The Raptors’ x-factor for the 2021-22 NBA season, and it’s not Pascal Siakam

The Toronto Raptors have had a very disappointing season in 2020-21. The team never fully recovered after losing all-star forward Kawhi Leonard and although they made the playoffs in the NBA Bubble last summer, the season that just passed was a show. realistic strength for training. Now, at the start of this season, Canada’s only team retained the most important piece, forward Pascal Siakam, but lost longtime fan favorite goalie Kyle Lowry, who left to join Jimmy Butler in Miami.

They got goalkeeper Goran Dragic back, but his arrival was not without controversy. The Slovenian was caught stating that Toronto was not his favorite destination and was forced to issue a statement apologizing to Raptors fans. Controversy aside, his veteran presence should help Toronto reach the Eastern Conference playoffs.

However, it’s clear that Lowry’s direct exchange for Dragic won’t be the deciding factor in what the Raptors do next year. Since they’ve had a pretty calm summer, real progress has to come from within. The X-Factors for the coming season will most likely be veterans OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet. The forward and keeper, respectively, made strides forward last year, but this year will be the decision maker as to whether those two players have the quality to be good second and third options.

Fred VanVleet enjoyed an incredible final two years ago and received a massive extension in November 2020. At that point, it was only natural for the playmaker to receive this contract. Any other team in the league with the cap space was willing to provide it and it was a pill the Raptors just had to swallow. Although he has improved his level of play, it still seems disappointing for a player who was supposed to take a giant leap forward in terms of attacking prowess.

VanVleet has gone from 11.0 to 19.6 points per game over the past two years. Now, with Lowry gone and Dragic likely taking a backseat for the former Wichita statesman, he should explode even more. The problem, however, is that its effectiveness has declined. Now that’s only natural when a player goes from 9.4 to 16.7 shots per game, but VanVleet has 38.9 / 36.6 / 88.5 shooting spreads. Outside of the solid free kick, those are abysmal numbers for a player who should be the second option on offense.

As a primarily three-point shooter, his efficiency was never going to measure up, but he shot a better percentage in the past and his game against the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors in 2019 was a great indicator of how good he was. quality and quality. Effective VanVleet can be. It’s pretty obvious, however, that VanVleet, eventually, cannot be a second offensive option for a team. Rather, he should be an offensive spark on the bench and when he held that role he and the team around him thrived.

What he can do, of course, is expand his game. The Raptors need him to step up and take more control of the offense. He should be more than a shooter for the team to be successful. Most likely he will handle the rock and while an average of six assists per game isn’t too bad, he can crank up those numbers and take his game to a new level. Unfortunately, his six-foot-one, 197-pound frame isn’t enough to be a real defensive threat, he can still improve offensively.

On the other hand, it seems like the world has completely forgotten about OG Anunoby. The British striker has made sure but steady improvements over the past two years and in fact finished last year with career highs in points (15.6 per game), rebounds (5.5 per match), assists (2.2 per game) and other statistics. . The improvement came with a drop in efficiency as Anunoby fell to less than 50% of the shots on the pitch, but it was still an incredible season for him.

Anunoby shows great potential in the offensive portion of his game, something that was brushed aside when he arrived in the NBA. Hailed as a possible LeBron James stopper, Anunoby mostly expected crumbs offensively, like three-point shots in the corners. Now, however, that’s another story. Last season, Anunoby had 12.1 shots per game, which is good enough for the team’s sixth place finish. Now that Kyle Lowry is gone and there is a gap of about 13 shots, it will go around the team and a coin will fall in OG’s lap.

Anunoby can do something similar to what a lot of one-dimensional offensive players do when asked to carry a larger load – branch out. Rather than just a 3&D type, which he’s been kind of pushed into, Anunoby has the physical tools to be a capable slasher and dunker. His six-foot-seven, 232-pound body can fight the best of them and if he can develop some sort of post-up or slash play, he’ll be a nightmare to deal with. Toronto is bleeding for a third option, a gap that Dragic, 35, simply can’t close. Anunoby is just young enough and has enough potential to be just that for the Raptors.

It’s hard to say where the Raptors are right now. Sadly, they’re a long way from the 2019 NBA Championship Raptors, mostly due to Leonard’s departure. However, it’s also not the Raptors 27-45 who are missing out on the playoffs. The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle and coach Nick Nurse will do absolutely everything in his power to rejuvenate his squad.

If he’s successful, the Raptors still won’t lead the Eastern Conference, where there are only two teams that can really compete, but it’s not the end of the world for Toronto. They will always be relevant and that is very important for this franchise. It was utter futility that destroyed Canada’s second franchise, the Vancouver Grizzlies, and Toronto has worked far too hard to reach that point, just to lose it after a few mediocre seasons. Siakam-VanVleet-Anunoby’s core may not be championship-worthy, but it will keep Air Canada’s center full and all NBA teams will be on high alert when they play there.

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