The Raptors bet on continuity this NBA season

TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors’ rebuild was a revelation last season.

Chosen by virtually no one to make noise, the Raptors won 48 games to finish fifth in the Eastern Conference and gave the Philadelphia 76ers a decent fight before being ousted in the first round of the playoffs.

And so, team president Masai Ujiri has chosen continuity over an off-season dismantling, believing his young side have what it takes to – eventually – be among the best in the league again.

“We won a championship and now we kind of went backwards, we got hit and we fell a bit,” Ujiri said. “We are starting to climb again and we want to go back to the end, where we were.

“Are we good enough to win a championship? I don’t know if we’re still there. Are we good enough to grow and take a leap? I think so.”

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While chemistry and continuity are hard to quantify, Ujiri is a believer. His consistent approach saw him keep a dozen players from last season, including five starters who all averaged over 15 points. Toronto’s equal opportunity offense made them the only team in the league to achieve this feat. The Raptors did the same in 2019-20, becoming the first team in 46 years to have five starters who average more than 15 points.

And there’s no reason to believe the young core won’t be better this season.

“I think we are going to have a great team,” said striker OG Anunoby. “I think everyone will come back better. We are all on the same page. Last year, the start was more of a learning process (after some off-season changes, including the loss of perennial All-Star Kyle Lowry). Everyone was trying to get in tune.

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“We have a lot of returning guys. So I think we’re going to be fluid at the start.

Pascal Siakam had a slow start to last season after playing the first 10 games to recover from shoulder surgery. He finished the season averaging 22.8 points and 8.5 rebounds, and boldly said on the team’s recent media day that his goal was to become a top-five player in the league. .

“I just feel like it’s time to take another step,” Siakam said. “I want to be one of the best.”

Starting guard Fred VanVleet has vowed to be smarter with his body after missing Toronto’s last three regular season games and Games 5 and 6 of the playoffs with a strained hip flexor.

The starter, however, Raptors fans most want to see is arguably Scottie Barnes, whose selection at No. 4 in the 2021 draft against Jalen Suggs raised some eyebrows. Barnes went on to average 15.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per night, while defending players in all positions, and won NBA Rookie of the Year.

Barnes’ ankle injury in Game 1 against Philly was a blow to Toronto’s postseason hopes.

The Raptors announce the regular season on Wednesday against a visit to Cleveland, and it’s not too early for VanVleet.

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“It’s time, man, it’s time,” the 28-year-old star said. “We had a great pre-season, a great summer. I think we’re all looking forward to getting out there and putting it into play, and we’ll see what happens. The start of the season is an exciting time for us, for everyone, especially for the fans. I can’t wait for Wednesday night.

BACK TO NORMAL: After being upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Raptors are eager to regain a sense of normalcy this season. Border restrictions forced them to move their home base to Tampa, Florida for the entire 2020-21 season. They trumpeted their return to Toronto last October with the slogan “We back!”

But the joy was short-lived. The Raptors, who have one of the best fanbases in the league, were cut to half capacity for a pair of games last December amid a new COVID wave, then completely closed to fans for 12 matches. Record attendance for those games is listed at: 0. Toronto was the only team that closed to fans last season. The eerie vibe in the cavernous arena showed during a match that saw Ujiri and rapper Drake as the only “fans” in the building. They sat together amidst a sea of ​​empty seats.

6-9 IS PERFECTLY GOOD: While last season’s roster was jam-packed with athleticism, no one was taller than six-foot-nine. Siakam, who is 6-foot-8, was often Toronto’s starting center, guarding much bigger guys. But the so-called “6-9 Vision” has proven successful, thanks in large part to a defense ranked in the top 10 for the fourth time in the last five seasons, plus a constant hustle on the offensive glass and an ability to take care of the ball. .

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The Raptors have added height this season, drafting seven-foot center one Christian Koloko, who hails from Siakam’s hometown of Douala, Cameroon, with their No. 33 pick.

“It’s great to have Christian there,” Anunoby said. “Lob threat, rim runner, shot blocker, paint presence. It covers a lot of errors. If someone gets beaten or someone blows cover, he’s there to block, or if he doesn’t block, at least he modifies it. It makes a big difference to have him back there.

CANADIAN BANTON: Dalano Banton’s debut with Canada’s national team last summer was a win for everyone. The Torontonian was the only NBA player on Canada’s squad for the FIBA ​​AmeriCup Tournament and shone on the international stage. Against Colombia, Banton scored 14 of his team’s 18 points in a winning run. Nick Nurse, head coach of the Raptors and Canada, thinks the off-season growth of the second year will be seen this NBA season.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 17, 2022.

© 2022 The Canadian Press

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