The Toronto Raptors have started off the preseason 2-2, as their combination of youth and length has been too much for the Rockets and 76ers to handle. This is going to be a team that lives and dies on the perimeter with their guard play.
The Raptors might not have Kyle Lowry on the roster this year, but they did restock with proven stars like Fred VanVleet, veterans like Goran Dragic, and young players like Malachi Flynn and Dalano Banton.
We’ve examined the best and worst-case scenarios for the 2021 rookie class and those hopeful for one of the available roster spots. However, apart from Scottie Barnes, that collection of talent may not feature a ton of players who will eat up large chunks of minutes in the rotation.
Now, starting with the guard group, we examine the varying scenarios for the Raptors with guaranteed contracts and, in most cases, key, defined roles for the 2021-22 NBA campaign. What happens if each of these guards becomes a star? What happens if they come off the rails and start underperforming?
Toronto Raptors: Best and worst-case scenario for guards
With Lowry taking his talents to South Beach, VanVleet emerges as the club’s clear leader. While leadership will surely come naturally, less natural might be how often he’s required to serve as the go-to offensive option, particularly with Pascal Siakam out to start the year. Who knows, maybe there are more 54-point outings in the point guard’s future?
Best Case Scenario
VanVleet is a much-needed known quantity on a roster high on hope but low on certainty. Still, how he steps out of the shadow of Lowry and assumes the reins of what is now his team will bear watching.
While there will never be another Lowry, a suitable impression from the Wichita State product would bode well for the franchise. VanVleet certainly has it in him to be the guy hitting big shots late in games, taking charges, and serving as the unifying heartbeat of the organization.
Heck, VanVleet might even be asked to do more. If we’re talking absolute dream scenario here, then why couldn’t he lead the team in points and assists per game while providing a strong defensive presence? He averaged 19.6 points per game last year, and he should be in line to easily surpass that total.
Could an All-Star nod be in his future? It shouldn’t be ruled out.
Fred VanVleet is becoming a leader for the Toronto Raptors.
Worst Case Scenario
What if he can’t finish inside? If we compare VanVleet’s first full season in the league to his most recent, we get a sharp drop from 42.6% to 38.9% from the floor (and 41.4% to 36.6% from 3-point range). The obvious link here is increased usage (7.2 to 16.7 shot attempts per game), but that usage isn’t likely to diminish this time around.
VanVleet still acclimated himself perfectly well last year, but that shooting comparison suggests that the 27-year-old might be more effective in a slightly reduced role. That flies in the face of the ‘shouldering more of Lowry’s load’ scenario and could represent a bad omen for the club expecting even more out of him.
Toronto will never forget VanVleet’s “bet on yourself” rise from undrafted free agent to key member of a championship team (he got Hubie Brown’s Finals MVP vote!). However, if the efficiency doesn’t perk up, Toronto may snatch defeat from the jaws of victory multiple times this year despite his defensive contributions.