2022, 2023, Basketball, Sports

Your 2022-23 Toronto Raptors

The Raptors have missed the playoffs twice in the last three years so things have changed for this team. Before this, they were in the playoffs seven seasons in a row, in the conference semi-finals five years in a row, and in the playoffs eight seasons out of nine. (Oh yeah, they also won a championship. But most fans seem to have forgotten about that.)

There is concern among fans that the Raptors have returned to where they were ten years ago, a team that could only go so far.

I think things may be both worse and better, depending upon how a certain player pans out.

But I also am less concerned simply because it’s only been four years since the championship. I also think that things will never, ever again be as bad as the mid ’90s, 2003 or 2011, when things seemed utterly hopeless. And I mean hopeless.

The championship can never be taken away. There are NBA franchises that have never won and may not win for decades. Only twenty teams have won at least once. But more importantly, only eleven teams have won more than once. That’s barely more than a 1/3 of the league. It would be entirely normal if the Raptors never won another one in my lifetime.

Almost as importantly, I’m not sure what the Raptors have been supposed to do since the championship. Leonard was going to leave no matter what. (Maybe he would have stayed if he knew the bubble was coming. Alas.) Gasol, Green, Ibaka and were all old. (How many of those players still have significant roles in the NBA?)

The Raptors lost their best player on their championship immediately. Four years later, 2 of the top 8 players on that team are out of the league, one is a benchwarmer and one cannot regain his starting spot on a team that took two games to get out of the play-in. That is 5 of the best 8 players on that team. The Raptors literally only have 2 players left form those top 8.

What should have the Raptors have done differently?

  • Leonard: Is there anything they could have done to make him stay? Paul George? (Again, I think knowing ahead of time he’d play in Florida part of the next season might have convinced him to sign a 1-year. But I don’t know what else they could have done. The Clippers won last night but they have yet to make the Finals in the George-Leonard era.)
  • Green: His Lakers’ contract paid him between $14 and $15 million per season over the next two seasons. Was he worth that to retain?
  • Gasol: Even at the budget rate the Lakers got him, he was still out of the league a year later.
  • Ibaka: Ibaka’s Clippers 2020 contract initially looked okay but he was just waived by the Pacers post-trade and appears to be out of the league.
  • Powell: I understand Trent hasn’t had the best year this year but I think you have to make this trade 10 times out of 10 given ages and salaries involved. (Powell seems to have lost his role to Eric Gordon if last night is anything to go by.)
  • Lowry: I understand there are some some alternate universes where the Raptors somehow get more for Lowry as a rental at the trade deadline. I’m not sure what was out there. But a sign-and-trade that netted at least one rotation player has to be viewed as a win given that he could have just signed somewhere else.

I understand there have been some bad decisions in the last couple of seasons, but I’m honestly not sure what the Raptors were supposed to do to recover from losing their best player for nothing – the championship was 100% worth it – and most of the rest of the best players ageing out.

What I’m saying is, I’m not sure what the fans want. Anyway, with that somewhat out of the way, let’s talk about the team.

Your 2022-23 Toronto Raptors

As usual, this is by minutes played. 200 minutes minimum this time.

Scottie Barnes, 21, PF (really?), under contract through 2025 at $10.13 million

  • 2678 minutes (1st)
  • Per 36:
    • 15.8P (10th)
    • 6.9R (8th)
    • 5A (3rd)
    • 1.1S (t-9th)
    • 0.8B (t-6th)
  • 15.5 PER (5th)
  • .524 TS% (9th)
  • 5 Win Shares (t-3rd)
  • .09 WS/48 (10th)
  • 0.4 BPM (t-4th)
  • 1.6 VORP (3rd)

Even though Barnes clearly regressed at the beginning of the season, it’s still pretty clear he’s the focal point of the franchise in whatever post-Siakam future there might be. Believe it or not, his scoring was actually up this season. (Just a bit – and league scoring was up to, so….) More importantly, his passing is way better.

But the threatened shooting woes came true and he was not a good shooter on a bad shooting team. His raw numbers also make him look like not even a starter on this team that didn’t make the playoffs. Fortunately, the advanced stats tell a different story. (Except for Win Shares per 48 minutes, which makes him look extremely inefficient.)

