Basketball, Sports

Your 2021-2022 Toronto Raptors

There are people who will tell you that this season was a disappointment. (I saw one commenter in the normally reasonably sane comment section of The Athletic call the season “a disgrace.”) These people, as far as I know, are fans who joined due to the championship, or the years of success preceding it, as they have no idea how good the Raptors have been for the last decade compared to the previous years of their existence.

The Toronto Raptors won the NBA Championship three years ago. Three. In those three years, the franchise has lost

  • the best player on that team, to free agency (he hasn’t played since June 14th of last year)
  • the 2nd best player on that team, to a sign-and-trade which is essentially free agency (he is currently 36 and only made it into only 3 games in the first round due to health issues)
  • the 4th best player on that team, to free agency (who is essentially retired from the NBA)
  • the 5th best player on that team, to free agency (who is playing less than 5 minutes per game in the playoffs for the Bucks)
  • the 7th best player on that team, to free agency (who just helped eliminate this version of the Raptors with his best 3P shooting game in the playoffs since the 2nd game of the first round last year)
  • the 8th best player on that team, to a trade (with which the Raptors improved their team).

So, the Raptors have lost 6 of the 8 most important players on their Championship roster of three years ago. These free agency decisions were either not in their control (Kawhi, Danny Green) or very clearly the right decision (Gasol, Ibaka, sure looking like Lowry).

And yet, you’re mad because the Raptors lost in 6 games in the first round in a season that many “experts” figured they’d miss the playoffs or lose in the play-in tournament.

I am so confused by this. What exactly should the Raptors have done differently?

Do we not all understand that winning a championship mortgages the future?

And yet, here we are, with an average roster age of 25, no key players over 30, and three of the five best players on the team under age 25.

Why is this a bad result? I’d really like to hear a coherent explanation of why this Raptors team, with barely any roster continuity from the Championship team of three years ago, under-performed and is clearly headed in a terrible direction.

Anyway, with that out of the way, here are

Your 2021-22 Toronto Raptors:

This includes only players who played over 250 regular season minutes:

Scottie Barnes, 20, F???:

On the rookie scale through 2025

  • 2617 minutes (1st, 9th in the league)
  • Per 36:
    • 15.6P (6th)
    • 7.7R (7th)
    • 3.5A (5th)
    • 1.1S (9th)
    • 0.8B (t-5th)
  • 16.3 PER (4th)
  • .552 TS% (t-4th)
  • 6.6 Win Shares (3rd)
  • .122 WS/48 (7th)
  • 0.9 BPM (4th)
  • 1.9 VORP (3rd)
  • Playoffs:
    • 133 Minutes (6th)
    • Per 36:
      • 13.8P (6th)
      • 9.7R (t-1st)
      • 4.6A (3rd)
      • 1.1S (t-4th)
      • 0.3B (8th)
    • 16.5 PER (3rd)
    • .520 TS% (6th)
    • .2 Win Shares (t-3rd)
    • .082 WS/48 (5th)
    • 1.7 BPM (t-4th)
    • 0.1 VORP (-4th)

The NBA Rookie of the Year, who a bunch of you didn’t want over, ahem, Jalen Suggs, had about the best season you could imagine for a guy who started only 7 games in college.

Nobody knows what position he plays, which fits in with this bizarre roster, but he showed that he can conceivably play every position on the roster save shooting guard if the need arises. His shooting is less of a concern than we thought, even though that cratered a bit in the playoffs. But he is good at nearly every major NBA skill, though consistency will be necessary to do reach his ceiling.

Things didn’t go as well in the playoffs where he played less due to foul trouble, defensive issues (he was not good on Harden in Game 6, for example) and his shooting getting worse. But the advanced metrics still put him as one of the best players on the team.

A 20-year-old as the 3rd or 4th best player on a playoff team is a pretty bright future. I have no idea what he will become but he has also announced himself as the future of the franchise. Barring some kind of injury next season, the priority is to extend him as soon as possible.

