The Toronto Raptors have been many things over the years, but “media darlings” is rarely a tag that gets applied to this franchise. Once again, the Raptors will have an avalanche of doubters to overcome, though they have more ammo with which to assail them than they did in prior seasons.
The Raptors lost franchise legend Kyle Lowry, selected an immensely talented player in Scottie Barnes that still might not have as much Year 1 scoring impact as a player like Jalen Suggs, and are coming off their worst season in almost a decade that saw the, finish in 11th place in the East.
It appears that ESPN is also predicting that the Raptors will be outside of the top eight seeds in the Eastern Conference. While that isn’t necessarily a shocking idea, ESPN is so pessimistic on the Raptors’ fortunes in 2021-22 that it’s bordering on the absurd.
Despite the fact that the Raptors have Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam in the starting lineup at full strength, ESPN has Toronto finishing with a 35-47 record, good for 12th in the East. All 10 teams who finished above Toronto last year are back ahead of them, and even the Washington Wizards have jumped ahead of them to the No. 11 spot.
The Toronto Raptors shouldn’t be viewed as a 12th place team.
The Wizards might have added Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyle Kuzma, and Montrezl Harrell this offseason, but they parted with Russell Westbrook to do so, and replacing all of that talent with a rookie head coach in Wes Unseld Jr. is going to be a very tall order. Toronto, meanwhile, is poised for a comeback.
Siakam might be injured, but the Raptors are returning to Toronto, once again allowing them to utilize one of the league’s best home advantages. With a whole season of Gary Trent Jr. in the lineup and their rebounding issues from last year identified and improved upon, it’s weird to see ESPN expecting a step back.
Need we mention that VanVleet, who averaged 19.6 points and 6.3 assists per game while playing alongside Lowry, is going to be given more control on the offensive end? Losing No. 7 is tough, but Masai Ujiri has done a better job at rebuilding this team than the media believes.
The Raptors might not be a title contender like the Nets, but that doesn’t mean that they should be completely cast into the wind just because they might start out slow. This team has all the ingredients to make the postseason, and not even making the play-in would be a very surprising turn of events.