He is still extremely young and there’s every reason to imagine that he will be a pretty good NBA player. If the jump shot ever comes around, he should be a great NBA player. In the meantime, he’s one of two “untouchable” players on the roster. (By “untouchable” all I mean is that it would have to be a “Godfather offer” to trade him.)

Pascal Siakam, 28, PF/C, under contract through 2024 at $37.89 million

  • 2652 minutes (2nd, 1st in the NBA in MPG for a second year in a row)
  • Per 36:
    • 23.3P (1st by nearly 4PP36)
    • 7.5R (t-5th)
    • 0.5B (t-8th)
    • 5.6A (2nd)
    • 0.9S (t-13th)
  • 20.3 PER (2nd)
  • .565 TS% (5th)
  • 7.8 Win Shares (1st)
  • .141 WS/48 (3rd)
  • 3.1 BPM (2nd)
  • 3.5 VORP (1st)

The Raptors’ best player and it’s not really close. Siakam gets too much of the blame for the Raptors’ failures – I bet there are more than a few fans blaming his Free Throw shooting during the Play-In for the loss – but he is the franchise player at least until Barnes gets a jump shot. Early this season, before his injury, he looked like he might make 2nd Team All NBA again (or even better).

But there are many issues, at least some of which are a direct result of him not getting enough support.

For one thing, the defense has absolutely suffered with his bigger offensive role.

For another, his three-point attempts and percentage are way down from his peak 2nd Team All NBA season.

And, of course, the biggest problem: he plays way too damn much.

I firmly believe all of these problems could be addressed by having a sufficiently good supporting cast or, in a more blue sky scenario, a better player to play alongside. But, aside from Barnes, I’m not sure who those players are on the Raptors.

One argument in favour of tanking this past season and again next season is that Barnes will not be ready in time before Siakam declines or Barnes-Siakam will never be good enough. If you believe either of those things, it’s probably time to trade him. If that decision is made, the good news is that his value is way up from what it was during the height of the inane Siakam-Simmons rumours. (I want to troll every Raptors fan who ever thought that trade was a good idea but I have too many better things to do with my life.)

For the record, I do not believe we should trade Siakam right now unless it is for someone significantly younger who is on their way to All NBA stardom. But his free agency next year makes that a lot more complicated, especially if he gets off to a bad start.

Fred Van Vleet, 28, PG/SG, player option for $22.82 million

  • 2535 minutes (3rd)
  • Per 36:
    • 19P (3rd)
    • 7A (1st)
    • 1.7S (t-5th)
    • 4A (12th)
    • 0.5B (t-8th)
  • 17 PER (4th)
  • 6.5 Win Shares (2nd)
  • .123 WS/48 (4th)
  • 2.5 BPM (3rd)
  • 2.9 VORP (2nd)

I for one hoped the Raptors would trade Van Vleet at the deadline. However, once I heard the supposed best offer – straight-up for Terance Mann from the Clippers – I changed my tune entirely. It’s one thing to trade an impending free agent because you think he will walk. It’s another thing to trade your sole legitimate point guard for a guy who is absolutely not a point guard and who is older than everyone thinks. (Mann is 26 and his career assist rate is not even 14%.)

I do not want the Raptors to re-sign Van Vleet for a massive deal. My hope is that he will either opt-in, giving the Raptors one more chance with this, um, “core,” or he will participate in a sign-and-trade, like Lowry did. I’d probably also take a 1-year or a 1-and-1.

But I do not think Van Vleet will opt-in.

Make no mistake: as currently constructed, the Raptors are significantly worse without Van Vleet next year. They are a lottery team. And given the Raptors’ history with free agency – it is not good, you guys – I do not have faith that they can sign an actual NBA starting point guard in free agency for reasonable money.

Can they get one in the draft? It’s extremely unlikely anyone they draft – if they do draft a PG – will be good enough to elevate this roster back into the playoffs.