Pascal Siakam, 27, F:

Under contract until 2024, at up to $35.9 million in his final year

  • 2578 Minutes (2nd – 1st in the NBA in MGP)
  • Per 36:
    • 21.7P (1st)
    • 8.1R (5th)
    • 5A (3rd)
    • 1.2S (8th)
    • 0.6B (7th)
  • 20.3 PER (1st)
  • .565 TS% (3rd)
  • 8.1 Win Shares (1st)
  • .151 WS/48 (2nd)
  • 3.5 BPM (2nd)
  • 3.6 VORP (1st)
  • Playoffs:
    • 260 Minutes (1st, by 43 minutes)
    • Per 36:
      • 19P (1st)
      • 9.7R (t-1st)
      • 4.8A (2nd)
      • 1S (5th)
      • 0.8B (4th)
    • 19.3 PER (2nd)
    • .558 TS% (4th)
    • 0.5 Win Shares (2nd)
    • 0.096 WS/48 (2nd)
    • 3 BPM (3rd)
    • 0.3 VORP (1st)

Hey, remember, when everyone wanted to trade Siakam for Wiggins or for Simmons? How is that looking right now?

Siakam got off to a rough start due to recovering from an injury but was playing at an All NBA level by the end of the regular season. (He might still make 3rd Team, which would be only the 4th player in Raptors history.) This season, Siakam was

  • 13th in Minutes
  • 18th in total Points
  • 1st in MPG
  • 15th in PPG
  • 12th in made Field Goals
  • 5th in made 2 pointers
  • 20th in made Free Throws
  • 18th in Win Shares
  • 18th in VORP
  • 13th in Triple Doubles

Siakam is the 20th highest paid player in the league and is set to be the 15th highest paid player in his final year of his contract (though the next two summers of free agency will change that). But, this season, he was the 18th most important player in the league by Win Shares and VORP. So, despite what this fan base thinks, he’s actually paid pretty appropriately.

Moreover, in addition to being the best player on this team, he’s one of the better players in the NBA (maybe among the Top 15).

So why should we trade him?

Yes, he had some extremely passive quarters in the playoffs. I was at Game 6 and I was yelling at him to take Harden off the dribble (and Maxie, and Harris…). And in the other blowout losses he had some bad outings too.

But he was still the best starter on the team by the stats. And so much of the team’s struggles against Philly seem to be to have to do with a lack of depth and a lack of shooting, neither of which are Siakam’s fault.

This guy didn’t really have much help.

And until Barnes makes a leap, or until the Raptors trade for or sign someone better, he is the franchise player. And he’s, you know, pretty damn good, despite what this fan base thinks.

Is he the best player on a championship team? Of course not. How many NBA players are?

Fred VanVleet, 27, PG:

Under contract until 2024 (player option) at up to $22.8 million

  • 2462 Minutes (3rd)
  • Per 36:
    • 19.3P (2nd)
    • 6.3A (1st)
    • 1.6S (t-3rd)
    • 0.5 (t-5th)
    • 4.2R (t-12th)
    • 0.5B (t-8th)
  • 17.3 PER (3rd)
  • .552 TS% (t-4th)
  • 6.7 Win Shares (2nd)
  • 0.131 WS/48 (4th)
  • 3.6 BPM (1st)
  • 3.5 VORP (2nd, 20th in the league)
  • Went to the All Star Game
  • Playoffs:
    • 140 Minutes (4th)
    • Per 36:
      • 14.1P (5th)
      • 6.4A (1st)
      • 1.8S (2nd)
      • 3.1R (8th)
      • 1B (3rd)
    • 15.4 PER (5th)
    • .486 TS% (9th)
    • 0.2 Win Shares (t-3rd)
    • 0.060 WS/48 (5th)
    • 3.5 BPM (2nd)
    • 0.2 VORP (t-2nd)

There is perhaps no better symbol of the Raptors’ inability to fill out a complete NBA roster this season (or Nurse’s unwillingness to play the bench players) than VanVleet’s season: he was leading the league in Minutes for much of the season and the rest of it has been beset by injuries as well as playing through them. Even with his abysmal shooting in the playoffs and missing games, he was still one of the most important players on the team.

I understand that fans like VanVleet more than they like Siakam for some reason. But VanVleet is very clearly the 2nd best player on the team. He’s also played far too much (just like Siakam) for this team to perform well in the playoffs. He needs help, whether that’s a PG so he can play off the ball as he did with Lowry, or whether it’s just another conventional shooting guard who can pass a bit who can both take some of his minutes and alternatively spell Trent.

