How well has Raptors management handled this offseason? Have they gotten significantly better? I don’t think so. Significantly worse? Wrong again. So let’s go through every move the Raptors have made up to this point in the offseason and grade each one, and then average them out to decide how well it’s really gone. The results might surprise you.
Re-signing PG/SG Fred VanVleet, Grade: A
The Raptors locked up their future point guard and Lowry replacement. Signing VanVleet to a 4 year, $85 million dollar contract might very well be the best move the Raptors have made this offseason. With Lowry’s contract expiring after the upcoming season, Fred is poised to take over the role of lead guard for the Raptors. Coming off a career year averaging 17.6 points and 6.6 assists while shooting 39.0% from three, VanVleet said on JJ Redick’s podcast that he was looking to “cash out” and that he had nothing left to prove. The only, and I mean only reason, this move didn’t get an A+ from me is that they may have slightly overpaid VanVleet, but that was clearly necessary to keep him around. Fred VanVleet is ready to become a leader of this franchise, and should be a building block for the Raptors for years to come.
Drafting PG Malachi Flynn, Grade: A-
If we’re going to talk about VanVleet first, next up has to be his future backcourt partner Malachi Flynn. The Raptors drafted Flynn at 29th overall, betting on his upside as some mock drafts had him going as low as the 55th pick. The reason this grade is so high is as much because of the organization Flynn was drafted into as it about his actual playing ability. The 22 year old point guard averaged 17.6 points and 5.1 assists while shooting a strong 37.3% from three in his junior year at San Diego State. He may not seem special, but he might be the future Kyle Lowry for the Raptors. A huge part of Flynn’s game is his defense. He’s known as a player who leaves everything on the court each and every game, and won defensive player of the year in the Mountain West Conference. Malachi will have the opportunity to develop behind two of the toughest perimeter defenders in the game in Lowry and VanVleet, and I believe Lowry will start grooming Flynn to take over for him when his Raptors tenure is over. “But you just said VanVleet was the future point guard!” I know I know, VanVleet is a point guard but as his time playing alongside Lowry has proved, he can easily shift over to shooting guard. Having already locked up VanVleet makes the Flynn draft pick even better, because the Raptors backcourt for the next few years went from an area of uncertainty to a very solid young core.
Drafting PG/SG Jalen Harris, Grade: B
B isn’t bad, it’s just average. With the 59th pick in the draft, the Raptors selected Jalen Harris, 6’4 combo guard out of the University of Nevada. Averaging 21.7 points and 3.9 assists in his final year of college, Harris is looking to emulate the story of many of his now teammates. Players like OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Norman Powell were also overlooked prospects who blossomed into solid rotational players (or all-stars in some cases). If Harris has the ability and the work ethic to follow the steps the Raptors development team has helped so many other players achieve, this pick will look a lot better than it does right now. But for now, it’s just okay.
Signing PF/C Aron Baynes and PF/C Alex Len, Grade: C+
Don’t get me wrong, Aron Baynes is already one of my favourite players on the Raptors. Baynes has become a fan-favourite everywhere he’s played partially because of his fun-loving attitude, but mostly because of his willingness to give his all every time he steps on the floor. Baynes is fearless both on offense and on defense, willing to contest every shot at the rim at risk of getting posterized, and with the ability to set hard screens on opposing defenders, he’ll fit in great with the Raptors culture and style of play. Baynes also has no hesitation to let the three fly (which will be a pleasant change from Gasol’s unwillingness to shoot), shooting 35.1% on four attempts per game, which is very respectable for a player at his position. Len is also a solid addition to the Raptors bench squad, averaging 8 points and 5.8 rebounds in just over 17 minutes per game. Len will fill the role of backup center nicely, and both Baynes and Len are good rotational pieces to have on your team. Why is this grade so low then? You might be asking yourself that question right now. The reason being, these additions came with the loss of big men Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. There’s little question that Ibaka was and is the best player of the bunch, coming off a career year where he averaged over 15 points off the bench, shooting over 50% from the field and over 38% from three. The Raptors will miss him as their spark off the bench, but will also miss their defensive anchor Gasol. Although far removed from his defensive player of the year days in Memphis, Gasol was always a strong defender in Toronto. Toronto fans will never forget when he tormented Joel Embiid for the entire seven games between the Raptors and 76ers in the Eastern Conference semi-finals back in 2019. Though not a shot blocker, Gasol knew how to be smart and contest without fouling, and he was the centerpiece and one of the vocal leaders of one of the league’s top defenses the past two seasons. When all is said and done, Baynes and Len are good, Ibaka and Gasol are better, therefore, C+.
Signing SG/SF DeAndre’ Bembry, Grade: B+
Bembry was brought in to replace Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and I’m glad he’s here. Rondae worked hard and played good defense, able to guard 1-4 and sometimes even 5 when called upon. But I personally was getting tired of his offensive ineptitude. Rondae shot just 13% from three last year (on only 0.4 attempts per game), and shot under 50% on field goals in total, which is just too low for a player getting most of his shots close to the rim. Bembry is a very similar player to Rondae, with his hustle-first and hard-working playstyle. He’s yet another player that the Raptors seem to always have lots of, the kind that will leave it all out on the floor on every single play, that make you proud to be a Raptors fan win or lose. Bembry is a slight upgrade on Rondae in my opinion because he’s a somewhat more respectable three point shooter (although still well below league average) with a better finishing ability from anywhere outside three feet.
Staying in play for Giannis, Grade: A
The Raptors have had a mostly mediocre offseason, but that’s because they’re focused on summer 2021 and reigning back-to-back MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Everything the Raptors did this offseason needed to fit with one goal, keep enough cap space to sign Giannis next year. Antetokounmpo has yet to sign the supermax extension with the Bucks, and has made it clear that his first priority is winning (recall the Raptors beating the Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals in 2019 and the Bucks quick exit to the Heat in 2020). This is good news for Raptors fans. In making their signings, Masai Ujiri and the Raptors have made sure they’ll have the cap space to make a run at Giannis in 2021, and it could be a two-horse race. The Bucks will obviously do anything in their power to keep him around, but the Heat who were also planning to pursue Giannis may have put themselves out of contention with their extension of first-time all-star Bam Adebayo. If the Bucks fail to make the finals, let alone win a championship, again this year, Giannis could be looking for a new home in the very near future. The Raptors will be waiting.
Total Offseason Grade: B+
All in all, the Raptors offseason has been just okay. They didn’t get much better or much worse. A solid draft and the resigning of Fred VanVleet pushes their offseason to a grade slightly above average, but the Raptors aren’t meant to be a finals contender this year. One of the most important things they did was to keep cap available for summer 2021, and if all goes well, the upcoming offseason could be one of the best in franchise history.