With the 2021-2022 regular season all wrapped up, it’s safe to say that the Toronto Raptors are ahead of schedule. For a team that traded away the greatest and most accomplished player in franchise history this past offseason, expectations for the squad this season were fairly low. The 2021 NBA draft landed them Scottie Barnes; a promising player considered to be a project rather than an instant star. Remaining core pieces Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam & OG Anunoby have shown promise, but it was uncertain if any of them could be the best player on a contending team. With so much to be determined, the Raptors have rallied to a 48-win season (or 49 if they beat the Knicks Sunday night) surpassing nearly all expectations for the relatively young and new-look team. With all that said, the future is bright for Toronto and here is a look at the five most valuable Raptors in the new era of Raptors basketball:
5 – Gary Trent Jr.
Trent was acquired by the Raptors March 25, 2021, in a trade that sent long-time Raptor Norman Powell packing for Portland. This trade signaled to Raptors fans that a change of timeline was imminent for the team from the North. At only 23 years of age, Trent is five years younger than his counterpart Powell yet plays a very similar role with the team. Trent is not the primary focus of the Raptors offense, but simply takes advantage of the opportunities he gets, a role that was carved out by Norman Powell. Trent is averaging 18.3 points per game while adding 2.8 rebounds and 2 assists across 35 minutes, most of which are career highs. These numbers are likely sustainable for Trent and given his age there is room for improvements still to come. There are consistent minutes available for him on the Raps going forward making him a shoo-in for this list.
4 – OG Anunoby
It may be hard to believe, but this is only OG’s fifth season in the NBA. The 24-year-old is putting up 17.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.5 steals across 36 minutes. These numbers are very similar to what he has done in past seasons, potentially indicating OG has reached a plateau. Given his age, he certainly has time to improve, but he has also shown that he has difficulties remaining healthy. Anunoby’s athleticism is a key to his game as it allows him to play phenomenal defense on the league’s best wings including LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, and many others. This defensive versatility coupled with decent three-point shooting makes him highly valuable to the Raptors going forward as it seems Nick Nurses’ “switch everything” defense is here to stay.
“Hopefully next season will be the year OG can finally stay healthy and we will see a jump in production” – Every Raptors fan the past three off seasons.
3 – Fred VanVleet
The 2021-2022 season has been a milestone season for Steady Freddy as he earned his first ever all-star nod. The Wichita State guard is averaging career highs in points, assists, and rebounds per game while tying his career high in steals. His grit and high effort on defense have made him one of the leagues most valuable guards, and his constantly improving efficiency has made him a continuingly growing offensive threat. The departure of mentor Kyle Lowry was certainly felt most by VanVleet as he has now been tasked with leading the team as a floor general as well as performing on both ends of the floor. Freddy is having a career season and could see a jump in numbers next season as he finishes settling into his new role. The addition of Scottie Barnes as a point-forward as well as improved handling and decision making from fellow all-star Pascal Siakam means that Fred will be able to see more time away from the ball, giving him some easier looks at the basket and in catch-and-shoot scenarios. At only 28 years of age, look for a few more all-star seasons from Fred VanVleet.
2 – Pascal Siakam
Since being snubbed for the all-star game earlier this season in favor of hometown center Jarett Allen, Siakam has been on a tear, proving to Raptors fans and NBA fans alike just how talented he is. Siakam is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, and steals per game as the leading offensive option for the Raptors. His greatly improved passing and decision making has allowed him to spend more time at point-forward taking some of the weight off starting point guard Fred VanVleet while simultaneously lightening the load for rookie Scottie Barnes. The lack of a true big-man in Toronto has even allowed for Siakam to see minutes at center, a different look for Siakam as he has traditionally been slotted in at power forward. At age 28, Siakam is entering his prime and Raptors fans are expecting big things from him as they enter the 2022 playoffs. Though VanVleet was an all-star this season and Siakam was not, the size and versatility of Siakam at wing, forward, and center makes him the more valuable Raptor going forward.
1 – Scottie Barnes
Just like that, here we are at the number one spot on the list and placing Scottie Barnes here is a no-brainer. With large controversy, the Raptors elected to draft forward Scottie Barnes with their fourth overall pick, passing on Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs. Scottie had a high ceiling but wasn’t expected to make an immediate impact in the Association due to his lack of scoring ability. As usual, Raptors management made the correct (yet unpopular) decision to draft the 6’9” forward who is now in the running against fellow lottery pick Evan Mobley for Rookie of the Year. Barnes is averaging 15.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game in his rookie campaign while playing meaningful minutes for a playoff bound Raptors squad. To be expected as a rookie, his defense has been flawed as learning NBA schemes takes time for young players, and his efficiency has been up and down depending on the night and matchup. Barnes has spent time at point guard, forward, and center which has allowed him to show off his skills and versatility in a variety of situation. At just 20 years of age, the upside for Barnes as he settles into his NBA role is huge, with comparisons being drawn to players such as Ben Simmons, Draymond Green, and even Giannis Antetokounmpo. The idea of improved defense and offensive efficiency combined with what he is already showing in his rookie campaign make him by far the most valuable Raptor going forward as he aspires to become the team’s franchise superstar.