O.G. Anunoby, 25, SF, under contract through 2025 at $19.93 million

  • 2386 minutes (4th)
  • Per 36:
    • 17P (6th)
    • 5R (10th)
    • 2A (t-10th)
    • 1.9S (t-2nd, 1st in the NBA in Steals and SPG, as well as 4th in Steals Rate)
    • 0.8B (t-6th)
  • 14.6 PER (9th)
  • .568 TS% (3rd)
  • 4.7 Win Shares (5th)
  • .094 WS/48 (8th)
  • 0.4 BPM (t-4th)
  • 1.5 VORP (4th)

The team’s best defensive player, Anunoby might have made the DPOY ballot had he missed fewer games and the team been better defensively. Still he should, the the very least, make 2nd Team All Defense. (I know, I’m cheating with that reference.) Zach Lowe, for one, voted him 2nd Team.

But Anunoby has still not rounded into the offensive player fans hope for, and that he’s shown flashes of throughout his career. There have been rumours he’s unhappy and many fans seem to think he doesn’t get enough reps. But Anunoby’s usage rate has hovered around 20% for the last three seasons (standard for an NBA player), he has never scored more than 17 points per 36 minutes and his assist-to-turnover ratio has remained barely passable. (His assist rate itself is significantly worse than Terance Mann’s.)

To me, Anunoby is not an offensive star. He is among the best one-on-one defenders in the league – I am less thrilled with his help defense – and he is a complimentary offensive player. A team can absolutely win with Anunoby as their 4th best player, perhaps even as their third best player (especially if his offense improves with more of a role, which I’m skeptical of). It sure doesn’t seem like it’s this team that will win with him in that role, though. (And that is very much not on Anunoby.)

Like with Van Vleet, I thought the Raptors should have traded him this year, if only to maximize his value. (It’s not every year you have a guy in the DPOY conversation. I think there’s literally ever been one or two other Raptors in that conversation in franchise history.) The Pacers’ and Grizzlies’ offers were ones that I personally would have accepted – three first round picks – however I do understand the Raptors’ desire to get a player, given Siakam’s age. (Given the Stepian Rule, those picks likely would have been far into the future, which doesn’t help this current front office make this current team better.)

With him still on the team, he is very clearly the third most important player under contract. The big question is: can he be better and more consistent on offense without taking a step back defensively? If Van Vleet leaves, and the Raptors have to make Barnes or Siakam the PG (gulp), can Anunoby really be good enough to be the 3rd or 2nd option on offense night-in, night-out? Personally, I’m skeptical.

(Imagine reading that paragraph 20 years ago, where I wonder aloud if they might make one of two players listed at PF the PG. Times have changed.)

Despite my concerns about offense, I really can’t see the Raptors going anywhere without Anunoby or without a real win in a trade. This season he was one of the best shooters on the team.

Gary Trent Jr., 24, SG/SF, player option at $18.79 million

  • 2118 minutes (5th)
  • Per 36:
    • 19.5P (2nd)
    • 1.8A (11th)
    • 1.8S (4th)
    • 2.9R (last)
    • 0.2B (t-last)
  • 15 PER (7th)
  • .560 TS% (6th)
  • 4.5 Win Shares (6th)
  • .102 WS/48 (7th)
  • 0.2 BPM (6th)
  • 1.1 VORP (5th)

Trent is a pretty one-dimensional player and, unfortunately, he is not as good a shooter as we hoped he would be. (And this was actually the second best shooting season of his career, though it was one of his worst from 3.) Powell, the player they traded for him, is a much better all-around offensive player. And so I suspect there are some people who think that trade didn’t work out for the Raptors.

Trent is also far more inconsistent defensively than we were hoping. If you remember the playoffs last year, he did not have a good series on that end. He gets a lot of steals, but he also gets out-matched.

I still think the trade was worth it, especially given Trent’s age and potential, but I did want them to move him at this last deadline. (I guess his value just wasn’t there.)

If he doesn’t opt-in, I am okay with them letting him walk, even though he is ostensibly the team’s only pure shooter. (This should make the Raptors worse.) If he does opt-in, I hope he can resuscitate his value enough that they can move him for a pick or something. My concern is that he will want Powell-level money for an extension and it’s just not worth it unless he can figure out how to pass and rebound at, like, an average NBA level.