The Raptors will not advance much farther with VanVleet as their league guard (or 1A) unless he can play fewer minutes and stay healthy. (The former goes for Siakam as their best player, in my opinion but, due to his versatility, the options to help Siakam are more.)

Gary Trent Jr., 23, G:

Under contract until 2024 (player option) at up to $18.5 million

  • 2448 Minutes (4th)
  • Per 36:
    • 18.9P (3rd)
    • 2.1A (9th)
    • 1.8S (2nd)
    • 2.8R (14th)
    • 0.3B (t-12th)
  • 14.7 PER (7th)
  • .546 TS% (7th)
  • 5.6 Win Shares (5th)
  • 0.110 WS/48 (8th)
  • 0.2 BPM (6th)
  • 1.3 VORP (4th)
  • Playoffs:
    • 199 Minutes (3rd)
    • Per 36:
      • 16.6P (4th)
      • 1.4A (8th)
      • 1.1S (t-3rd)
      • 2R (9th, last)
      • .5B (5th)
    • 12.2 PER (7th)
    • .509 TS% (7th)
    • 0.1 Win Shares (t-6th)
    • 0.016 WS/48 (7th)
    • -1.4 BPM (7th)
    • 0 VORP (t-7th)

I’m still very happy with the Powell-Trent trade, despite this season. Why? Because Trent is still only 23. I think we routinely forget how young he is (just as we routinely forget how old Boucher is).

Yes, this year kind of sucked. He was super inconsistent, he’s not efficient enough and both his shooting and his defense were not up to his own standards in the playoffs. Trent playing the 3rd most minutes in the playoffs and sucking this much had a lot to do with why the Raptors lost in 6, with 3 blowouts.

But he’s really, really young. And he is, at least theoretically, the best shooter on a team that badly needs shooting. If he can find more consistency with his shot, he’ll be an essential part of the team going forward. Given his age, and his defensive ability when he’s on his game, I’m willing to give it time.

O.G. Anunoby, 24, F:

Under contract until 2025 (player option) at up to $19.9 million.

  • 1728 Minutes (5th)
  • Per 36:
    • 17.1P (4th)
    • 5.5R (10th)
    • 2.6A (7th)
    • 1.5S (4th)
    • 0.5B (t-9th)
  • 14.8 PER (6th)
  • .549 TS% (6th)
  • 3.7 Win Shares (6th)
  • 0.104 WS/48 (9th)
  • 0.5 BPM (5th)
  • 1.1 VORP (5th)
  • Playoffs:
    • 217 Minutes (2nd)
    • Per 36:
      • 17.3P (3rd)
      • 4R (7th)
      • 2.5A (5th)
      • 1S (t-5th)
      • 0.2B (9th)
    • 14.9 PER (5th)
    • .584 TS% (2nd)
    • 0.2 Win Shares (t-3rd)
    • 0.052 WS/48 (6th)
    • 0.8 BPM (6th)
    • 0.1 VORP (t-4th)

The Raptors’ best defensive player continued to be plagued by injuries this year. This was the best season of Anunoby’s career and he was unequivocally the Raptors’ best player in the first two games of the 6ers series. (The people calling for Siakam’s head after game 2 were saying things like “Build around OG” because of this. Given Anunoby’s age, limited offensive skills and injury history, this struck me as insane.)

But he cannot stay on the floor. If he wasn’t under contract longer than just about anyone else on the roster, I’d be wondering if it was time to start thinking of trading him for shooting.

Listen, Anunoby is great, I love him as a player. But he’s never going to be a star in the NBA and, if he continues to have injury issues, he may never be more than this tantalizing player who combines elite defense with enough offense to actually win you some games.

But he’s here long-term (only Barnes is around for as long) and so the main priority seems to me to build out the depth so that his minutes load is decreased when he does actually play. (Despite all his health issues, he was playing 36 minutes a night when he played.)

Precious Achiuwa, 22, C/F:

On the Rookie Scale through 2024.

