Following a turbulent free agency period which saw two more members of the Toronto Raptors championship squad dash for the brighter lights of Hollywood, the team’s roster is finally complete heading into the 2020-2021 season. Questions are still looming around the Raptors’ lack of depth at the power forward position, and whether the organization will hold Terence Davis Jr. accountable for his domestic violence charges, however barring any more roster changes, the team’s depth chart going into next season looks as follows:
|Kyle Lowry||OG Anunoby||Pascal Siakam|
|Fred VanVleet||Norman Powell||Aron Baynes|
|Terence Davis Jr.||DeAndre’ Bembry||Chris Boucher|
|Matt Thomas||Paul Watson Jr.||Alex Len|
|Malachi Flynn||Stanley Johnson||Dewan Hernandez|
|Jalen Harris||Patrick McCaw|
With the way that the modern NBA is going, it’s hard to argue that there are five defined positions on the court anymore. Essentially, players can be classified in one of three categories: guards, wings, and bigs. Guards are typically the smallest guys on the court and facilitate the team’s offense, while spacing the floor, penetrating the opponent’s defense, and serving as an all-around floor general. Wings should be able to do a little bit of everything, and are usually the first guys down the court on a fastbreak – what one might call the receiver of an outlet pass. Finally, bigs operate just as the word implies. These are the guys who hold down the fort defensively and are the conductor of the orchestra on that end of the floor, they should be able to provide some rim protection, and set screens to free up guards on offense.
Among the 17 players listed above, at least two will have to be converted to two-way contracts. Presumably, those players would be Jalen Harris, and Paul Watson Jr., as they are both slotted in at positions with a considerable amount of depth. The noticeable omission from this chart is Oshae Brissett, who will likely be looking for a new home next season unless the Raptors decide to waive Davis, or make a trade packaging more players outgoing than those incoming.
Without further ado, let’s dive into what the Raptors rotation might look like for the upcoming 2020-2021 season, assuming that no more roster changes are made before December 22nd.
Figuratively, and literally, it all starts and ends with Kyle Lowry. He’s the engine of the Raptors, the greatest Raptor of all-time, and at 34-years-old, he’s still the best player on the team. Lowry is slated to start at one guard slot, while Fred VanVleet – the $85 million man – is virtually a lock to start at the other. The two of them have been through all of the trials and tribulations of the NBA together, and combine to form one of the fiercest backcourts in the league.
The bench is where things begin to get a little tricky – but in a good way. It’s not that the Raptors have no useful options, and that Nick Nurse will be forced to roll the dice on an unproven project. It’s that the Raptors have several players all deserving of consistent minutes, but the time in a basketball game is so limited.
To a lot of fans’ dismay, Davis will likely be among the first players off the bench this coming season. He’ll be lucky to play in empty arenas without fans heckling him, should he be found guilty of his charges in court on December 11th. Ultimately, the Raptors organization decided that his basketball talent was too overwhelming to cut him loose. After being the first Raptor since Jonas Valanciunas to make an all-rookie team, Davis will look to continue his upward trend to on-court stardom.
Between the remaining minutes, Matt Thomas and Malachi Flynn may find their opportunities situationally. Unless one of them can get the clear edge over the other during training camp, they both project to have similar overall impacts on winning. After an impressive rookie season where he came in regarded as a lights-out shooter and not much else, Matt Thomas played his into becoming the Raptors’ eighth man. While he’s lacking the physical tools to be a good defender, Thomas empties his tank on that end of the floor, which is all that a coach can ask for. Especially when offensively, he’s among the best shooters in the world, and can open up driving lanes for teammates just by standing six feet behind the arc.
On the other hand, Flynn was seemingly drafted as player who can come in and help a team win immediately. He played four years in college, is coming off a season in which he won Mountain West Conference Player of the Year, and Defensive Player of the Year, and should be one of the better third string point guards in the NBA from the moment he steps foot onto the court. Unlike Thomas, Flynn is a very good defender despite lacking in size, and he is a pick-and-roll maestro with an uncanny ability to create wide-open shots for his teammates. Obviously with the two presenting very different skillsets, Nick Nurse has a swiss army knife in his back pocket. It’ll be up to him when he wants to pull out the scissors, or use the two-inch blade.
