Toronto Raptors: 4 X-factors that could make or break 2021 season

TAMPA, FLORIDA - APRIL 21: OG Anunoby #3 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FLORIDA - APRIL 21: OG Anunoby #3 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /
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Dalano Banton, Toronto Raptors
TORONTO, ON – OCTOBER 11: Dalano Banton #45 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors are about to embark on one of the most memorable seasons in franchise history. They will play home games at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto for the first time since February 2020, and they are about to learn just how good they can be without their heart and soul in Kyle Lowry.

There is also excitement in the air with regards to how good lottery pick Scottie Barnes and newly acquired Precious Achiuwa can be. This team is all in on the youth movement, and the results could be very promising.

The Raptors faithful will turn up and support the team as they try to regroup this season armed with a new roster featuring only seven holdovers from 2020-21. There are concerns as to what the on-court product will look like, but head coach Nick Nurse has gone out of his way to illustrate the core principles of this team.

With that acknowledgment from the head coach, here are four X-factors and trends that could make or break the Raptors’ season in 2021-22. If the Raptors want to make the playoffs, they must show growth or sustained excellence in these areas.

4 X-factors that could impact the Toronto Raptors’ season.

4. Defensive Rebounding.

Nurse has emphasized contesting 3-point shots and protecting the rim. What he has failed to discuss, perhaps because he wasn’t asked, is defensive rebounding. In 2021, Toronto was 29th with an average of 32.1 defensive rebounds per game.

That inability to secure a rebound means no matter how well you harrassed your opponent into a bad shot, you may not have completed the defensive assignment or possession. Toronto allowed 10 offensive rebounds per game last season and was ranked No. 22 in the league.

It’s a problem the team may believe is solved with the acquisition of Achiuwa playing center along with Khem Birch. During preseason, with Birch and Boucher unavailable for most of the five games, the Raptors secured an average of 34.2 defensive boards per game.

Acknowledging the reality that preseason is a test for players competing for roster spots, there is still some cause for concern. The Raptors frontcourt showed weaknesses dealing with the size and strength of Joel Embiid and Andre Drummond during their games against Philadelphia.

Defensive rebounding has been an Achilles heel for the Toronto Raptors.

Dating back to the 2019/20 season when the Raptors won 53 games, rebounding has been a concern.

"“Through two games now, the defending NBA champions have forced 126 misses, while limiting the New Orleans Pelicans and Boston Celtics to 40.3 percent shooting. That’s very, very good defending. But here’s the flip side. Against the former, they allowed 16 offensive rebounds but only nine second-chance points. They won, in overtime. Facing the latter, 21 additional possessions were surrendered off misses but the Celtics picked up a point for each of those clanks and won.”"

For all the talk about wingspans, athleticism, and defensive priority of the current roster, it might mean little if this issue is not fixed.

The season may begin with Chris Boucher and Pascal Siakam missing from the frontcourt, but the Raptors must rebound without them. Otherwise, it could tank any potential success this season both in what the team wants to do offensively and in the win column.