Chris Boucher, 30, PF/C, under contract through 2025 at $10.8 million

  • 1523 minutes (6th)
  • Per 36:
    • 16.8P (7th)
    • 10R (3rd)
    • 1.5B (4th)
    • 0.7A (last)
    • 1.1S (t-9th)
  • 18 PER (3rd)
  • .590 TS% (2nd)
  • 5 Win Shares (3rd)
  • .156 WS/48 (2nd)
  • -0.1 BPM (8th)
  • 0.7 VORP (7th)

Look at that drop-off in minutes from 5th to 6th: 600 minutes difference! That’s a lot of basketball. I feel like if there’s anything you need to know about the post-Championship, Nurse-era Raptors, it’s that he doesn’t trust his bench and the proof is in the minutes the other players get.

Anyway: Boucher remains an incredibly efficient offensive player who cannot stay on the floor due to his size and, sometimes, his decision-making. In the right role, he is arguably one of the better backup 4s in the league. On a great team, he could come in 15-20 minutes a night and beat-up on the other team’s bench.

But, since the departures of Gasol and Ibaka, he has too often been asked to be the team’s #1 centre, because the Raptors have done such a poor job finding replacements for either player. And so he’s seen his efficiency drop and, this season, his defensive metrics have gotten worse.

He is also, as always, older than everyone thinks he is.

Now that the Raptors finally have a real centre, I am far less concerned with his role. Provided they can retain that centre (see below), I think Boucher is fine to have around as an honest-to-goodness bench player, since the Raptors have so few of them.

Precious Achiuwa, 23, C/PF, under contract through 2024 $2.71 million

  • 1140 minutes (7th)
  • Per 36:
    • 16P (8th)
    • 10.4R (2nd)
    • 0.9B (5th)
    • 1.6A (12th)
    • 1S (12th)
  • 15.2 PER (6th)
  • .554 TS% (7th)
  • 2.2 Win Shares (8th)
  • .093 WS/48 (9th)
  • -2.3 BPM (11th)
  • -0.1 VORP (12th)

Believe it or not, this was the best season of Achiuwa’s career by every advanced metric except total Win Shares, and that latter number is influenced by his massive decline in minutes this season. (This improvement overall comes with a massive decline in his 3-point percentage, too, making the overall improvement in other aspects of his game much more notable.)

What does it say about Toronto’s coaching staff that Achiuwa was better this year but played nearly 600 fewer minutes? Because, I can tell you, it didn’t have anything to do with the Raptors’ depth. (It’s worth noting that Achiuwa played less than half as many minutes as Anunoby while missing only 12 more games.)

Achiuwa is still young. I have no idea if he can start at the 4 (or 5) in the NBA on a regular basis, but I believe in him so much more now than I did 18th months ago. He’s a flawed player, but he is actually developing into a better version of that player before our eyes.

This should be a big season for him only there are, at the very least, 2 guys above him in the depth chart. (Though that obviously depends on what happens with Poeltl in the off-season.) And so, provided the coaching situation doesn’t change, it’s likely he will continue to not get enough playing time to improve more quickly. That’s too bad.

Christian Koloko, 22, C, under contract through 2025 at $2.02 million

  • 802 minutes (8th)
  • Per 36:
    • 8.2P (14th)
    • 7.7R (4th)
    • 2.6B (1st, by .9)
    • 1.4A (14th)
    • 0.9S (t-13th)
  • 11.4 PER (11th)
  • .517 TS% (10th)
  • 1.7 Win Shares (9th)
  • .104 WS/48 (6th)
  • -3.5 BPM (14th)
  • -0.3 VORP (14th)

For a little while this season, Koloko was looking like the biggest Raptors second round draft success in quite a while. Hell, getting 800 NBA minutes out of the 33rd pick in any draft is already a win.

Koloko is already a decent NBA defender at times and clearly has the potential to be better. He is a blackhole on offense, though, and this likely has something to do with how little he played, especially as the season wore on.

I suspect Koloko’s ceiling is as a backup centre but he’s young enough and cheap enough that the Raptors don’t need to make any decision about him yet. If the Raptors do end up tanking before his current contract expires, he will presumably get a lot more playing time to show what kind of future he has in the NBA.

Thaddeus Young, 34, PF, under contract through 2024 at $8 million

  • 795 minutes (9th)
  • Per 36:
    • 10.9P (12th)
    • 7.5R (t-5th)
    • 0.2B (t-last)
    • 3.4A (7th)
    • 2.4S (1st)
  • 14.1 PER (10th)
  • .573 TS% (4th)
  • 1.8 Win Shares (9th)
  • .109 WS/48 (5th)
  • 0.1 BPM (7th)
  • 0.4 VORP (8th)

I was fine with Young trade last year because Young has long been one of my favourite players. He’s one of those guys who can do a little bit of (nearly) everything and he’s a connector. In the right role on the right team, he’s a really valuable player. Or, at least, he was.

