By Cole Parkinson
Sunny South News
Many doubted the Toronto Raptors would make any noise this season as they were in a semi-rebuild, but the team has looked really good for the vast majority of the season. They’re a young team, and with that, mistakes are going to happen, but overall, they have been strong on both ends of the ball.
At the start of the week, the Raps sit in sixth in the Eastern Conference and they’ve been hot of late, going 8-2 over their last 10. Over that stretch, they’ve seen wins over playoff teams including Cleveland, Philly, Denver, and Phoenix. That’s a pretty impressive streak for any team and it looks like the Raps may not only get into the playoffs, but they may skip the play-in. Sure, there are eight regular-season games to go, but with the way they’ve been playing, I don’t see much of a drop-off. There are still tough games left though, Boston (March 28), Minnesota (March 30)Miami (April 3), and Philly (April 7), but they also play bottom feeders like Orlando, Atlanta, Houston, and the New York Knicks.
Even if the Raps drop into the play-in, I like their chances against any of those teams, and really Brooklyn is the only scary team in that bottom four. The hope for head coach Nick Nurse and the coaching staff has to be to control their own fate and to finish sixth or higher in the East.
It’s been the season of Fred VanVleet in 21-22 and while he’s battled his fair share of injuries this season, the Raps’ starting point guard has continued to show this is his team. After the departure of Kyle Lowry in the offseason, it was officially VanVleet’s team and he’s been just as good as advertised. He’s played in 60 games this season and he leads the team in minutes per game, assists per game, three points made, and free throw percentage. I’d argue he’s one of the most underrated players in the league, but Raps fans know exactly what they’re going to get in FVV each and every game.
Pascal Siakam has returned to form this season, too which is a huge reason for Toronto’s position in the playoff race. He can still be inconsistent game to game, but when he’s on, he’s a force out there. He leads the teams in points per game and rebounds, and he’s near the top of the leaderboards in most other offensive categories. The reality is, the Raps g0 as far as Siakam and VanVleet take them.
That being said, I think Scottie Barnes is showing he could be the next Raptors superstar. In his rookie campaign, Barnes has been unbelievable and he brings many facets to the game, including much-needed offence and stingy defence. He’s not the number one option for the Raps offensively, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get his touches. He’s providing over 15 points per game, over seven steals a game, 3.5 steals per game, and he’s right around the 50 per cent mark from the field. He was billed as a defence first and offence second player, but Barnes has shown he’s a better scorer than first thought. If he can continue to grow that part of his game, he will continue to see more minutes on the floor. While he’s in tough for the Rookie of the Year award, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he could win.
Looking at the rest of the roster, Gary Trent Jr. and OG Anunoby continue to be key cogs for the Raps. Both are averaging over 30 minutes a game and they’re providing right around 18 points a game for Toronto. It truly is a team effort for the Raps, and if they hope to accomplish a long playoff run, it will be because of the team effort, and not the one or two man effort typically seen in the NBA.
So, with only a few weeks left in the regular season, there’s still plenty to be excited about for this Raptors team. I think it would be unwise to expect this team to reach the NBA Finals, but even making the playoffs is a great feat for this young team. That experience will be crucial moving forward and if they are able to win a round or two, this season will incredibly successful.