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Toronto Raptors End-of-Season Report

Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet
John E. Sokolowski / USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Raptors Begin Coaching Search

The Toronto Raptors’ season has come to an end. Their loss to the Chicago Bulls in the play-in tournament acts as a perfect representation of this year. A 19-point lead was squandered in the second half and opportunities to salvage a win came up short (and that’s before mentioning their abysmal 50% free throw percentage). Their 41-41 finish in the regular season doesn’t quite scream ineptitude at first, but their disappointing exit marks the likely end of an era for Canada’s NBA team. 



A 48-34 finish the season prior was good enough for a 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. While the 76ers quickly took the Raps down in 6 games, there were seemingly greener pastures on the horizon for Toronto. Their core of superstar Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby would be supported by Rookie of the Year winner Scottie Barnes along with guys like Gary Trent Jr. and Precious Achiuwa. Most expected this Raptors bunch to compete for a top-6 spot in the East as they had done for most of head coach Nick Nurse’s tenure with the team. 

The Raptors didn’t come out of the gate roaring, but they also didn’t come out with a whimper. They played .500 basketball through the first 3 months, where flashes of brilliance from the entire unit were met with an equal amount of just genuinely awful play from top to bottom. This up-and-down trend never really subsided either. At the halfway point, Toronto was only at an 11th seed, only ahead of teams who were either too young to compete now or WAY too young to compete now.

Their centerpiece in Pascal Siakam had done his job, earning all-star honors for the second time in his career. Yet his supporting cast continued to be inconsistent as this team could never string together a significant streak of victories. Scottie Barnes made some improvements as time went on but never quite shook off the “sophomore slump” many attributed to him. Fred VanVleet just wasn’t as sharp as he had been in years past, plus veterans like Thaddeus Young and Chris Boucher failed to fully elevate the play of their younger teammates.

At the trade deadline, the Raptors brought back big man Jakob Poeltl, finally giving them a bonafide 7-footer they could rely on amidst the struggles of their rookie Christian Koloko. Along with the signing of veteran guard Will Barton, Poeltl helped the Raptors win 9 of their last 14 to complete their late season push to lock in a play-in spot. Of course, their frustrating defeat to the Bulls rendered these efforts futile as they head into the 2023 NBA offseason.

Let’s assess how the Raptors fared on both sides of the basketball and give them a grade.


Offense: C

This grade might seem a bit harsh, given that the Raptors ranked 13th in offensive rating above teams like the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks. They also pulled down offensive boards at the third best percentage in the league and fared fine in transition. Five different guys averaged double figures (six if you count Poeltl’s 26 games post-trade deadline). They were also the cleanest team in the league, turning the ball over far less than anyone else. So what gives?

The Raptors are getting graded so low here because of their lack of improvement in the half-court offense. After ranking 26th in the league in the half court offense last season, the Raptors ranked dead last in the league halfway through their current campaign. In instances where a possession started with an inbounds after a made shot, they ranked 23rd in the league in points per possession.

Seeing that these made up 56% of their offensive opportunities, their half court offense clearly handicapped them all year. This was a glaring issue that did not get fixed by the coaching staff nor the players’ on-court performance. What makes the issue worse is the embarrassing 3rd-last three-point ranking the Raptors shot their way to this season. Cap it off with a bottom 5 assist percentage and all is revealed about why this offense was so inconsistent.

A stagnant offense in the half-court along with poor outside shooting and playmaking held this unit back from any prolonged success in scoring the basketball. For a team with seemingly so many options, the Raptors just simply needed to do better here.


Defense: B-

The Raptors have prided themselves in building a team that is stout defensively. So did that show on the court this year?

Much like every other aspect of the Raptors this season, they were somehow both simultaneously successful and unsuccessful. They ranked at the very top in total steals and forced turnovers across the entire league. Whether it was the pressure from VanVleet at the perimeter, in the post from Poeltl and Siakam, or pretty much anywhere on the court from any of their big and lanky wing players like Anunoby, this defense thrived in notching takeaways. They were also successful in turning all of those steals into 21.8 points off turnovers per game.

Unfortunately, this is the NBA. Constantly taking the risk to go for steals and batted balls leaves guys open on offense. And NBA guys don’t often miss open looks. Teams shot over 49% from the field against Toronto, bad enough for 3rd-last in the league. Fred VanVleet’s stifling defensive pressure never showed up the same way as it did in years past. Protecting the rim is made difficult since almost all of the key contributors are 6’9’’ or shorter (which is a big reason why the deal for Jakob Poeltl was made). Coach Nick Nurse couldn’t get the team to function as a unit on defense. They looked unorganized, unable to communicate effectively, and just generally all over the place. The Raps’ ability to force turnovers truly saved them from having a historically bad defense, but it could not exonerate them from still getting scored on with relative ease. 


Overall: C

An average grade for an average team who ended an average season with an average record. It’s just so frustrating seeing this Raptors team only able to tread water. They’ve won in the past with the same guys they have now and had no reason to forfeit their consistent dominance in the East this year. They look to be a lottery team with a very uncertain future.

To start, a coaching search is now underway after Nick Nurse was officially fired on April 21st. There’s apparently a broad list of names who could potentially replace the former coach of the year, including WNBA coach Becky Hammon.

There’s a plethora of roster changes that could unfold in the near future. Jakob Poeltl is an unrestricted free agent this summer, plus VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr will likely opt out of their player options to do the same. OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam both have a year left on their deals unless an extension is reached.

It goes without saying that team executive Masai Ujri definitely has his work cut out for him in the months to follow. He’s built a championship roster in the past, but that team owes much of its successes to the superhuman efforts of Kawhi Leonard. Regardless, in a season full of uncertainty, one thing remains clear: fans can expect a major shakeup in the 6 this summer.


Andy Diederich is a contributing writer of Back Sports Page. For more on Andy, check out his profile on the website as well as his Twitter @ndydiederich.

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