  • 1725 Minutes (6th)
  • Per 36:
    • 13.9P (7th)
    • 9.9R (2nd)
    • 0.9B (3rd)
    • 1.7A (11th)
    • 0.8S (15th)
  • 12.7 PER (10th)
  • .503 TS% (12th)
  • 2.5 Win Shares (8th)
  • 0.70 WS/48 (12th)
  • -2.6 BPM (12th)
  • -0.2 BPM (t-12th, last)
  • Playoffs:
    • 167 Minutes (4th)
    • Per 36:
      • 13.1P (7th)
      • 6.3R (4th)
      • 1.1B (2nd)
      • 1.3A (8th)
      • 0.2S (9th, last)
    • 10.7 PER (8th)
    • .541 TS% (5th)
    • 0 Win Shares (t-8th)
    • -0.012 WS/48 (9th)
    • -3.3 BPM (8th)
    • -0.1 VORP (9th, last)

Nobody on the Raptors improved throughout the season more than Anchiuwa, probably few players in the league did. He went from seeming to be unplayable at the beginning of the season – everyone was upset with his minutes – to seemingly being a key part of the future going forward. He is one of the youngest players on the team and, at least offensively, he’s already greatly improved from the start of the year.

Whether he can defend Embiid-esque centres well enough in the playoffs is probably not a question we should be asking but it seems to be the way things are headed with this roster at the moment.

Chris Boucher, 29, F/C:

Free agent.

  • 1690 Minutes (7th)
  • Per 36:
    • 16.1P (5th)
    • 10.5R (1st)
    • 1.6B (1st)
    • 0.5A (14th, last)
    • 1S (t-11th)
  • 17.9 PER (2nd)
  • .570 TS% (2nd)
  • 6 Win Shares (4th)
  • 0.169 WS/48 (1st)
  • 0 BPM (7th)
  • 0.9 VORP (6th)
  • Playoffs:
    • 130 Minutes (7th)
    • Per 36:
      • 18.6P (2nd)
      • 9.7R (t-1st)
      • 1.9B (1st)
      • 0.3A (9th, last)
      • .3S (8th)
    • 24.1 PER (1st)
    • .722 TS% (1st by .138)
    • 0.6 Win Shares (1st)
    • 0.208 WS/48 (1st by .112)
    • 5.3 BPM
    • 0.2 VORP (t-2nd)

By the eye test, Boucher had a massive bounce back year this season, despite the fact that his numbers were down across the board. Some of this is likely just due to better injury luck for the rest of the team and the stat padding that happens on non-playoff teams in April.

But then he was the Raptors’ best offensive player in the playoffs this year by many metrics. (In less than 22 minutes per game.) It’s safe to say, he was very good in his role.

Of course, we need to be extremely wary of the sample size in the playoffs and the fact that Boucher plays much less than some of his teammates for good, established reasons. We also need to remember his age.

The Boucher truthers are likely out already, trying to get him an extension. And based on this playoff, someone is going to pay him.

But Boucher is nearly 30 and he started literally 23 NBA games in his entire NBA career. He’s averaged under 18 minutes per game over that career. It’s entirely reasonable to think he could not do what he does starting. He’s the wrong age for the rest of the team and he’s likely going to command a raise. It’s time to move on. (Glad to see him go out with a bang, though.)

Khem Birch, 29, C:

Under contract until 2024 up to $6.9 million

  • 991 Minutes (8th)
  • Per 36:
    • 9P (14th, last)
    • 8.7R (4th)
    • 0.9B (t-3rd)
    • 2A (10th)
    • 1.1S (10th)
  • 13.2 PER (9th)
  • .534 TS% (8th)
  • 2.6 Win Shares (7th)
  • 0.126 WS/48 (7th)
  • -1.3 BPM (8th)
  • 0.2 VORP (8th)
  • Playoffs:
    • 63 Minutes (9th, last)
    • Per 36:
      • 10.3P (8th)
      • 5.1R (6th)
      • 0.6B (5th)
      • 1.7A (6th)
      • 0.6S (7th)
    • 8 PER (9th, last)
    • .563 TS% (3rd)
    • 0 Win Shares (t-8th, last)
    • 0.007 WS/48 (8th)
    • -5.2 (9th, last)
    • 0 VORP (8th)

Well, it’s pretty safe to say that the Khem Birch experiment hasn’t worked out very well, particularly in this one playoff series. Birch would probably be a fine backup centre on a team that actually employed a starting centre but that is not this version of the Raptors.

