It’s hard to know what to make of the Raptors as they begin life without Kyle Lowry. The team is finally returning to its home arena after spending last year in Tampa Bay, and there’s a solid foundation of veterans in place led by Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby. The Raptors feel like a team still caught between eras, trying to bridge its one-time championship core with a young future headlined by No. 4 overall draft pick Scottie Barnes. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Toronto make a big trade as either buyers or sellers in the next 12 months.
A top-six seed in the east seems like the easy answer here, but ultimately — this being a transition year for the Raptors — continued growth from the core of OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam is what we really want to see. Seeing VanVleet make the All-Star team and Anunoby make All-Defense would be good indicators of that growth.
Losing in the play-in round. Under Masai Ujiri the Raptors have embraced a “win games but stay flexible” model, and that middle ground of barely missing the postseason/not getting a high lottery pick is the exact opposite of that.
Probably exactly what happened last season: missing the play-in game by a few games, resting key players down the stretch to improve the lottery odds. Hopefully I’ll be proven wrong, and the team will be better than I think. But given the lack of scoring punch and the absence of Pascal Siakam (shoulder surgery) to start the season, it’s hard to be overly optimistic.
Scottie Barnes. I’m always very cautious when it comes to rookies, especially a rookie who might have been a slight reach at the No. 4 pick. But Barnes is saying and doing all the right things, and has impressed his coaches and teammates with his energy on the floor in camp and summer league. He’ll make his share of rookie mistakes, but should be fun to watch.