There are two problems with Young’s Raptors tenure: there are already a bunch of guys on this team who do what he does but do it much better, and Young is getting old.

That being said, Young’s advanced metrics paint a picture that is better than the eye test (or the lineup numbers). Though he hasn’t looked good this year, the advanced numbers have him as a valuable bench player.

I’m not exactly sure what he’s supposed to do next season, as he’ll be older and slower and he will remain sort of redundant, but I also don’t really see how to trade him for much before his contract expires.

Jakob Poeltl, 27, C, free agent

  • 707 minutes (10th)
  • Per 36:
    • 17.4P (5th)
    • 12.1R (1st)
    • 1.7B (t-2nd)
    • 2.9A (t-8th)
    • 1.5S (8th)
  • 23.1 PER (1st)
  • .652 TS% (1st)
  • 3.1 Win Shares (7th)
  • .209 WS/48 (1st)
  • 3.6 BPM (1st)
  • 1 VORP (6th)

I was not super thrilled with this trade when it happened. Also, normally, I am not a huge fan of trading for players you previously traded away. However, to deal with the latter issue first: that first trade won the Raptors a championship and Poeltl was included to get it done.

Almost immediately, Poeltl made it clear how badly this team needed a centre. Maybe one game after he got here, the Raptors were clearly a better team. And he was among the very best players on the team ever since. (The advanced metrics, skewed by a smaller sample, paint him as the best player on the team.)

The appropriate question I’ve seen people ask is, why didn’t the Raptors trade for Poeltl last season? And I don’t know why. He’s certainly more valuable to this team than Young is.

If the Raptors are not taking next season, they need to re-sign him.

Malachi Flynn, 24, PG, under contract through 2024 at $3.87 million

  • 691 minutes (11th)
  • Per 36:
    • 12.8P (10th)
    • 3.6A (6th)
    • 1.1S (t-9th)
    • 4R (13th)
    • 0.2B (last)
  • 8.7 PER (14th)
  • .479 TS% (14th)
  • 0.5 Win Shares (12th)
  • .034 WS/48 (last)
  • -4.1 BPM (last)
  • -0.4 VORP (last)

Whatever thoughts we once had about Flynn being a suitable backup to Van Vleet are long gone at this point, I think. You can criticize the Raptors for not giving him enough playing time but this was the worst season of his career and it’s looking like he is just not an NBA player.

If the Raptors really want to tank next season, he’s the starting PG.

Juancho Hernangomez, 27, PF, waived

  • 614 minutes (12th)
  • Per 36:
    • 7.2P (last)
    • 7.2R (7th)
    • 0.4B (t-11th)
    • 1.5A (13th)
    • 0.9S (last)
  • 7.6 PER (last)
  • .504 TS% (12th)
  • 0.7 Win Shares (11th)
  • .053 WS/48 (13th)
  • -3.3 BPM (12th)
  • -0.2 (13th)

One of the Raptors’ two off-season acquisitions, Hernangomez the Younger at least played. (I really wish Otto Porter hadn’t gotten injured.) But he was not very good and he was waived back in February. It’s possible the Raptors should have signed a backup PG or, um, a starting centre instead. (As Koreen pointed out in his season grades column, the money for Porter and Hernangomez could have gone to free agents who are currently playing meaningful minutes in the playoffs.)

Dalano Banton, 23, PG, free agent

  • 279 minutes (13th)
  • Per 36:
    • 18.3P (4th)
    • 4.6A (4th)
    • 1.7S (t-5th)
    • 5.8R (9th)
    • 1.7B (t-2nd)
  • 14.9 PER (8th)
  • .505 TS% (11th)
  • 0.4 Win Shares (13th)
  • .064 WS/48 (12th)
  • -0.5 BPM (9th)
  • 0.1 VORP (9th)

Would Banton’s Per 36 numbers be worse if he played more? The advanced states say “yes.”

