Toronto Raptors

Five thoughts from the first five Toronto Raptors games of the 2021-22 season

On Wednesday, the Toronto Raptors played their fifth game of the 2021-22 NBA season.

The Raptors opened the season with a loss to the Washington Wizards. They responded with an impressive win over the Boston Celtics, only to follow it up with losses to the Dallas Mavericks and Chicago Bulls, before a bounceback home win over the Indiana Pacers.

There's only so much you can take away from five games, but here are five things that have caught my eye.

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1. Points are going to be hard to come by

Entering Wednesday's matchup with the Pacers, the Raptors ranked 26th in offensive efficiency to start the season.

Small sample size alert, of course, but this team didn't project as an offensive juggernaut coming into the season.

The Raptors finished around the league average in offensive efficiency in each of the last two seasons, ranking 13th in 2019-20 and 16th in 2020-21. While they didn't lose that much of their rotation in the offseason, they did lose a key piece in Mr. Kyle Lowry, who is still one of the league's better point guards, even in his mid-30s.

It's been particularly rough for the Raptors when the game has slowed down. To name some of the issues plaguing them in the early going, they're currently one of the worst 3-point shooting in the league, they're turning the ball over quite a bit and they're struggling to finish around the rim.

The result? Only a few teams are scoring at a worse rate in the halfcourt than the Raptors.

Not that Pascal Siakam will solve all of those issues himself, but having him back will give the Raptors another finisher and creator, the combination of which will take some of the playmaking burden off of Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby. With how good this team projects to be defensively, a slightly below-average offence might be enough for the Raptors to be in the Play-In mix.

MORE: Raptors' offence dealing with Siakam-sized deficiency

2. The defence is legit

Speaking of defence, the Raptors are knocking on the door of a top-five defensive rating to start the season.

It's no secret that this roster has a ton of potential on that end of the court. Nick Nurse is a defensive mastermind, Anunoby is an All-NBA calibre defender, few players in the league wreak as much havoc as VanVleet does, no 3-pointer is safe when Chris Boucher is on the court, Precious Achiuwa is built for the modern NBA and Scottie Barnes is proving himself to be one of the most versatile defenders in the league already.

Actually, scratch that, Barnes has been the most versatile defender in the league through the first week of the season, per The BBall Index.

Just because someone is a versatile defender doesn't necessarily mean they're a good defender, but it's not hard to see his defensive potential. Barnes is a massive presence at 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, he has good instincts and he moves his feet well enough to defend the perimeter. His defensive versatility rating being as high as it is, speaks to the array of players we've already seen him defend, from Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum to Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma.

With VanVleet, Anunoby, Achiuwa and Barnes on the court, the Raptors are pretty dang feisty and switchy. (Khem Birch can also switch a little). Siakam, a dynamic defender himself, will only add to that when he returns.

3. Scottie Barnes is ready right now

Barnes has been pretty impressive overall.

He's struggled with turnovers at times and his 3-point shooting is clearly a work in progress, but Barnes has shown that he can do a little bit of everything.

In addition to his hellacious defence, Barnes moves well off-ball on offence, looks comfortable shooting from midrange, has good touch around the basket, has a tight handle for someone his size and while he doesn't have many assists to date, his vision is well documented. Cliché as it sounds, he is the type of player who makes winning plays.

He's scored in double-figures in every game and recorded a 25-point, 13-rebound double-double in Toronto's win over Boston.

Barnes landed at the No. 2 spot in NBA.com's first Rookie Ladder of the season. Same for CBS Sports. He's off to about as good of a start as anyone could've expected.

MORE: Running diary of Barnes' best moments

4. The Raptors need more from Goran Dragic

Dragic, meanwhile, is off to a puzzlingly slow start.

He started alongside VanVleet in the backcourt in Toronto's season-opening loss to the Wizards, finishing with nine points and four assists in 21 minutes of action. He came off the bench the next three games, only to receive a DNP against the Pacers.

Dragic took a step back last season but was still productive in the 50 games he appeared in with the Heat. As I wrote going into the season, he has the potential to turn one of Toronto's greatest weaknesses - bench production - into a strength. So far, that hasn't been the case. (It would help if Boucher was playing better as well, but he wasn't expected to be playing right now, so he probably deserves a little more slack).

With the amount Dragic has struggled, it'll be interesting to see if Nurse adjusts. Malachi Flynn, who has appeared in only one game so far, would probably be the greatest beneficiary if Dragic's playing time is reduced.

5. OG Anunoby is getting there, slowly but surely

The numbers aren't exactly pretty, but there's a lot to be excited about what we've seen from Anunoby so far.

After struggling in the first two games of the season, Anunoby has now scored 20-plus points in three straight games.

In those games, Anunoby showed some of the off-the-dribble shooting that had many, myself included, pretty excited in preseason.

His handle, which has been a weakness in the past, looks tighter.

He's even made some nice plays out of the post.

It's likely going to be a work in progress all season long for Anunoby, but it's been fun to watch him try new things and problem solve on the fly.

Bonus: It's good to be back in Toronto

But you already knew that.

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