3 Raptors who have made massive improvements in 2021-22

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 2: Fred VanVleet #23 and Scottie Barnes #4 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 2: Fred VanVleet #23 and Scottie Barnes #4 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images) /
1 of 3
Toronto Raptors, Yuta Watanabe
CLEVELAND, OHIO – DECEMBER 26: Yuta Watanabe #18 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The 2021-22 season was billed as a year of discovery for the Toronto Raptors. While they had stars like Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and Gary Trent Jr. on the roster, the making goal of this year has been making sure that youngsters like Scottie Barnes take a step forward.

The Raptors could only improve after last year, as they finished 11th in the conference thanks to both their forced Tampa sabbatical and their COVID-19 outbreaks. They appear to be positioned to compete for a play-in spot based on their play in the first half of the season.

This is due to players both on the bench and in the starting lineup starting to gradually improve over the course of the season. Nick Nurse and the developmental staff have long been lauded for their ability to turn marginal players into studs, and those teaching traits have helped Toronto get even better this season.

These 3 players have exceeded their 2020-21 performances this season. The only way for Toronto to sustain its form in the spring months is for these players to continue making strides in the right direction when the weather starts warming up.

3 Toronto Raptors who have taken huge strides forward in 2021-22.

3. SF Yuta Watanabe

The upward ascension of Watanabe has been extremely pleasing to watch. Yuta went from a player on a two-way contract without a true positional fit into a two-way weapon that has become one of the few consistent presences on a below-average Raptors bench this season.

Watanabe has averaged 7.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game this season, and his trademark defensive intensity has not wavered one iota. Nailing 38% of his 3-pointers on almost four attempts per game, Watanabe has become a weapon Toronto can trust on offense.

Yuta Watanabe is a more complete player for the Toronto Raptors.

Watanabe has been an undroppable piece in this rotation, as his shooting and willingness to bang in the paint a bit has helped prop up the league’s worst secondary unit in terms of points per game. Without Yuta, the bench would be in such deep disarray that the Raptors would’ve lost a handful of extra games.

The next step for Watanabe, who recorded 26 points and 13 rebounds for Toronto in a loss against the Cavaliers, is becoming better in isolation situations and creating his own shot. If he managed to check that box, he should come back even stronger on offense next season.