There have been health issues so maybe this isn’t fair. And if the Raptors don’t re-sign Boucher (as I think they shouldn’t) we’ll be stuck with Birch in some minutes. I don’t think that’s ideal.

Svi Mykhailiuk, 24, F/G:

Under contract through next year (player option) at $1.8 million

  • 716 Minutes (9th)
  • Per 36:
    • 12.8P (9th)
    • 4.6R (12th)
    • 2.3A (8th)
    • 1.3S (t-6th)
    • 0.2B (14th, last)
  • 9.6 PER (14th, last)
  • .509 TS% (11th)
  • 0.8 Win Shares (t-11th)
  • 0.052 WS/48 (13th)
  • -2.9 BPM (13th)
  • -0.2 VORP (-12th, last)
  • Playoffs: didn’t play enough

Count me among those who thought Mykhailiuk should have been given more of a chance. I understand the stats make him look like one of the very worst players on the team but given the dearth of bodies, couldn’t we have seen a little more if he could provide some shooting?

He’s got a player option so he’s sticking around. I hope Nurse plays him a little more. His stats say he’s a better shooter than this but he likely needs at least a bit of a vote of confidence.

Of course, I’d take an actual shooter in the lineup instead.

Dalano Banton, 22, PG???

Under contract through next season at $1.5 million

  • 696 Minutes (10th)
  • Per 36:
    • 10.6P (12th)
    • 5.1A (2nd)
    • 1.4S (5th)
    • 6.4R (9th)
    • 0.5B (t-8th)
  • 10 PER (12th)
  • .463 TS% (14th, last)
  • 0.4 Win Shares (14th, last)
  • 0.030 WS/48 (14th, last)
  • -3 BPM (14th, last)
  • -0.2 VORP (t-12th, last)
  • Playoffs: didn’t play enough

Banton does not look like a PG but the Raptors played him as one. By the stats above, it was a disaster, as Banton was, by most metrics, the worst player on the Raptors to play at least 250 minutes.

Of course, with Banton it’s all about potential. He’s played quite well in the G League as far as I know, and he was one of the few bench players Nurse trusted early in the year. That changed over the course of the season, if I remember correctly.

I know Banton wasn’t good this year but I would like to see him have a proper chance next season. If he’s this bad again in 1000 minutes, then let him walk. But he needs to play if he’s ever going to live up to his potential.

Malachi Flynn, 23, PG:

Rookie Scale contract through 2024 (last two years are both team options) at up to $3.8 million

  • 537 Minutes (11th)
  • Per 36:
    • 12.7P 9 (10th)
    • 4.7A (4th)
    • 1.3S (t-6th)
    • 4.2R (t-12th)
    • 0.3B (t-12th)
  • 11.7 PER (11th)
  • .488 TS% (13th)
  • 1.3 Win Shares (10th)
  • 0.092 WS/48 (10th)
  • -1.5 BPM (9th)
  • 0.1 VORP (9th)
  • Playoffs: didn’t play enough

The Malachi Flynn situation is a constant source of frustration for a lot fans, myself included. He’s played better than Banton but doesn’t get the same minutes (at least until the end of the year and the playoffs when suddenly Nurse trusted him more). Unclear expectations and an unclear role will not help.

Provided his option is picked up, I’d like to see him play more in regular season games to see what we have. Certainly VanVleet needs to play fewer minutes so what is really so wrong with Flynn playing a little bit more if the point is to develop players?

If they don’t pick up his option, that’s fine, but the team needs a backup PG. Maybe there’s a free agent out there who would be an improvement.

