After a 2-8 start to the season, the Toronto Raptors got things back on track before the first half of the 2020-21 NBA season came to a close.
Although health and safety protocols had an impact on their final few games before the break, the Raptors still find themselves in the Eastern Conference playoff picture heading into the second half of the season.
While the priority is certainly getting healthy - with hopes that the team will be back to full strength for the start of the second half of the season - what are some other major storylines to follow for the remainder of the season?
Our NBA.com Staff discusses what they're keeping a close eye on moving forward.
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): The storyline I'll be watching closely is the play of Norman Powell.
Powell's performance is crucial to Toronto's success this season. The scoring wing is having a career year, averaging 18.4 points per game while shooting 43.8 percent from beyond the arc. He's done an incredible job as a fill-in starter - as he has so often in the past - posting 22.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists while increasing his efficiency with shooting splits of .529/.456/.918 in 23 starts.
And while that is all vital to how far this Raptors team can go this season, there's something else at play.
This could potentially be the final season of his current contract, Powell has a player option worth $11.6 million for the 2021-22 season. He's likely to decline that player option and test the waters as an unrestricted free agent, especially if he continues to play the way he has this season. He'd become one of the most desirable names on the market this offseason, meaning the Raptors may have to pay up if they want to keep the homegrown wing in Toronto long term.
That is certainly something to keep an eye on the rest of the way.
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): I'm circling March 25 on my schedule.
No, not because of a game that day - the Raps will actually be in between games - but because that's the date of the NBA's trade deadline. In the coming days and weeks, the noise surrounding what this team might do will inevitably become louder and louder.
First and foremost, there's the Kyle Lowry conundrum. Lowry is in the final year of his contract, will soon be 35 and is absolutely in win-now mode. There have been so many rumours surrounding the undisputed greatest Raptor of all-time that it's gotten hard to keep track.
Does he have a handful of games left as a Raptor? A half season's worth? Or will he retire as a Raptor? Realistically, all options are on the table, and it's a solution I'm certain he and the team's brass will work together to decide.
Outside of Lowry, there's the question of whether or not this team will be a buyer at the deadline. Is there a player on the market this team could acquire to address a need? Will we see P.J. Tucker embark on a third stint with the franchise? Can Toronto acquire a player that solidifies the team among the East's top six?
Personally, I feel like something is brewing and the Raptors won't lie dormant at the deadline. It should be an interesting few weeks.
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): I'm excited to see how much the Raptors lean on their small-ball lineup of Lowry, Powell, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby in the second half of the season.
According to NBA.com, the five of them have played a total of 51 minutes together over eight games to encouraging results. They haven't exactly been lighting it up, scoring at a rate of 106.5 points per 100 possessions, which would rank them near the bottom of the league in offensive efficiency, but they've been good enough defensively to outscore their opponent by 11.1 points per 100 possessions.
That makes it one of Toronto's most effective lineups on the season.
I wouldn't put too much stock into that because 51 minutes is still a pretty small sample size, but it makes sense that the five of them would work well together. For one, it maximizes spacing on offence, with each one of them being capable 3-point shooters. Two, it gives them a ton of versatility on defence, with each one of them being able to guard multiple positions. Three, they each have chemistry and play well off of one another.
I still have a hard time seeing it work against supersized teams like the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks, but it could be the key to the Raptors finding some consistency following an up-and-down first half of the season.
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