Whose development raises Raptors ceiling the most?
It's possible the Toronto Raptors have a quiet offseason as they bank on internal development to help them reach a new level next season. Amit Mann and Yasmin Duale discuss which players could help Toronto win a playoff round most by developing new skills. Listen to the full episode on the 'Raptors Over Everything' podcast feed or watch on YouTube.
AMIT MANN: Next season is a year, to me, that seems like the Raptors could really make a big jump. And it's also, coincidentally, a year where Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr, they're going to be able to opt out after next season. So there's a bit of a window there. They may have to make a tough decision.
Maybe not. Maybe they re-sign all of them, they continue with this. But it does seem like a year where they could really make some noise.
And because of how well this year went, I mean, we're talking like, could they-- The projection from Vegas was 35 wins for them and they finished with 48. So obviously, things went pretty well and there's no reason to think that next season it can't go better after another season of development. But with all that said, which player do you think affects the Raptors' ceiling the most next season if they just take a huge leap?
YASMIN DUALE: I'd say the easy choice is Scottie, just naturally, he already had such a large role on the team. If he, I don't know, gained some confidence and kind of just, honestly, has more touches, increases his usage, I feel like it could be a game changer for the team. But I think that the more unorthodox choice would be Precious Achiuwa.
AMIT MANN: Yeah.
YASMIN DUALE: If precious becomes, if the shooting holds up, if the defense translates into this season, if he finds more success in his scoring around the rim, which definitely improved in the second half of the season.
AMIT MANN: Definitely, yeah.
YASMIN DUALE: But it ended up becoming a strength of his. If he attacks close outs like we started to see glimpses of in the playoffs. He took leaps in the playoffs. So if he rides those improvements into the next year, having a player like that on a rookie deal and move on to a rookie extension, we would be spoiled at that point.
So I feel like he would have a huge impact on the ceiling of the team if he can bring that OG reliable production, where you're just kind of stable on the perimeter, you can stretch the floor at his size. Not only would he be a huge improvement for the team, but he would improve his value so much. He would have a place in this league till he retires, honestly. Just becoming like a 3-and-D player at his size would be insane.
AMIT MANN: Jeez, 3-and-D, 5-and-D, whatever he's going to be.
YASMIN DUALE: Yeah, whatever.
AMIT MANN: Whatever he's going to be.
YASMIN DUALE: Do it all.
AMIT MANN: Yeah, those are, I mean, it's going to be a huge development year for a lot of players. But this question is just, yeah, how do the Raptors get to that next plateau? And because of the weaknesses that they have, which are, I mean, it could be half-court offense, it could be defensive rebounding.
Those are two that come to mind, and also shooting. I mean, I'm sure Messi and Bobby and Nick, they if they're looking at the bullet points for every single player on what they have to improve on, 3-point shooting is the one that I don't think gets erased ever. I think it just stays there.
YASMIN DUALE: Forever.
AMIT MANN: Every single person. Everyone has to get better, aside of, I guess, Fred. And really with Fred, is just like, get healthy, please. Find yourself.
I was looking at the highlights of his Utah Jazz game the other day where you got the triple double and he had 20 points or something like that in the third quarter. And it really just jarred me how different he looked. Considering his injury stuff like that and like how different of a player he was, because he just had the jerkiness that he had. He's got a low key ability to shift gears a little bit. And he didn't have that anymore with his knee and hip issues.
YASMIN DUALE: Yeah, his finishing disappeared.
AMIT MANN: All of it.
YASMIN DUALE: And it was a huge improvement into the season, where I'm like, OK--
AMIT MANN: It was, yeah.
YASMIN DUALE: --this is a completely different guy. Is a franchise point guard. But I think he was hurt for so long, since coming back from All-Star break, that I think people had forgotten that a 6-foot point guard managed to get All-Star selection. So that already is a testament to how good Fred VanVleet had been for the first majority of the season.
But there was like a reduction in just effort, which I think it stems from that knee injury, and then it progressed into that hip injury. So yeah, coming back healthy and maintaining that health would be such an improvement. And the fact that the Raptors have to carry the second half of the season with injuries, with players playing through injuries, with absences.
And I think Scottie was out for a bit. Gary Trent was out for a bit. OG was out for a bit. I feel like this team has a really high ceiling.
I feel like they can, honestly, if things go well, they can top the conference next season. Even if everyone just comes back healthy. But yeah, I think things need a break right for them.
