Toronto Raptors: Three Raptors who need to step up down the stretch

The Toronto Raptors have 21 games left to play in what has been a pleasantly good season to date. The season is not over and here is a look at three Raptors who need to step up their game down the stretch.

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Toronto Raptors (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

After coming away from Sunday night against the Sacramento Kings with a win, the now 45-18 Toronto Raptors are second overall in the Eastern Conference.

The team has already secured its seventh consecutive winning season, its seventh consecutive playoff appearance, and is closing in on its fifth consecutive 50 plus win season. There is also an outside chance the Raptors could repeat as NBA Champions.

To ensure all of these accomplishments, a team is only as strong as its weakest links. This season the Toronto Raptors have been stronger than expected with the gigantic hole many felt Kawhi Leonard and to a lesser extent, Danny Green was leaving in the Raptors roster when they did not return in free agency.

The holdovers from last season's championship team and the new faces have combined to prove that the basketball culture around the Toronto franchise is not centered around having a single star player. It requires a team effort. This means every player has a role and must be ready to step up when called upon.

For their part, most players on the 2019/20 edition of the Toronto Raptors' roster have made significant contributions in keeping the team in contention for the 2020 playoffs. However, three players need to step up if the Raptors are to duplicate the results they had in 2019.

OG Anunoby

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Toronto Raptors - OG Anunoy (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

OG Anunoby was originally drafted by the Toronto Raptors with the 23rd selection in the 2017 NBA Draft. At the time, the pick was graded as very good because the only reason Anunoby was available that late in the draft was due to an injury. If he overcame the damage that was done to his right knee that required surgery, it was obvious Anunoby had the talent to perform in the NBA.

He is one of the few members of the Raptors' talented young core of players who have not needed the safety net of the G-League to develop his game even taking a starter's role away from Norman Powell during the 2017-18 season. While he was relegated to back-up last season because of the addition of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, Anunoby, in his third season, is the Raptors starting small-forward.

It may seem odd to list him as a Raptors' player who needs to step up down the stretch but he does leave you wanting and expecting more. Anunoby is a tireless defender who can defend multiple positions, he's athletic enough to block shots, he's averaging 5.5 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game. He may very well be known as a lockdown defender and an all-defensive NBA player someday.

It's at the offensive end where Anunoby leaves you feeling unsatisfied. He is averaging 10.8 points per game, but only takes an average of 8.4 shots per game. Anunoby scored 14 points Thursday against the Golden State Warriors. In the last victory, during the Raptors'15 game winning streak, he scored 25 points and had 32 against the Denver Nuggets on March 1. However, during that 15 games winning streak, he had games against the Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Chicago Bulls in which he scored either zero or less than 10 points.

There are tough games between now and April, such as two contests against the Milwaukee Bucks (April 1st, and 3rd) and games against NBA elites like the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Philadelphia  76ers, and Boston Celtics. Should Anunoby start getting more aggressive and consistent offensively, it may be easier to win these games.

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Patrick McCaw

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Toronto Raptors (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Patrick McCaw is now in his fourth NBA season. He was initially drafted by Milwaukee in the second round back in 2016 and then traded to Golden State. He is a member of the Golden State Warriors 2017 and 2018 NBA Championship teams and was on Toronto's roster last season when they beat Golden State for the NBA title.

While this means he has been on championship teams three of his four years in the Association, McCaw is not necessarily a reliable member of the Raptors core rotation. He is listed as a small forward standing six feet seven weighing 181 pounds.

However, when examining the Raptors depth chart by position, Patrick McCaw is third best at the small forward spot and that ranking may be slipping. McCaw started the year needing four weeks to recover from arthroscopic knee surgery and was out of the lineup due to illness until recently.

McCaw only played in 128 regular-season games over two years for Golden State. Between Toronto and Cleveland last season, McCaw played in just 29 games. His games played per season have dropped off dramatically over the last two years.

He has managed to play in only 35 games this season averaging 4.7 points in 24.3 minutes per game. McCaw has the physical attributes Toronto wants in a wing player who is long and can defend multiple positions but he never seems to be on the floor.

With 20 games left in the season, including Sunday's contest against Sacramento, McCaw has little time left to make head coach Nick Nurse decide to keep him in the rotation with tough matchups and the playoffs vast approaching.

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Malcolm Miller

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INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 15: Malcolm Miler (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Malcolm Miller is the third and final small forward to appear on this list of Raptors who need to step up down the stretch. It seems like we are picking on the Raptors' small forwards but, there are six players listed on the 17 man roster at that position, and it appears to be a weak spot overall.

Miller is fourth or fifth on that list of small forwards definitely behind OG Anunoby, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (who appears to have cemented himself as Anunoby's backup), and Patrick McCaw. As a fan, depending on how you feel about Oshae Brissett, Miller may even be behind him.

Miller was the first two-way contract player the Raptors signed back in 2017. Since then, he has seen time with the G-League's Raptors 905 and now in his third season has played a total of 50 NBA games.

Miller has been listed as a did not play, inactive or did not dress for every game since the Raptors lost to Portland on January 7th, 2020. He was finally on the court for one minute vs Phoenix during the Raptors 118-101 victory Friday, February 21st, 2020.

At six feet seven and 210 pounds, he could help his stock on the roster if he could play the power forward spot. He may be undersized at the power forward spot. However, the Raptors have a need there with Marc Gasol, who just returned from injury Sunday against Sacramento, easing his way back into the lineup and Chris Boucher backing up Serge Ibaka at the center position.

The backup power forward spot is a hole on the roster waiting to be filled since free-agent Stanley Johnson, a power forward, is another player who is relegated to the end of the Raptors bench. Pascal Siakam the Raptors' All-Star and starting power forward could use some rest, as well, as he is averaging a career-high in minutes at 35.5 per game.

Next: Raptors are realising their defensive potential

Miller and McCaw are in a tough spot because McCaw is even more undersized than Miller at 181 pounds. Should Raptors management decide to waive a member of the 17 man roster to add a veteran power forward, at the league minimum, its possible either Miller or McCaw would be sacrificed.