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Far-Fetched Friday: Toronto Raptors Top 6 Seed in the East
By: Khaqan Khan
After a very weird and under-the-radar tumultuous season playing in Tampa Bay, the Toronto Raptors are poised to prove their down year was an anomaly. The Raptors are bringing back a roster that includes Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam. This roster has a fine-tuned balance of young promising players mixed with championship-winning veterans under one of the best coaches in the league in Nick Nurse. All these reasons are why I think the Raptors will avoid playing in the tournament and will be back to being an Eastern Conference playoff mainstay.
Welcome back to Far-Fetched Friday, where every Friday we give you a bold prediction that we believe will come to fruition. This Friday, we look at Canada.
The 2020-2021 season was a season many players want to forget. Due to travel restrictions in Canada, the Raptors had to play the season in Tampa Bay. Many people around the team grew tired of being away from home and playing under strict covid guidelines. Playing basketball in Florida for a living doesn't sound so bad unless you consider many of the players were away from family and spent most of the season stuck in their hotel rooms. Things really boiled over when Pascal Siakam clashed with Nick Nurse to the point the two had to be separated. All that with the future of Kyle Lowry still up in the air.
As it appears, for now, the Raptors are back in Toronto and poised to be a lively team. With the 4th pick in this year's draft, Masai Ujiri surprised many by passing on Jalen Suggs and taking Scottie Barnes. Full disclosure, Scottie Barnes is my favorite player in the draft.
Obviously, he's a long way from greatness, but he has Kawhi Leonard-level defensive potential, with Kyle Lowry level intangibles.
He still seems pretty raw from time to time, but don't let that lead you to believe that he isn't an intelligent player. At 6'9", 227 lbs, Barnes would often run point at Florida State and direct all his teammates where to go. On top of that, by all accounts, he has a magnetic personality and a superb work ethic. This is why I think it won't be long for him to develop a reliable jump shot.
Nick Nurse is one of few top-tier coaches that can add five wins to any team.
With the depth in this current roster, Nurse has far more options to deploy, especially with the center position. After an abysmal center rotation last year, the Raptors re-up with Khem Birch and Precious Achiuwa. Khem Birch is by no means a household name, but after this upcoming season, I believe he will become one.
Stuck in basketball purgatory in Orlando, Birch became infamous for being the reason Mohammed Bamba wasn't getting any developmental minutes, but that caused people to overlook how good Birch is. In the same mold of a Christian Wood-type center, Birch can do almost everything well. He isn't a world-beater, but he can move well around the court, has enough range to help with spacing, and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. There's a lot of untapped potential with Birch, as he finally gets to play a vital role on a winning basketball team.
Behind him is an upstart high motor young big that Masai Ujiri covets.
Achiuwa at 6-8 would be classified in the Montrezl Harrell, undersized but high-energy, Center role. Coming off the bench, Achiuwa can cause serious wreckage using his athleticism and motor to make up for what he lacks in size. I expect Achiuwa's minutes to increase more and more through the course of the season. Malachi Flynn and Gary Trent Jr. are young players not to overlook. Both are developing into knockdown shooters on offense with the ability to put the ball on the floor occasionally while becoming gritty defenders despite being smaller guards. More so, both players have a tenacious side to their game, something the Raptors will need out of their role players.
Call me foolish, but I think with a lineup of Fred VanVleet-Scottie Barnes-OG Anunoby-Pascal Siakam-Khem Birch, Toronto can definitely be a top 6 seed in the east this upcoming season.
The continuity they have under a championship-winning coach, a balance of seasoned vets and young players with tremendous upside fares well for the Raptors' chances. Look for this team to be a top 7 defensive team and an offense that shares the ball and knocks down threes.
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