Banton is an extremely tall and long PG who sometimes looks like he could be pretty good if he weren’t so wild, and sometimes looks unplayable. Clearly the coaching staff doesn’t trust him but I do feel like he earned more minutes than Flynn. (I don’t remember off-hand how many games he played in the G League.)

I would say that, if the Raptors draft a PG this summer, there’s probably no reason to bring Banton back. There are probably better 3rd string PGs in free agency. If there aren’t I guess he’s back on the team.

Jeff Dowtin, 25, PG, two-way (unknown expiry)

  • 259 minutes (14th)
  • Per 36:
    • 8.5P (13th)
    • 4.3A (5th)
    • 1.3S (8th)
    • 3.2R (14th)
    • 0.4B (t-11th)
  • 9.9 PER (t-13th)
  • .500 TS% (13th)
  • 0.4 Win Shares (13th)
  • .076 WS/48 (11th)
  • -1.9 BPM (10th)
  • 0 VORP (t-10th)

I’m all for two-way contracts with G-League players, for development purposes sure, but more importantly for injury and “load management” purposes. Sometimes you need warm bodies.

But 25-year-olds aren’t normally going to do much more developing.

It’s hard to have strong opinions about 25-year-old 4th string PGs on two-way contracts. (That didn’t stop the fan base and media from talking about this guy like he was a player.)

Will Barton, 32, SG/SF, free agent

  • 211 minutes (last)
  • Per 36:
    • 12.3P (11th)
    • 2.9A (t-8th)
    • 1.9S (2nd)
    • 4.4R (12th)
    • 0.5B (t-8th)
  • 9.9 (t-13th)
  • .451 TS% (last)
  • 0.2 Win Shares (last)
  • .051 TS% (14th)
  • -2.5 BPM (3rd)
  • 0 VORP (t-10th)

I usually cut off the minutes at 250 minutes but I lowered it to 200 so I could briefly talk about Barton.

In the first possession of the Nuggets game I went to, Barton was awesome on defense. I was super excited. He was less good later on the next possession and for the rest of the game.

I think it’s safe to say he didn’t work out, though how much of that is on the Raptors’ coaches, I’m not 100% sure. I have no idea if 79 shots is enough for a player to get his rhythm. But he shot so much worse for the Raptors than he did the rest of the season. Worth the flyer, though, given their decision not to tank.

Obviously Otto Porter didn’t work out through no fault of his own. I was certainly hoping he would help. But there’s nothing that can be done about that now. No blurb on him because he didn’t play enough.

The biggest thing I learned from this season is that the team is stuck, trying to rebuild post-championship but either not having the tools to do so or, quite possibly, not having the right coach.

I will be forever grateful to Nurse for coaching the Raptors to a championship. But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the last two seasons, it’s that Nurse does not like to play young players he doesn’t trust. He is a great coach when he has veteran talent, he is not when he has mistake-prone young players. It feels as though he wouldn’t play Barnes as much as he does if the franchise wasn’t riding on him.

The Raptors’ immediate need is pretty clear: shooting, shooting and more shooting. But if Nurse will only play veteran guys, that works against younger players improving their in-game shooting.

I see two options for the franchise right now:

  1. Improve the team around Siakam to try to make the playoffs and upset some other teams (there is no path to a championship that I can see around this core).
  2. Bet that Barnes will become one of the greatest Raptors of all time – as good or better than Siakam – and tear everything else down to tank to get him support closer to his age.

Regardless of which of these choices is the right one – and I have no idea which one is the right one – I no longer believe Nurse is the right coach. (That is all the more true for option #2.)

Now, this is not entirely on Nurse. If he feels like he can’t play the bench and management keeps giving him a bench he feels he can’t play, that is as much on management. “Vision 6’9″” has failed, I think it’s safe to say. (At least, this version of it, with a team that shoots 33.5% from 3, but takes 32 threes per game, has failed.)

If management wants to try to win some playoff rounds with a core of Anunoby-Barnes-Siakam, the team needs more shooting and more ball-handling. And, in my opinion, a new coach.

If that isn’t possible, then they need to find a Mitchell/Gobert deal for Siakam.

Okay, I’m joking. But the deal for Siakam needs to be really good. Because he’s a Top 20 player in the NBA. And there’s no guarantee that Barnes will be a Top 15 player in the NBA at Siakam’s age.

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