Special editorial by Arjun Ram for On Point Basketball
What a season it was — and what a way to end it off.
Just when you thought Game 7 of the Raptors-Philadelphia series was going to be a tight one, the 76ers assumed control and steamrolled their way to the next round.
It was such a drastic shift of momentum. Suddenly, a season full of success closed so sourly.
But hey, there’s still a lot to reflect on. Although our guys may be sent home early, this year deserves to be looked back on.
With that being said, here’s what I can take away from the Raptors’ 27th NBA season.
Scottie Barnes is the future of this team:
Let’s start on a high note: Scottie Barnes is next up.
I approached the decision to select Barnes in the NBA Draft with trepidation. I believed Masai Ujiri was going to pick former Gonzaga star Jalen Suggs.
But it was evident from the start that Ujiri made the right decision. Barnes was drafted fourth overall by Toronto, and from the moment he stepped foot on the court, he engulfed the fanbase with promise, doing everything from scoring, assisting, and even making an effort on the defensive end.
Barnes averaged 15 points per game during the season, eventually being rewarded with the Rookie of the Year.
His ankle injury that persisted throughout the first round of the playoffs was nerve-racking, but it was promising to see his determination. Scottie played most of the games and exuded confidence with his leadership.
While there is room for improvement, like ameliorating his shooting, Barnes has time to develop and shine amongst a younger core.
His electric personality – and joyous smile – tells me he enjoys being here. It won’t be long before our team will revolve around his leadership and skill – something to look forward to.
The centre position may require changes:
The centre position has been one of difficulty for the Toronto Raptors over the last few years. We had our run in 2019 with two reliable, experienced big-men in Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.
Fast forward three seasons later, and our centres are mostly young. The veteran is Khem Birch, whom we acquired halfway through last year.
Yes, Chris Boucher has been a part of this organization for years, but his inconsistency throughout the season has raised an integral question: should the Raptors develop their centres or acquire a more prominent one.
I’m not forgetting Precious Achiuwa. While his offensive game is polarizing, his interior defence is not to reckon with.
But I can’t help but wonder how the organization is going to tackle the centre position.
On one hand, you can continue to develop the younger big men you have. Achiuwa averaged 10 points during the playoffs, and this was his first season.
But on the other hand, the Toronto Raptors can enter themselves into the market. It was rumoured in early April that the Raptors and Dallas Mavericks were interested in three-time Defensive Player of the Year winner and All-Star Rudy Gobert if Utah would make him available this summer.
Other centres available include Mitchell Robinson of the Knicks; Jusif Nurkic of the Blazers; and Ivica Zubac of the Clippers, who’s on a Team Option.
It wouldn’t hurt if the organization had a peek at what’s available. This offseason will be an interesting one.
The Raptors won the Gary Trent. Jr – Norman Powell trade
Gary Trent Jr. is just a cool guy.
It’s like he’s always exhibiting swagger, whether he just hit an elusive shot over a defender or crossed his opponent for an easy layup.
Trent Jr. was traded at the deadline last year. The Raptors gave away fan-favourite Norman Powell to the Blazers to acquire him.
At first, there was a lot of speculation on whether they made the right decision. Trent Jr. didn’t play much in Portland, nor had he assumed an integral role for any team.
But the Raptors quickly changed that, implementing his quickness, and scoring capabilities into a youthful lineup. This past season, Trent. Jr averaged 18.3 points per game — a career-best.
In the playoffs, he was resilient, combating a sickness in the first game and eventually contributing to a few major wins.
He can only get better from here, and I for one am excited to see what his future holds.
OG Anunoby has risen to his potential
The regular season is where you build up your legacy. The playoffs are where you certify it.
OG Anunoby had a great regular season but enhanced his play as the playoffs arrived.
While he may seem mellow and shy, he is nothing but aggressive and tenacious on the court. OG can do everything from hit clutch threes or slam it home and capitalize on the win.
Anunoby averaged 17 points per game through the Philadelphia series and made his presence felt on the defensive end.
It was only his second playoffs, and with how the team is currently trending, it won’t be his last.
He signed a four-year, 72-million-dollar contract, officially enacted this past season.
The Raptor fan base remains undefeated
Okay, this is a personal takeaway.
As Game 6 drew close and Nick Nurse began emptying his bench, the crowd did the opposite of what Philadelphia fans did after Game 5: They cheered.
It was reminiscent of Game 6 against the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. As the Cavs began celebrating their Eastern Conference Finals win, the Toronto crowd passionately rallied behind the home team.
The fans have been through a lot. Last year, they were unable to watch the Raptors play at home. But this season was a reward, and the fans showed up.
Their energy was unmatched throughout the season; the Raptors benefited from the fandom.
We The North forever.