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2023-24 NBA Season Preview: Toronto Raptors

Darko Rajakovic Toronto Raptors

Raptors NBA
Jan 14, 2022; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Memphis Grizzlies acting head coach Darko Rajakovic watches during the first half against the Dallas Mavericks at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

2023-24 NBA Season Preview: Toronto Raptors

We are less than a week away from the start of the 2023-24 NBA season! Up until opening night on Oct. 24, we will be previewing all 30 NBA teams! Today, we will be previewing the Toronto Raptors, who will have a new head coach at the wheel and are still in-search of a clear direction as an organization.

What happened last year?

It was a 2022-23 season to forget for Toronto, who finished 41-41 after expecting to be a top-8 team in the Eastern Conference. Despite Pascal Siakam’s brilliance for much of the season, the Raptors were one of the least efficient half-court offenses in basketball due to the lack of ball movement and shot creation, though generated the exact opposite results with their multitude of wings in transition.

Defensively, Toronto was subpar to their standards before acquiring Jakob Poeltl, who helped their rim protection. But the Raptors still lacked size and defensive aptitude outside of the burling 7-foot big; combine that with mental wear-and-tear from their demanding coach, and the results became unfruitful!

Offseason recap:

The Raptors fired head coach Nick Nurse–who eventually ended up in Philly–and hired Darko Rajakovic, an offensive-minded pick-and-roll guru. They also lost Fred VanVleet to the Houston Rockets, but re-signed Jakob Poeltl as well as bringing in Dennis Schroder (to replace FVV) and drafted sharpshooter Gradey Dick. They took a step back, but could still jostle for a play-in spot in 2023-24.

Projected Starting Five?

Dennis Schroder, G — After VanVleet departed to Houston, Schroder entered as his heir apparent. Schroder lacks the 3-point shooting prowess and shot creation that VanVleet’s demonstrated (at points of his career), but can still slash and be feisty at the point-of-attack defensively. It’s a worthwhile gamble for Toronto, even though it lowers their overall floor and ceiling.

Scottie Barnes, F — It was an underwhelming sophomore season for Barnes on both ends, though he made himself more useful as a hand-off initiator and screener last season. Barnes, who averaged 15.3 points on 52.4 percent true shooting in 2022-23, carries a unique skillset, must improve his 3-point shooting to make himself more malleable within this roster.

Pascal Siakam, F — Siakam’s offseason was mired by trade rumors to the Atlanta Hawks. He has one more year left on his contract, and after reports surfaced that he won’t be signing an extension, he was ruled inactive

OG Anunoby, F — Even though his touches are oftentimes limited, Anunoby is a special defender and is a great 3-point shooter, knocking down 38.7 percent of his 3-point attempts last season and 37.5 percent for his career. If Rajakovic allows him to take more charge in his motion-heavy offense this season, expect an uptick in his production this upcoming season.

Jakob Poeltl, C — Poeltl was acquired in a midseason trade from the San Antonio Spurs and was incredibly impactful in a limited sample. Poeltl helped Toronto’s shot creation as a screener, helping free up Siakam and Fred VanVleet–their most prominent ball-handlers. Though his biggest impact came defensively; the Raptors were 9.9 points better (98th percentile) on defense when Poeltl was on the floor compared to when he wasn’t, per Cleaning The Glass. Opponents shot 0.9 percent worse at the rim and 5.1 percent worse in the short mid-range (~4-14 ft.) when Poeltl–who averaged 1.3 with the Raptors post-trade–was manning the rim.

Notable Reserves:

Gary Trent Jr., G — If Toronto wants to, they could start Barnes-Trent-Anunoby-Siakam-Poeltl with Schroder coming off the bench, but I have Trent pegged as their sixth-man as of right now. He averaged 17.4 points on 43.3 percent shooting and 36.9 percent from deep last season; Trent’s 3-and-D skillet is valuable to this roster, which doesn’t have much of the former.

Gradey Dick, G/F — The Raptors were a bottom-three long-range shooting team last season and nabbed arguably the best shooter in the draft in Gradey Dick. His current frame and defensive deficiencies could limit his short-term upside, but expect the 6-foot-8 wing to make an immediate impact from distance at the back end of their rotation this season.

Biggest X-Factor? Scottie Barnes

The Raptors aren’t a realistic top-6 seed in the East with this roster, and might not be a top-8 team when it’s all said and done, given what could happen at the deadline. But it would be very encouraging to see a third-year leap from Barnes, who possesses long-term All-Star potential. Sure, his (offensive) game is not perfect, but if he can consistently improve his deficiencies, he’s prime for a strong bounce-back season.

Season projection?

I have the Raptors finishing 38-44 as the No. 11 seed in the East.

***

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