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The Raptors have a ceiling, but can they raise it?

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The 2021 Toronto Raptors are finally looking like the the Raptors of old. While they still clearly miss Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, things look better. Norman Powell has settled in after early season concerns, Siakam looks like an Allstar caliber player again, and the defensive efficiency has improved to 10th (ESPN). At 17-17 they are sitting in the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference, just half a game back of the Boston Celtics. They have shown an ability to compete with good teams too. Recently, they have defeated Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Brooklyn – the top three teams in the Conference.

Toronto Raptors: Three issues impacting Raptors' success in 2021
Can the Raptors get to a new level this season? (Photo: Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

While we can see that this team is reminiscent of last year’s Raptors, we must remember that team also had a ceiling. Despite a 53-19 record, no one truly saw a championship contender in Toronto. They were deep, well coached, and elite on defence. This is a formula for regular season success and to be a tough out in the playoffs. It is fun to be good enough to beat bad teams and cause problems against contending teams but that isn’t how title winning teams operate. This version of the Toronto Raptors has the same ceiling as last year’s team. Is it possible for this to be raised?

Offensive Superstar Talent

The main reason that a team has a ceiling like the Raptors is the lack of an offensive superstar. Most teams who compete for championships have a player who can get them a bucket by creating their own offence. This has been well-documented for the Raptors as an area of weakness. Siakam has tried to be this player, but his skills aren’t suited for this role. He thrives on using his speed, cutting, and spinning off of weak defenders. He won’t be seeing weak defenders very often come playoff time. Fred Vanvleet and Kyle Lowry are great guards who have different elements to their games but their size will create difficulties to be that ‘go to’ player.

Down the line, they have Powell and OG Anunoby. Both of these players are capable of creating looks (more so Powell) however, neither of them are elite. These guys are excellent 4th-5th offensive options for the Raptors, so it would be unfair to expect them to be that player for them. Chris Boucher is having a nice year, DeAndre Bemby is playing well, but these guys aren’t the ceiling raisers for the team. For the Raptors, they need at least two of their ‘big three’ to be playing at their best to compete with elite teams. Having a single superstar offensive talent is not a realistic expectation for this year’s Raptors roster. They do not have one on their team now, and they aren’t going to be acquiring one anytime soon. So what else could raise the ceiling?

Trade Market

There is no offensive superstar coming to save the Raptors. Bradley Beal isn’t coming, Karl-Anthony Towns isn’t coming, and James Harden has a new home in Brooklyn. Players like Victor Oladipo, and Demar DeRozan could be moved. It’s hard to call either of them a real ‘elite’ offensive player despite both being very good. Raptors fans know exactly what DeRozan brings to the table. It isn’t very likely that we see a trade for either of these players this season. It would cost Powell and picks to acquire them – as well as other players to match the salary cap. These players would arguably be upgrades on Norm, but not necessarily ceiling raisers.

Richaun Holmes for MVP, the Kings playing some defense and four more  observations from an 0-4 start – The Athletic
The Toronto Raptors should be calling about Richaun Holmes’s availability (Photo: theathletic)

The obvious trade market for the Raptors is to pick up a starting caliber centre. Andre Drummond is very much available – no thanks though. To match his salary in a trade it is not worth it for the Raptors to acquire a player who is unwanted by the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers. A player that very much peaks my interest is Richaun Holmes from the Sacramento Kings. Holmes is averaging 13 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists, on 66% shooting from the field. The Kings are 1-9 in their last ten games, and if they fall out of playoff contention they could look to move an expiring player like Holmes. If the Raptors could acquire him for a player such as Matt Thomas, Terance Davis as well as a second round pick they should make that move. It is difficult to say that the Kings would accept such an offer but there is reason to believe that they might.

Deal 1:

  •  Richaun Holmes to the Raptors
  • Terence Davis, Patrick McCaw, 2021 seocnd round pick to the Kings

More Depth needed?

After this hypothetical trade, the Raptors now have a quality centre. Holmes doesn’t shoot the 3, but he has an excellent push-shot from the mid range that could help the Raptors against zone defences. This does not vault the Raptors into contender status in the Eastern Conference. It helps; however, more is needed in terms of depth to become a more threatening team. 

A team that will likely be shopping veteran players this season is the Houston Rockets. They have lost 12 straight games, and are nowhere near the playoff picture in the west. PJ Tucker, while not the player he once was, could be an interesting target. He can still play good defense (particularly against bigger players) and hits his open threes. Tucker would fit in nicely with the Raptors system as he is used to playing in small ball lineups. The Rockets will surely get offers for his services, but it could be just a player like Matt Thomas and a future second to acquire him. In 2017 the Raptors added Tucker for a second round pick when he was five years younger.

2017 NBA free agency grades: Houston Rockets agree to sign P.J. Tucker
Could PJ Tucker be acquired by the Toronto Raptors… again? (Photo: fansided)

Deal 2: 

  • PJ Tucker to the Raptors
  • Aron Baynes, Matt Thomas, 2022 second round pick to the Rockets

It is hard to say if these trades are plausible. These team are receiving some young talent and a pick for expiring contracts. Holmes has been rumoured to be resigning in Sacramento so this may also play a factor.

New Raptors Playoff Rotation:

Lowry 36 mins

Vanvleet 36 mins

Anunoby 35 mins

Siakam 37 Mins

Powell 26 mins

Holmes 24 mins

Boucher 18 mins

Tucker 17 mins

Bembry 11 mins

Has the Raptors ceiling actually been raised?

These trades clearly do not solve the Raptors need of an offensive superstar. As mentioned, this is not solvable for this season. What these trades do provide is depth and options for the Raptors starting and closing lineups. Right now, they look poised to start and end small with Lowry, Vanvleet, Powell, Siakam, and Anunoby. With the Addition of Holmes and Tucker, they can include these players based on certain matchups. Against teams like the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers, you could use Holmes. He can stand his ground against Joel Embiid, and create some scoring against that Eric Spolstra zone defense from the centre. Tucker could be useful against teams such as Milwaukee and Boston as someone who can play the ‘wall’ defensive against drivers like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jayson Tatum while hitting corner threes.

The Raptors will still rely heavily on their starting lineup for minutes, but these players make them a deeper team equip to take on more match ups. This would not vault them into the top 2-3 teams in the league, but it would certainly improve their chances of a playoff upset on a superior team such as the Brooklyn Nets, or the Lakers or Clippers if they were able to make it through the east. This roster would not be favoured but could certainly compete with the Bucks, Celtics, Heat, or the 76ers more so than the current rotation.


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