Toronto Raptors 2020-21 Season Preview: Atlantic Division Champions

The Toronto Raptors are one of the most successful teams in the 2010s. As a result, they are currently tied for the second-most consecutive playoff appearances in the NBA. During that time, they have won six Atlantic Division titles and won one NBA championship. They will be looking to continue that success in the 2020-21 season.

Toronto Raptors 2020-21 Season Preview

Reviewing the 2019-20 NBA Season

The Raptors had a terrific regular season in 2018 despite losing Kawhi Leonard to the Los Angeles Clippers as they defended their Atlantic Division title. The Raptors finished with a 53-19 record, which is the second-best in the NBA and the Eastern Conference. It was also the best winning percentage in an NBA season in the Raptors’ franchise history, according to Aaron Rose of Sports Illustrated.

There were many highlights of the 2019-20 season, with the emergence of players like Chris Boucher, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, and Terence Davis. Furthermore, Pascal Siakam would make another giant step forward and became a first-time NBA All-Star for the Raptors. Other players that impressed were Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Serge Ibaka. Unfortunately, both players have decided to move on from the Raptors.

However, the 2020 playoffs were one of the more frustrating postseason runs for the Raptors. One of their two All-Stars, Siakam, did not play well and struggled to shoot the ball. As a result, they would lose against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semi-finals in six games.

Offseason Moves for the Three-Time Defending Atlantic Division Champions

Toronto Raptors and their NBA Draft Picks 

The Raptors made full use of their two NBA draft picks, picking Malachi Flynn with the 29th pick from San Diego State and Jalen Harris at No. 59 out of Nevada. In particular, Flynn has played very well for the Raptors in the preseason. This included scoring 17 points in 20 minutes in a close 112-109 win over the Charlotte Hornets on December 14th. This is what VanVleet said about Flynn according to Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:

“He’s eager to learn and he’s humble enough to ask and that’s a dangerous combination: when you’re humble enough to seek out the info but still have that swagger and that confidence to go out there on a court and (do it),” VanVleet said of the 22-year-old rookie point guard.

The Three-Time Atlantic Division Champions Offseason

Unfortunately, they will not be able to follow this up for the rest of the off-season. They had a good start though, signing VanVleet to a four-year deal. However, they were not able to re-sign their other two big free agents in Ibaka and Marc Gasol. Ibaka was the heart and soul of the Raptors off the court and has improved tremendously during his time as a Raptor. Then there is Gasol, whose defense played a pivotal role in the Raptors’ first NBA Finals victory in 2019.

This along with the loss of Hollis-Jefferson to the Minnesota Timberwolves put the Raptors in a fix for the 2020-21 season. However, the Raptors could try to get Rondae-Jefferson back as he was recently waived by the Timberwolves.

The Toronto Raptors’ Center Situation

To give credit though, the Raptors did try to fill these holes in the frontcourt. They re-signed Boucher and signed Alex Len and Aron Baynes. Not counting players re-signed, Baynes was probably the biggest signing for the Raptors. The Australian international, who was born in New Zealand, averaged career highs during the 2019-20 season. This included a career-high of 11.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists in 22.2 minutes per game. Expect him to start at the center position for the Raptors.

That is not to say Baynes will not have competition. Boucher, the Canadian from the province of Quebec, also had career-highs in points, rebounds, steals, and assists during the 2019-20  season. He also has the benefit of being coached by Nick Nurse for two seasons and has generally performed well. Boucher has gained Nurse’s trust to get the job done and could very well be the starter anytime this season. He averaged 6.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.

Lastly, there is Len, who could also take Baynes’s position at center. During the 2019-20 season, he averaged 8.0 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. However, it is important to note that Len had 17.6 minutes of playing time compared to Boucher’s 13.2 minutes per game.

People might complain that the Raptors signed too many centers. However, looking at it from a basketball point of view, this move makes sense. As a player, one would want that competition as it makes all three players better knowing that the starting role could be gained or lost with a good or bad stretch of games. This is a good move by management to try to salvage the loss of both Ibaka and Gasol.

The Raptors on paper look worse than they did before the offseason began. However, the Raptors are always a team and an organization that exceeds expectations. Expect them to be one of the teams battling for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

Setting Expectations for the Three-Time Defending Atlantic Division Champions

The 2020-21 season will probably not be as good as last season. However, they should be a Top 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. It is important to remember that the Raptors had several injuries last season and still ended up with the second-best record in the NBA.

The goal of the season for the Raptors is the development of players like OG Anunoby, VanVleet, and Boucher. Can VanVleet become an All-Star and Anunoby and Boucher make big improvements to their game next season? Also, Boucher made a big jump forward last year, but can he do it again this year?

For the Raptors, making the Eastern Conference Finals should be the goal. No team in the East should scare the Raptors. Furthermore, if Siakam plays better in the playoffs next year, they should have a fair chance at making the NBA Finals. Yes, the Brooklyn Nets have two superstars in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, but they still have to build chemistry this season.

Toronto Raptors 2020-21 NBA Season Prediction

The three-time defending Atlantic Division champions should do well in the 2020-21 season. However, it is important to note that the Raptors will be at a disadvantage. Due to COVID-19, the Raptors will be forced to play in Tampa, Florida. They are the only NBA team that had to temporarily relocate their home venue for the 2020-21 season. Furthermore, there has been evidence of how this has affected players in other sports leagues, such as the Canadian teams in Major League Soccer. As a result, the Raptors will be at a disadvantage from the other 29 teams.

This might hurt the Raptors’ performance, especially if they cannot play in Toronto for the 2020-21 season and playoffs. Even with that, people should still expect the Raptors to possibly have another 50-win season as a lot of these players were on the 2019 championship team. Lastly, the development of players like Anunoby and Flynn will be watched closely this season. They will host the New Orleans Pelicans on December 23rd in Tampa, Florida for the Raptors’ season opener.

Toronto Raptors 2020-21 NBA Season Prediction: 50-22, third in the Eastern Conference

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