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Toronto Raptors Mid-Season Report

The Toronto Raptors
Doug Smith / Toronto Star

.The Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors are only four years removed from their legendary title run. While they may no longer have the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry on their roster, they fought their way to the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference last season, eventually falling to Joel Embiid and the 76ers in the first round. However, there was much to look forward to for this upcoming season. Star Pascal Siakam had a breakout season, and was supported through an impressive first season from eventual Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes. With 5th-year coach Nick Nurse still at the helm, this Toronto team was looking to re-stake their claim in the East.

Fast forward to today, and Toronto is currently fighting for their playoff life as a 9th seed with 10 games to go. They haven’t been above .500 since early December, playing their way to a mediocre 35-37 record. With all that being said, the question remains: Why hasn’t this team met its expectations?

An All-Star Shines

Raptors Pascal Siakam

Let’s start at the top. You can’t talk about this Raptors team without mentioning their all-star centerpiece in Pascal Siakam. The 6th-year center is having the best year of his career, notching career highs in points and assists. He’s been getting to the free throw line more often and continuing to make them at a respectable 76% clip. Siakam’s bid for an all-NBA team is quite convincing and will only become more solid if he can will this team through the play-in tournament into the playoffs. 

Supporting Cast Woes

Unfortunately, Siakam might be the only part of the team that has been truly great. Much of the rest of the roster has either been disappointing, mediocre, injured, or some combination of the three. However, not all hope is lost for this Toronto team. Scottie Barnes, who had previously appeared to be afflicted with the sophomore slump, is finally putting up similar numbers to his rookie campaign over the last month or so.

OG Anunoby is (likely) on track to winning an all-defense nomination. He is tied for the league lead in steals despite missing a month with injury, yet his offensive production is down from years past. The Raptors will need him to step up offensively and ramp up his defensive efforts the rest of the way to patch up their below-average team defense. 

Another important piece to this team includes Fred VanVleet, whose scoring numbers have dwindled slightly from his all-star campaign last year. The 28-year-old has also not looked as sharp defensively as of recently, which has been a staple of his game. Gary Trent Jr. has been shooting the long ball well, yet still struggles to facilitate as the main ball handler.

Newly acquired Jakob Poeltl (who Toronto actually drafted in 2016!) has shot over 66% since joining the club although we’ll have to wait to see what he can do for this team down the stretch. Other rotation guys like Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa, and Thaddeus Young have had their ups and downs, but all seem to be heating up for this playoff push. 

So what now?

The writing’s on the wall; outside of Pascal Siakam, there really hasn’t been anything about this team that truly screams greatness. The highs are almost equally mixed with the lows, which has led to a season below expectations. Even in the likely situation the Raptors don’t make a deep run in the postseason, this is a young and well-rounded team set up for success.

The combination of veteran coach in Nick Nurse and accomplished executive Masai Ujiri works perfectly to be able to bring in exciting young talent and coach them to their full potential. While it’s too little too late for the Raps this year, lookout for them to make some noise very soon.

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