The Toronto Raptors were one of the best stories in the NBA last season.
Despite losing Kawhi Leonard in free agency, the Raptors finished the regular season with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. They went on to sweep the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs before pushing the Boston Celtics to seven games in the second round.
This season, the Raptors find themselves in a familiar position - being slept on. With the Milwaukee Bucks adding Jrue Holiday, the Brooklyn Nets welcoming Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, the Miami Heat coming off of a Finals appearance and the Philadelphia 76ers undergoing a makeover in the offseason, the Raptors seem to be flying under the radar yet again.
So ... can they catch the league by storm again?
Here are four questions that could shape the 2020-21 season for the Raptors.
MORE: Raptors face familiar foe in season opener
Is this the season OG Anunoby breaks out?
I know I'm not the only one who is fascinated to see what Anunoby has in store this season.
Anunoby has already proven to be a valuable role player in today's NBA on the strength of his defence and 3-point shooting alone. (The matchup data points to him being the third-most versatile defender in the league last season and he has grown into a solid 3-point shooter, making 39.0 percent of his 3-point attempts last season). The question with him is whether or not he can become more than a high-end 3-and-D wing.
It's hard to imagine Anunoby making a Pascal Siakam-like leap this season, but what he displayed in the season restart was encouraging for his long-term development. It felt like Anunoby was doing something new every game in the bubble, whether it was confidently taking players off the dribble..
...creating high percentage looks for his teammates...
...using his size to attack mismatches in the post...
...or, of course, hitting series-altering shots.
The more Anunoby can do that sort of stuff, the better chance the Raptors have of addressing their greatest weakness - creation in the halfcourt - internally.
It's even more important after the Raptors lost Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka in the offseason. He won't be the only one expected to take on more responsibility on offence, but Anunoby could play a key role in the Raptors overcoming the losses of Gasol and Ibaka.
- Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles)
What happens with Norman Powell?
One of the reasons why the Raptors were able to stay afloat last season with the departure of Kawhi Leonard was the play of Powell.
Powell came into his own last year, finally living up to the potential that had been showing itself since he arrived in Toronto. He averaged 16.0 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game while shooting 49.5 percent from the field - all career highs. He consistently showed the ability to produce and became a reliable starter when injury (which happened a lot) came up.
This season, Basketball Reference's 2020-21 stats projection has Powell having another career year. And honestly, he may need to. With Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol gone, Toronto will need Powell's offensive punch even more.
That's on the court. Off the court is a whole other story in itself.
Powell has a player option for next season worth $11.6 million. If he opts out, he'll be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, leaving Toronto in a situation where it could lose Powell for nothing. With Giannis Antetokounmpo now locked in with the Bucks, Toronto is surely on Plan B and trying to rebuild this team to a championship-contending status. Powell could be a big part of that as a key player or a trade asset.
Moving Powell this season could be something we see the Raptors do. For what in return will determine their long-term future but it will also give us a glimpse into what their rebuilding plans actually are.
It's going to be intriguing to watch play out.
- Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay)
Which version of Pascal Siakam will we see?
Coming off of his first All-Star and All-NBA season, Siakam isn't getting the typical treatment of a player that just had the best year of their career.
Siakam's 2019-20 campaign was like three different seasons, looking like three different players from the pre-bubble regular season to the seeding games to the NBA Playoffs.
See for yourself:
|Pre-bubble regular season||23.6||7.5||3.6||1.0||0.9||45.9||35.9||80.0|
His scoring numbers dropped off significantly with his inefficiency. That 18.9% from 3 in the playoffs is hard to look at, as is his sub-40 field goal percentage.
It was clear that once the NBA returned to play Siakam didn't look like himself, and he's admitted to struggling with the variables that came with the Orlando bubble.
"I'm always somebody that has fun playing the game and I love this game and I don't never want to be able to play the game without any joy," Siakam said this past offseason. "I think that's just something that I didn't see in myself [in the Bubble]."
While the Raptors are still playing with more variables than any other franchise, starting their 2020-21 season in Tampa, Florida due to COVID-19 border restrictions, it's still a new season for Siakam to clear the slate from the end of last year. He'll have plenty of opportunities to once again prove he was deserving of a starting All-Star spot and a place on an All-NBA Team, and Toronto will need him now more than ever as a go-to guy with key pieces like Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka off the roster.
I fully expect Siakam to bounce back and return to the player he was during the regular season last year but it won't be easy now that teams have a full year of film on him as a No. 1 scoring option. Did he put in enough work this offseason to combat opposing gameplans and make an All-Star level impact? We'll find out soon enough.
- Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_)
An encore for Kyle Lowry?
It feels like every year the masses expect Kyle Lowry to take a step year back since he's a year older. And it feels like every year the masses are proven wrong.
It's almost like he's an ageless wonder.
Lowry, who will turn 35 during the second half of the upcoming season, has cemented himself as the greatest Raptor of All-Time. He's coming off of a season in which he made his sixth-consecutive All-Star appearance with averages of 19.4 points, 7.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds over 58 regular-season games, all while battling various nagging injuries.
Then, in the postseason, Lowry took things to another level, showing time and time again just why he is the heart and soul of the franchise. Who will ever forget Game 6 of the East Semis, when Lowry finished with 33 points, eight boards and six assists in 53 (!) minutes of action to help extend Toronto's season, if only for just one more game.
Now, it's Year 15 for KLow, and also the final season of his contract with the Raptors. Fans didn't see much of Lowry during the preseason but it's hard not to like what he showed, as he knocked down six triples to finish with 25 points in 27 minutes.
When you look at the landscape of lead guards in the Eastern Conference, there aren't many names that should be mentioned before Lowry's, if any. Can he replicate his hot start to the 2019-20 season? If so, we could be talking about a seventh-consecutive All-Star selection, even if there won't be a game this season.
MORE: Lowry has big goal for Raptors' defence this season
Lowry has clearly accepted the challenge of leading a re-tooled roster back towards the top of the Eastern Conference, meaning you should fully expect an encore season for the books.
- Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21)
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