The Toronto Raptors have impressed so far this season, outpacing preseason expectations after Kawhi Leonard (and Danny Green) bolted for greener pastures. In fact, the Raptors have “defended the title” in a more impressive way than most imagined, rattling off impressive victories behind an elite-level defense. Still, this isn’t the same team as it was in 2019-20 in terms of upside and that leads to questions, and potential answers, as the team faces a big stage on Christmas Day.
In this installment of our Holiday Wishlist series, we’ll look at what the Raptors should be aiming to find during the holiday season, including issues with the current roster and decisions that could be made with an eye toward the future.
#1: Defensive Rebounding
Despite the team’s bevy of injuries (we’ll get there), the Raptors are competing at the top of the Eastern Conference. While most of their issues do come from the offensive end of the floor, Toronto would be even more terrifying if they could simply snag defensive rebounds.
Cleaning The Glass places the Raptors in the bottom-five of the NBA in defensive rebound rate. While that hasn’t stopped Toronto from operating as an elite defense, they would be even more potent if they could simply close possessions with league-average defensive rebounding.
As noted above, the Raptors have been walloped by injuries. Kyle Lowry missed 11 games and Serge Ibaka missed 10 games earlier this season. Toronto was able to navigate those ailments in impressive fashion but, at the moment, the Raptors are once again putting a short-handed team on the floor.
Pascal Siakam is the biggest absence, with the Raptors listing him out “indefinitely” with a groin issue. Siakam is then joined by Marc Gasol (hamstring) and Norman Powell (shoulder) on the shelf for an undetermined amount of time. It’s possible that one or more of these pieces could be back soon but, particularly in the case of Siakam, the Raptors can’t reach their goals without him in the lineup.
#3: A Clear Direction
Much was made about what the Raptors might do if it became clear that they couldn’t compete this season. That isn’t the case right now, as Toronto appears firmly entrenched in the top five of the Eastern Conference. Still, the Raptors still have decisions to make, with Gasol, Ibaka and Fred VanVleet all operating on expiring contracts. VanVleet figures be a priority for the future but, at the very least, Masai Ujiri has to weigh pushing some of his chips in for improvement this season against a calculus that is more future-facing.
Could the Raptors legitimately push for a return trip to the Eastern Conference Finals? Yes, they could. How likely that is, though, could determine the course of the franchise for the next handful of seasons, especially if Toronto intends to keep the paint dry when it comes to 2021 free agency.