The 2020-21 NBA season is set to tip-off on Dec. 22. To get you ready for the year to come, we're dedicating one day between now and the start of the season to each team in the league.
Today, the Toronto Raptors take the spotlight.
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2019-20 season record
53-19, 2nd in Eastern Conference
Aron Baynes, Free agency
DeAndre' Bembry, Free agency
Malachi Flynn, No. 29 pick in 2020 NBA Draft
Jalen Harris, No. 59 pick in 2020 NBA Draft
Alex Len, Free agency
Marc Gasol, Free agency (Los Angeles Lakers)
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Free agency (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Serge Ibaka, Free agency (LA Clippers)
|PG||Kyle Lowry||Malachi Flynn||Matt Thomas|
|SG||Fred VanVleet||Terence Davis||Patrick McCaw*||Jalen Harris|
|SF||OG Anunoby||Norman Powell||DeAndre' Bembry||Yuta Watanabe|
|PF||Pascal Siakam||Chris Boucher||Stanley Johnson|
|C||Aron Baynes||Alex Len|
*Patrick McCaw has missed training camp and preseason with a knee injury suffered in the bubble. There is no current timetable for his return.
3 key storylines
Bounce back from Pascal Siakam
At this point, it's no secret that Siakam's playoff performance didn't maintain the standard he set for himself with a successful regular season. In a year where he averaged career-highs across the board with 22.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.9 blocks per game, criticism came down hard on the first-time All-Star and All-NBA forward.
Siakam managed to uphold his rebounds and assists numbers in the postseason but as the Raptors supposed go-to scorer, he was far from that. Siakam averaged 17.0 points per game while shooting 39.6% from the field and 18.9% from 3 and looked like a shell of himself when the stakes were at their highest.
Head coach Nick Nurse has already touched on some new ways the Raptors plan to make life easier for the 26-year-old forward, stating, "We've been trying to experiment with some different ways to get him the ball, and shots, and downhill a little bit more, instead of just having the ball," he told the media. "So moving him off-ball into position, I'd imagine that's gonna free him up and get him some easy baskets."
Nurse was also impressed with some things that Siakam was clearly working on this offseason.
"Looks to me like he's got a little bit of a more physicality to some of his moves and then getting space and getting back. Got a little bit of a shake, turnaround thing that I maybe haven't seen a ton of that looks a little bit cleaned up as well and smoother and more skillful."
With a quick turnaround for the 2020-21 season, Siakam won't have to wait long to once again prove he's among the best rising players in this league.
Breakout season from OG Anunoby
In Year 3 of his career, Anunoby continued to showcase his potential as a two-way forward in the NBA.
While much wasn't asked of him on the offensive end, he still averaged a career-high 10.6 points per game. He also posted career-highs with 5.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.7 blocks per game while shooting a career-best from the field (50.5%) and from 3-point land (39.0%). His shooting consistency and slight uptick in scoring was an encouraging sign for this upcoming season, although he still has a ways to go in being able to create his own offence.
Even with that being said, without a key offensive cog like Serge Ibaka, the Raptors may rely on Anunoby's offence more than they have in the past. He had some great scoring performances last season, highlighted by his 32-point outburst against the Denver Nuggets, and proved he has what it takes to knock down clutch shots with his internet-breaking game-winner against the Boston Celtics in the Conference Semifinals.
Anunoby's offence is the main focal point behind a potential breakout year because defensively, he's already there. Toronto used Anunoby as its go-to defensive stopper last season, regardless of the opponent's position. We saw him defend guards and forwards and head coach Nick Nurse even ventured with Anunoby as a small-ball centre in the playoffs, further proving his versatility.
NBA.com's Scott Rafferty broke down all of the possibilities of Anunoby's contract extension looming prior to the start of the 2020-21 season but should that go idle, the 23-year-old will have a "prove it" year ahead of him.
The centre rotation
The departure of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka leaves the Raptors in a bind at the centre position.
That's a combined 22.9 points, 14.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.7 blocks over 53.4 minutes per game that the Raptors have to make up for in their frontcourt, and that doesn't even begin to describe how important Gasol and Ibaka were to this team. Toronto loses two veterans in the locker room as well as its defensive anchors - a first unit facilitator in Gasol and a second unit scorer in Ibaka.
The Raptors signed Aron Baynes and Alex Len to try and add some frontcourt depth and they also elected to re-sign Montreal native Chris Boucher to complete their centre depth chart.
Baynes is expected to take over as the starting centre and has some similarities to Gasol in his game, whereas Boucher will be expected to take on a much bigger role as a consistent presence off the bench. Len will be used in a more niche role as a physical presence against bigger frontcourts and together, the trio will have to do their best to match the production of two future Hall of Famers.
It will be one of the more intriguing storylines of Toronto's season and could be the deciding factor of what this team's ceiling is in 2020-21.
5 games to watch
Dec. 29 at Philadelphia 76ers
The Raptors new-look frontcourt gets put to the test early when they take on Joel Embiid and the Sixers three games into the season. This will be a great test for Toronto to see where it stands among the best teams in the East this season.
Jan. 4 vs. Boston Celtics
The Celtics got the best of the Raptors in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last year and this is their first chance for revenge. It's always must-see-TV when these rivals go head-to-head, but this game holds more meaning given the way Boston ended Toronto's season.
Jan. 10 at Golden State Warriors
The last time the Raptors got to face off against Stephen Curry was on Mar. 5, when he returned from injury to score 23 points in one of just five appearances last season. With Curry expected to return to full strength this season and the Warriors retooled for a playoff run yet again, this will be one to lock in for.
Jan. 20 vs. Miami Heat
To be the best, you have to beat the best. The Heat are the reigning Eastern Conference champions and the Raptors fell one win short of getting their crack at Miami in the playoffs last season. As two teams that play a similar brand of basketball, these games are always physical and competitive.
Jan. 27 vs. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks and reigning two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo will always bring their A-game against the Raptors after Toronto knocked them out in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2019. That makes this matchup appointment television.
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