Though the Raptors don’t have any All-Stars on the wing, they do have several competent options who can eat up significant minutes. To start with the clear-cut top two again, we’re looking at OG Anunoby, and Norman Powell.
Again, these two present very complementary skillsets. Powell is coming off a season in which he averaged career highs across the board, and even won Eastern Conference Player of the Week honours in early March. He’s slightly undersized for a wing at only 6’4, but his massive 215-pound frame makes up for the lack of height. He’s able to defend bigger players, and is among the most athletic guys in the entire NBA. Next season without the facilitation of Gasol and the reliable scoring punch of Ibaka, Powell’s offensive role should be increased even further.
The more intriguing of the two – and for good reason – is OG Anunoby. His numbers don’t jump off the page, but his potential surely does. It sounds like a stretch to compare OG to a young Kawhi Leonard, but diving into their numbers, their personalities, and their stories, it is completely plausible that Anunoby could emulate a fraction of Leonard’s greatness. At 23-years-old, he’s already one of the best defenders in the league, and his three-point stroke is as steady as they come. In the bubble, OG began to show a little bit of an ability to put the ball on the floor and create his own shot, so if he can continue to develop that ability, then an All-Star appearance could be on the horizon for him.
Looking past Anunoby and Powell, the talent level on the wing drops off significantly. Though Watson is a fan favourite with his alluring potential to be a dynamic scorer, and Nurse seems to have a fetish for watching Patrick McCaw do virtually nothing on the floor for 28 minutes per game, we’re going to assume that DeAndre’ Bembry takes the bulk of the minutes available off the bench.
Bembry is essentially a smaller version of what Rondae Hollis-Jefferson brought to Toronto, albeit with a far greater ability to make plays for himself and for others. He’s a very pesky, long, and athletic defender, and is the exact type of player that Toronto has molded their culture around over the past eight years.
After the departures of Gasol and Ibaka, the Raptors’ fan base was left in shambles – and rightfully so. Not only were the two beloved by their teammates and by the city, but their skillsets complemented each other well, they brought a calming veteran presence to the locker room, and they formed one of the best centre rotations in the league.
Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster didn’t do any sulking though. They went out and got the best big man remaining on the free agent market, in Aron Baynes. Immediately afterward they re-signed Chris Boucher to a two-year deal, and grabbed Alex Len on a minimum contract. While all three of the signees fit most comfortably at the centre position, leaving Siakam without a true backup at power forward, Anunoby would be capable of sliding up to fill some of those minutes, or Boucher might just have to get comfortable playing on the perimeter a bit more.
As one of the premier faces of the NBA who will look to become a bonafide superstar this coming season, Siakam is going to play close to 40 minutes per game at the four spot. Baynes is also clearly the best centre option that the Raptors have, so he should add another chapter to his late-bloomer story and get even more minutes this coming season than he did last year in Phoenix.
Off the bench, it’s hard to see Len having a greater role than an injury insurance guy. Boucher’s contract, his energy level, and his familiarity with Nurse’s system should give him the edge over the Ukrianian native. Dewan Hernandez will also have a lot to prove this year in training camp after being injured for most of last season if he wants to play real minutes, but per Bobby Webster, the Raptors are going to be treating the 2020-2021 season as though it’s his rookie year all over again.
The Raptors roster may look a little bit weaker this season than it did last year, and that’s because it is. You get what you pay for, and the Raptors are spending less money now in an attempt to preserve cap space and sign Giannis Antetokounmpo next summer. Regardless, the Raptors are a lock to make The Playoffs, and should find some success in the first couple rounds. As long as Kyle Lowry is in Toronto, the Raptors will have a winning record. Below is a final breakdown of my prediction for the Raptors’ rotation next season:
Kyle Lowry – 31 minutes per game
Fred VanVleet – 32 minutes per game
OG Anunoby – 34 minutes per game
Pascal Siakam – 36 minutes per game
Aron Baynes – 27 minutes per game
Norman Powell – 22 minutes per game
Terence Davis Jr. – 17 minutes per game
DeAndre’ Bembry – 14 minutes per game
Chris Boucher – 13 minutes per game
Malachi Flynn/Matt Thomas – 13 minutes per game
Paul Watson Jr