Chaos reigns in the NBA.
Look no further than last season’s Finals fighters: Champions Warriors are dealing with the fallout of Draymond Green punching teammate Jordan Poole in training, while the Celtics are led by a new manager after Ime Udoka was suddenly suspended for the year just before retirement.
Given that, in addition to the owner drama in Phoenix, the commercial demand drama in Brooklyn and more, the question that will define next season may be: Is it possible to reign amidst the chaos?
The Toronto Raptors bet the answer is yes, if the chaos is controlled.
Compared to the aforementioned teams, the Raptors’ off-season has barely appeared. When they start their home season against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night (7:30 PM ET), it will be mostly the same cast of characters.
The owners will likely be Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam. Except for opening night, those five started every game they all got on well together a year ago.
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Toronto’s most impactful off-season addition may be Otto Porter Jr., a former Warrior who should inject some much-needed footage. His most notable addition may have been Juancho Hernangomez, who is best known for playing Bo Cruz in the film. Febrile activity.
The Raptors spent their only draft pick, a second rounder, at center Christian Koloko, who was born in the same Cameroonian town as Siakam. Koloko immediately became the team’s only seven-footer.
On the bench will be veterans Porter Jr. and Thaddeus Young along with a pair of highly talented but error-prone centers in Chris Boucher and Precious Achiuwa.
Those are all controlled variables, elements that proved they could work in harmony when the Raptors took the fifth-seeded East in last season’s playoffs before falling in six games to the Philadelphia 76ers.
“I just feel a little bit of urgency, I feel a little bit of being together and I feel a real intensity this summer, and I think these are all three really good words for getting into a training camp,” said the nurse. during the media day. “I think the team is shaping the identity that came up a bit at the end of last year. They know who they are and are looking to expand it. It’s been a good summer.”
Barnes, Siakam exemplify the experiment
The Raptors are a basketball experiment: instead of “positionless basketball,” Toronto has assembled a roster of players who essentially all play in the same position.
That position is loosely defined: reigning rookie of the year Scottie Barnes, apparently your prototype six-foot-seven forward, was listed on guard / forward on the team’s season opener list.
“I don’t know what position that guy holds. He’s one of those guys who only plays basketball and he’s an incredible basketball player,” Ujiri said.
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The same could be said of Siakam, Anunoby, Achiuwa, Boucher and even Young.
Ideally, all of those players can organize an infraction, make plays with the ball, and connect on open catch and shoot opportunities. In defense, anyone can bounce and defend opponents regardless of height, weight or speed.
The others bring enough elements to make enough work for the Raptors to play their favorite basketball style, creating turnovers with speed and wingspan, scoring in transition and eventually earning more possessions than the other team.
Last season, the Raptors forced their opponent’s second number of turnovers while racking up the second-most steals in the NBA.
In a way, it’s refreshingly simple: if you take more shots than your opponent, the chances are you’ll earn more points.
VanVleet’s key to success
Where the Raptors had trouble last season was converting on those extra opportunities. Toronto’s field goal percentage ranked 25th in the league.
Of the 10 players listed between Barnes at 6’7 “and Boucher at 6’9”, VanVleet stands out.
His job is to keep the Raptors afloat, both as a traditional 6’1 “point guard and as a three-point shooter with 38.2% for his career. While Barnes and Siakam work to tighten their handles, VanVleet is already there, control amidst the chaos of the Raptors, able to fix things with a flick of the clutch or a cleverly executed pick-and-roll.
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But if VanVleet, in a sense, represents the floor of the Raptors, then Siakam and Barnes are the ceiling.
Between the 2019 championship run and the pandemic, the Raptors hadn’t enjoyed a normal off-season for four years until last summer. After the previous one, Siakam won Most Improved Player.
If there is another leap, it would go a long way to filling the Raptors superstar void. Two possible elements of growth for Siakam are the management of the ball and the ability to create one’s own shot.
Barnes, meanwhile, is potential personified. To the best of him, there are tips by LeBron James as a forward point he creates for others as he forces turnovers by playing in free safety on defense.
If the 21-year-old suffers a second-year slump, the Raptors could once again become first-round fodder, or even fall back into play-in matches.
But if Barnes and Siakam step forward once again, Toronto could have a real run – at least, that’s the guess.