Raptors: Why a play-in berth should be expected this season

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 04: Fred VanVleet #23 of the Toronto Raptors brings the ball up court against the Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 04: Fred VanVleet #23 of the Toronto Raptors brings the ball up court against the Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images) /

With the 2021-22 NBA season underway, the Toronto Raptors are gearing up for their first year without Kyle Lowry since 2011-12.

Expectations are lower than they have been in years, but with a team that’s built to rely on some new faces, both to the team (Goran Dragic, Precious Achiuwa) and the league (new team favorite Scottie Barnes), there’s debate among fans as to how many games this team can actually win.

The major factor with figuring all that out is the Raptors’ new top player in OG Anunoby. While Pascal Siakam is incredibly important, we know what he brings to the table as a first or second option.

Anunoby, on the other hand, who has never reached a 20% usage rate in his NBA career, is an unknown player as a consistent offensive focal point and is likely to experience some growing pains dealing with increased defensive attention.

Then, we have to look at the wealth of youth on this roster. Barnes and Achiuwa (and now potentially Banton) are all players with limited or no NBA experience who are expected to play meaningful minutes on a regular basis. Young players can be susceptible to fatigue through a long season, or the dreaded ‘rookie wall’ and ‘sophomore slump’.

Overall, I’m envisioning a 39-43 record and a play-in berth for the Toronto Raptors this year. The East is top-heavy, but even with a rebuilding squad, players like Anunoby, VanVleet, and Siakam give Toronto enough of an offensive punch to go along with strong team defense. They can push themselves into the middle of the pack.

Who are the Toronto Raptors competing against for the play-in?

If the Raptors are going to fight their way into a play-in position, it’ll require pushing out a few teams along the way. They’ll need to rely on their bench depth and defensive length to grind out a spot, but there are a few teams that they should be able to squeak past if they play their cards right.

Charlotte Hornets

This team will live and die by LaMelo Ball. Gordon Hayward had a nice season last year, but still only managed to play roughly half the season. While Ball might just have more long-term offensive skills than any player on the Raptors, a lack of depth will hold them back.

Continued injury issues, which is a genuine concern with a player like Hayward, are capable of derailing their season.

Indiana Pacers

The Pacers are a bit of a wild card, as the projected starting lineup hasn’t played together and likely won’t for at least a few weeks. TJ Warren isn’t expected back in the lineup for weeks, and Caris LeVert is expected to miss at least the first few games of the season.

While Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis are a solid 1-2 punch, missing two of their best players going into the season is a tough start. If both LeVert and Warren aren’t able to play 100% as soon as they get back, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to put up a record that can push the Raptors out of the play-in.

Washington Wizards

Well, the first game of the season definitely is cause for some worry. However, the Raptors were a betting favorite going into the opening night game with Washington, and when Siakam is back, the Raptors are a more talented team than the Wizards.

Bradley Beal makes it impossible to count out the Wizards, but it’s much more neck-and-neck than the season opener would make it seem. This is more likely a case of Washington being the other play-in team, rather than being the team to kick Toronto out.

What’s the best-case scenario for the Raptors?

In a perfect world, where this team sees OG Anunoby take the next step on offense, Siakam comes back to play like it’s 2019, and Scottie and friends play to their full potential, this team could get into the 46 win range.

OG’s been talking about the improvements in his game, and if he’s right about it, then this team may be more of a handful than many are expecting.

While there are at least 5-6 teams in the Eastern Conference who can be seen as more talented than the Raptors, if everything was to go right, this team may very well be more of a handful than people are expecting.

Is it going to happen? Who knows. A lot of stars need to align (and the early injury bug will need to disappear), but with the Raptors season about to begin, it’d be great to watch this newly-rebuilt squad snatch a few extra wins and push themselves into the playoff picture.

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