Toronto Raptors: Success in 2021 hinges on improved offense

Toronto Raptors - Pascal Siakam (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Pascal Siakam (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors are a different team from last season when they finished 13th overall offensively. The changes to their roster this off-season don’t immediately appear to address their middling offensive struggles, but improvement could come from within the existing roster.

The Toronto Raptors had a splendid 2019/20 season in attempting to defend their 2019 NBA title. They won 53 of 72 games in an interrupted and shortened season, ultimately failing to return to a second consecutive Eastern Conference Final by two possessions in a game seven second-round series loss to the Boston Celtics.

There were flaws with the roster mainly manifesting themselves when the Raptors were on offense. The Toronto Raptors dominated opponents with their defense, transitional offense, fastbreak, and three-point shooting but they struggled to score consistently in the halfcourt averaging only 111 points per 100 possessions, per the Cleaning the Glass.

It showed up in stretches of games where the Raptors would go several minutes without scoring a basket mitigated only by their ability to limit opponents’ offensive exploits with outstanding defense.

In 2020/21 the Toronto Raptors need several things to improve offensively if there is the hope of returning to championship form.

Toronto Raptors need Pascal Siakam to become their star player

Pascal Siakam has been on a meteoric rise to stardom since the Toronto Raptors drafted him 27th overall in 2016. His 2019/20 numbers were outstanding before the season got suspended on March 11th, 2020. When games resumed in late July, Pascal Siakam was not the same player.

He played in 60 regular season games averaging 22.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, and shot 35.9 percent on three-point attempts. However, his stats in the 18 games he played in the Florida bubble were significantly below the season average with 16.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 26.5 percent on his threes.

It may have had something to do with the fact he did not touch a basketball for months between the season being suspended on March 11th, 2020, and its resumption in July 2020.

In recent public comments quoted in a article Siakam stated the following:

"“When I watched the games one of the things that I really pointed out was that I didn’t recognize myself, just in terms of having fun.I’m always somebody that has fun playing the game. I love this game and I don’t ever want play the game without any joy. I think that’s just something that I didn’t see [in] myself. I just want to have fun. I just want to be able to play the game, work hard, have fun, and I think that’s something I want to get back to”."

Whether it was inactivity for too long, opposing coaches figured out how to defend him, or it was a joyless slump, the Pascal Siakam who improved over the last three seasons going from seven to nearly 17 and then 23 points this past season needs to return in 2020/21 if the Toronto Raptors are to be successful.

The Toronto Raptors need OG Anunoby to take a bigger role offensively

Pascal Siakam and by extension the Toronto Raptors would be aided in their quest to be more effective offensively if small forward OG Anunoby became more aggressive offensively. Since 2017, he took a starting job from Norman Powell, was relegated to the bench in the 2018/19 championship year because of the acquisition of Kawhi Leonard and an appendectomy that kept him out of the playoffs that year.

Last season, OG Anunoby was a dominant force for the Raptors defensively returning to his starting small forward role. However, Anunoby often leaves you wishing and wanting more offense from him.

He tends to let the game come to him taking open threes when available but often he is comfortable moving the ball by making the extra pass. However, he is very athletic with good ball-handling skills and has a good first step which allows him to get to the rim easily where he is capable of finishing plays.

He averaged 10.6 points on 8.2 shot attempts per game while connecting on 39 percent of his long-range shots. Now in his fourth year and on the eve of a possible rookie contract extension, he can help take the pressure off of Pascal Siakam if he increases his shot attempts and becomes a bigger part of the offense.

Head coach Nick Nurse to rely on assistant Finch to devise Toronto Raptors’ offense

The newest member of the Toronto Raptors coaching staff is Chris Finch.  He replaces Nate Bjorkgren who became the Indiana Pacers head coach this off-season.

In a article, Chris Finch explained his philosophy for the Toronto Raptors’ offense under his guidance:

"“To me, the most important thing right now is to be highly unpredictable, The more randomness that you can have, the more purpose you can have within that randomness, the more structure that you can have is always great, but at some point, the game comes down to you playing basketball in some sort of random mindset and if you can do that really well from the beginning it’s really hard for teams to guard you”."

This is an intriguing principle if it’s employed well. The Raptors were first in the NBA in fastbreak points in 2020, first in possessions and points in transition, and averaged about 42 points a game from 14 three-pointers made. However, when it came to high-efficiency shot attempts OG Anunoby had 45 percent of his field goals attempted around three feet and in from the basket while centers Marc Gasol took only 12.5 percent of his shots from that range and Serge Ibaka 24 percent. The Raptors were also 21st in the NBA scoring points in the paint.

With seven-footer Alex Len, known more for his post play, it would be great if Chris Finch and Nick Nurse work some low post plays into the offense. It would be beneficial to see some pick and roll action with Len catching lob passes above the defense right at the rim.

“Three and D” is all the rage in this modern era of the NBA but outscoring your opponent consistently wins games. The more often you score the harder it is for the opponent to keep pace and some mid-range and post-play will keep opponents honest.

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Toronto Raptors fans will get to see what Chris Finch and Nick Nurse have devised offensively this coming Saturday in a preseason game against the Charlotte Hornets.