Toronto Raptors: Fans still have plenty of reasons to cheer amid rough season

TAMPA, FLORIDA - APRIL 05: Gary Trent Jr. #33 of the Toronto Raptors celebrates with teammates (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FLORIDA - APRIL 05: Gary Trent Jr. #33 of the Toronto Raptors celebrates with teammates (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /

The turning point in the Toronto Raptors‘ rise into a perennial playoff contender, 59-win team and eventual NBA champion came back in 2013, which means there’s an entire newer generation of Raptor fans who only know of success and meaningful runs leading up and into the postseason.

Even as Toronto sits right behind the spiraling Chicago Bulls for the Eastern Conference’s final play-in tournament spot, that familiar feeling of a pre-playoff charge just isn’t there with 16 games to go.

After years of being spoiled by a consistent presence at or near the top of the East standings, watching a 22-34 team try to squeeze into the 10th spot doesn’t carry the same thrill.

For longer-tenured fans, however, this likely feels more familiar. After all, before 2013, just five of the franchise’s first 18 seasons resulted in a playoff berth, leaving plenty of opportunities to watch a team playing out the string. For those of us who witnessed those lean years, we know there’s actually still fun to be had, even as a disappointing campaign crawls to a close.

There are still reasons to keep watching the Toronto Raptors

Development of Youth

Malachi Flynn, Yuta Watanabe, Toronto Raptors
Malachi Flynn has enjoyed a breakthrough April thus far. (Photo by Lauren Bacho/Getty Images) /

If you’re not in it to win in the present, chances are you are looking to the future. The focus has clearly shifted that way for the Raptors. Take Malachi Flynn, for example. The club’s 2020 first-round pick hadn’t spent 20 minutes on the floor in an NBA game prior to April, but has surpassed 30 in all but one of his eight games this month.

Of course, some of that workload can be attributed to the absence of Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and, really, any guard on the roster. Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster and Nick Nurse probably don’t mind getting an extended look at the rookie, who has made the most of his increased minutes and displayed newfound confidence, assertiveness, and on-court leadership.

Flynn isn’t the only youngster standing out in a bigger role. Gary Trent Jr., who is actually eight months younger than his rookie teammate, has enjoyed a well-publicized introduction to his new team, quickly establishing his presence as a potential building block.

While Raptor fans may not want to envision life after Lowry just yet, the rise of Flynn and Trent may be easing the sting a bit.


Freddie Gillespie, Toronto Raptors
Freddie Gillespie has been a handful for opposing players looking to attack the rim. (Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports) /

While you’d rather be watching your best players fight for seeding or gear up for the playoffs, there’s undeniable excitement in watching players establish themselves and battle for roles on next year’s team.

After a season of woeful production from the center position, newcomers Freddie Gillespie and Khem Birch are offering a spark upfront that they hope is more than short in term.

It’s worth remembering that no shortage of unheralded Raptors (Stanley Johnson, Yuta Watanabe, Chris Boucher) who have enjoyed impressive but brief spurts of play that were celebrated, ahem, a little prematurely.

That said, Gillespie and Birch have played well enough (combined 23 points and 15 rebounds vs San Antonio) and remain young enough (23 and 28, respectively) that there’s some cause for excitement, however guarded it may be.

Single-Game Wonders

Toronto Raptors, Gary Trent Jr.
Gary Trent Jr.’s 44-point explosion earned him plenty of fans already in Toronto. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /

The Raptors are no strangers to unlikely standout performances late in lost seasons, and, hopefully, no Toronto player torpedoes the club’s lottery hopes in the same way as Ben Uzoh once did.

But if you can get past the fact that strong showings generally mean wins and lesser lottery odds, there have already been some single-game eye-poppers to be had.

For starters, Trent’s 44-point outburst in Cleveland was more than just a 2020-21 season highlight; it might stand as one of the greatest performances in franchise history. Trent’s 89.5% shooting was the highest of any player in league history who topped 40 while attempting at least one three.

Not to be outdone, Flynn notched a career-high 22 points against Atlanta thanks to a late-game surge in which he did his best Steph Curry/Reggie Miller/Tracy McGrady impression, recording 12 points on 4-4 three-point shooting in just 1:21. Boucher got in on the stat-stuffing himself, posting 38 points and 19 rebounds against the Bulls.

That both efforts still resulted in losses might make them all the better for some lottery-hopeful Raps fans.

We aren’t that far removed from a banner-raising in Toronto, so celebrating such minuscule, trivial things might seem pointless on the surface.

But for as much as championships are always the end goal, only one team gets to claim the Larry O’Brien trophy each year. For the rest, there’s pleasure to be had in encouraging development, player growth, and some plain, old fun on the court.

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