And if the players kind of experienced the off season improvement that we've become accustomed to seeing from them, it will be a great thing. It doesn't even have to be a leap, honestly. I think we call it a leap, but it's technically just a slight improvement in confidence, really, if you think about it.
AMIT MANN: It's an unfortunate part too, is that we only saw their starting lineup for, I think, 21 games, exactly. I think it's, like, 21 or 22.
YASMIN DUALE: That sounds right.
AMIT MANN: At that it. Right? And then game one against the 76ers, right? Gary was sick and then Scottie Barnes get hurt, and then we didn't really see it again necessarily, because then Fred got hurt towards the end of the series.
So probably like they're all going to get better in their own way. But a person that comes to mind for me is OG Anunoby. And it's only because if we're talking about like the weaknesses of a team and the Raptors, they do struggled to generate half-court offense. And a lot of that is simply because they don't have the players to generate easy looks, right?
Pascal probably is going to add another level to his scoring. I think that's going to be on his menu, is to get better at the 3-point line. His pull up, step backs, all that stuff, that's going to happen. And Fred VanVleet is the other guy who's probably the best at it, but he's also 6'1", 6-foot, whatever it is.
So there's going to be certain limitations there. But with OG Anunoby, I mean, we may have seen his best stretch of basketball and was at the beginning of the season, which is strange to say that his best basketball was at the beginning. But, I mean, between his thigh thing and then his finger thing, he had COVID. There was no stability with his ability to just stay on the court and show what he can do on the offensive end.
But during that stretch at the beginning of the year, he was awesome. And you kind of showed these new things, these new little wrinkles that he has to his offense, step backs, being able to bully ball a little bit in the paint. And yeah, I think that if he is a person that is able to solidify a little bit more his ability to create in isolation and to just be a little bit more cerebral with his offense. I think of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, watching that Bucks-Celtics game the other day, and granted, it didn't go very well for the Celtics towards the end there. Can't believe they lost that.
But they're able to create such easy offense against a really good defense and it was simply just talent. Yeah, Jaylen Brown hitting back to back to back step back 3's. You got Jayson Tatum just pulling up in Giannis' face. You need this to win a championship, right?
And who is the closest player of those guys, of the Raptors starting lineup, to being that person? Gary Trent Jr. certainly has that ability. But again, he can't really finish around the bucket very well. I'm sure that's something he's going to work on getting better at, but OG has probably the closest to being a full package to some degree.
However, I mean, Scottie Barnes is Scottie Barnes. We have no idea what Scottie Barnes year two is going to be. It's very, very exciting, but I just don't want to put-- There's a lot he has to get better at already, right?
YASMIN DUALE: Yeah, yeah.
AMIT MANN: He's so good already, but we're talking like with Pascal, we look at him as he had this big jump in his most improved year. But then after that, it's been like a little bit, little bit, little bit, and then he's got himself here. And it's going to be incremental changes at some point, because he's already so good. And I think Scottie is kind of still trying to get to that degree as well. But with OG, he's already shown he's able to really make use of an off season.
And I think if he does that again, mid-range, finish around the basket, a little touch around the basket, he really does change who the Raptors are. And now you're able to use Pascal a bit more off ball, because he's on ball so much. And then you add in possibly a better 3-point shot. You're really getting a lot of easier offense and they need that. And I think OG has got the work ethic and the skills already in house to do that.
YASMIN DUALE: Yeah, yeah. OG, it's interesting, because I feel like it's a confidence thing for OG. I feel like he gets a couple steps into his drive or something, and then is like, he kind of has a moment where he realizes what he's doing and then something happens.
Like he'll trip or he'll lose the ball or he'll lose the handle a little bit. So I think it's just more reps, more repetition. I feel like, OG's touches should be prioritized, just to get used to it.
AMIT MANN: Definitely.
YASMIN DUALE: Because I feel like whenever he gets used to it, something happens where he's out for weeks, you know? So I think it's just a kind of case of exposure therapy or something with OG, where he kind of needs to get his feet wet. Because we already know that he can thrive in a limited 3-and-D role. That alone is a $20 million--
AMIT MANN: 100%.
YASMIN DUALE: --a year player, you know? So if you add some ball handling skill abilities. He already has a bit of an ability to attack the close outs.
If he kind of works on that post up game, works on his pick and roll ball handling, it would just add layers to the offense. Because right now, the offense, I feel like when Pascal touches the ball, when Fred touches the ball, when Scottie touches ball, good things tend to happen. But in order for the Raptors to be a good half-court offense, it would have to be more than just three guys.