Thadeus Young, 33, F:

Free agent

  • 475 Minutes (12th)
  • Per 36:
    • 12.4P (11th)
    • 8.7R (t-4th)
    • 3.4A (6th)
    • 2.3S (1st)
    • 0.8B (t-5th)
  • 15.8 PER (5th)
  • .526 TS% (9th)
  • 1.3 Win Shares (9th)
  • 0.127 WS/48 (5th)
  • 2 BPM (3rd)
  • 0.5 VORP (7th)
  • Playoffs:
    • 87 Minutes (8th)
    • Per 36:
      • 8.3P (9th, last)
      • 7.4R (3rd)
      • 4.1A (4th)
      • 2.1S (1st)
      • 0.4B (8th)
    • 14.1 PER (6th)
    • .506 TS% (8th)
    • 0.1 Win Shares (t-6th)
    • 0.069 TS% (4th)
    • 1.7 BPM (t-4th)
    • 0.1 VORP (t-4h)

I know this trade was controversial but I was all for it at the time, as I’ve always been a fan.

Though he missed some important shots in the second half a game 6, thereby contributing to the end of the season, he was one of the better players in the 6ers series (watch his passes, they’re awesome) and fit in quite well in the regular season. (I realize I’m being a little bit inconsistent here as I want more minutes for some players but I’m also happy they brought in Young. You got me.)

What I’d love is for us to be able to find a younger version of Young who is a better shooter but I doubt that will happen in free agency, certainly not for a reasonable price. I’d take him back for one year at the right price but I don’t imagine that’s viable. He likely wants a certain amount and probably wants more than one year. I hope that 1st round pick doesn’t turn into a regular NBA player.

Yuta Watanabe, 27, F:

Free agent

  • 445 Minutes (13th)
  • Per 36:
    • 13.2P (8th)
    • 7.4R (8th)
    • 1.7A (t-11th)
    • 0.9S (13th)
    • 1.3B (2nd)
  • 11.5 PER (12th)
  • .524 TS% (10th)
  • 0.7 Win Shares (13th)
  • 0.075 WS/48 (11th)
  • -2 BPM (t-11th)
  • 0 VORP (t-10th)
  • Playoffs: didn’t play enough

A chunk of this fanbase is frustrated with how little Watanabe played this season and you can count me among them. How he’s this far down on the minutes list, even with the health issues is beyond me.

I have no idea if he’ll be back but, if he is, I really hope they play him more. Or I hope that whoever replaces him on the roster actually gets some playing time.

Justin Champagnie, 20, F:

Free agent

  • 281 Minutes (14th, last on this list)
  • Per 36:
    • 10.4P (13th)
    • 9.2R (3rd)
    • 1.4A (13th)
    • 1S (t-11th)
    • 0.5B (t-8th)
  • 13.6 PER (8th)
  • .571 TS% (1st)
  • 0.8 Win Shares (t-11th)
  • 0.138 WS/48 (3rd)
  • -2 BPM (t-11th)
  • 0 VORP (t-10th)

Very productive in his extremely limited role but maybe a little too wild whenever he had to do anything outside of rebounding and put-backs.

I’m torn about having him back. On the one hand, I think he earned more minutes than he got. On the other hand, if he’s back what does that say about the Raptors’ off-season?

Summarizing the players’ seasons avoids the biggest problem of this season: 4 players played over 2,000 minutes and 7 players played over 1,000 minutes. And unlike last year, it wasn’t just due to injuries but rather the coaching staff’s complete lack of faith in the bench.

How many regular season Raptors games were there where the Raptors weren’t in it and yet the starters were playing anyway? It felt like a lot.

I’m fairly optimistic about the potential of a VanVleet-Trent-Barnes-Anunoby-Siakam-Achiuwa core for th next few years. I think those players, plus another NBA-quality shooter, could conceivably win some rounds in the playoffs, if the best of them don’t have to play 35+ minutes a game throughout the regular season.

Something happened this season: either the front office failed to find enough role players or the coaching staff failed to allow the role players to make enough mistakes to grow into effective role players. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle but it’s not something I want to see repeated next year. It’s clearly not feasible to play Siakam and VanVleet this much and then expect them to carry the team in the playoffs. It just won’t work.

My wishlist for this off-season is a knock-down shooter who Nurse trusts enough to play, preferably a centre. There aren’t many of those.

If I had a second wish, it’s either that we find some role players that Nurse will play OR that Nurse will play some of these guys enough to not wear out the starters.

But I’m optimistic. The core is young and improving. They are one (preferably taller than 6’9″) shooter away from being quite good. I look forward to next season.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.