shot late in the clock. Between his elite 3-point shooting and smothering defence, the 23-year-old could garner some All-Star buzz this season.
The last major rotation player to look out for is Precious Achiuwa. He became a 3-point marksman after the all-star break last year, and his handle has looked spectacular in the preseason. He should garner starters’ minutes even with Khem Birch looking spry following offseason knee surgery and Chris Boucher back on a multi-year contract.
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The Toronto Raptor’s opening week schedule:
Cleveland at Toronto – Wednesday, October 19, 7:30 pm ET
The eastern conference may be loaded with superstar-laden teams, but both the Raptors and Cavaliers want to build on promising 21-22 seasons. Last year’s rookie of the year, Scottie Barnes faces the award’s runner-up Evan Mobley, and Fred VanVleet will have his hands full with former Utah Jazz All-Star Donovan Mitchell
Toronto at Brooklyn – Friday, October 21, 7:30 pm ET
The Brooklyn Nets were able to keep their big three together by the skin of their teeth. They easily have the highest floor and lowest ceiling of the East’s elite. After months of offseason trade speculation, It’ll be interesting to see how Kevin Duran leads the Nets and interacts with head coach Steve Nash. In just his second real game in 488 days, everyone will want to see how Ben Simmons performs, especially against the length and defence of the Raptors
Toronto at Miami – Saturday, October 22, 8 pm ET
Kyle Lowry and the Heat host the Raptors; I’m never going to get used to writing that. This will be another early season look at a Raptors rival with a lot of intrigues. Is Tyler Herro on the verge of superstardom? Is Jimmy Butler exiting his prime? Can Bam Adebayo live up to monumental expectations? Even with all those question marks, the heat has championship expectations and will be a great early measuring stick for Toronto.