What’s Going on With the Toronto Raptors?

After four very strong seasons, the Raptors are not good enough to compete for a title, but not bad enough to enter a rebuilding stage.


Sakeef Kibria

In a seemingly disappointing year, the midseason hiring of Gary Trent Jr. for the Raptors has been nothing short of phenomenal. Trent Jr. made a game winning score against the Washington Wizards, and then dropped a career-high 44 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers a few games after that feat.

For the last few seasons, the Toronto Raptors have been on a tear. Since the 2013-14 season, the Raptors have consistently been a successful regular season team, making the playoffs each year on top of that. The beginning of the 2015-16 season onward could be considered the Raptors best streak in their team’s history, as they have been consistently winning more than 50 games per season, since that time. While the postseason success was limited (thanks to LeBron James), teams began to take notice of the Raptors’ dominance. Meanwhile, the Raptors continued to move up the Eastern Conference standings each year. 

The 2019-2020 year was a breakout year for the Toronto Raptors for many reasons. Over the course of the summer, the Raptors traded their beloved All-Star DeMar DeRozan and their player Jakob Poeltl, for budding superstar Kawhi Leonard and sharpshooter Danny Green. A change of scenery proved to pay big dividends for the Raptors that season, as they emerged NBA champions over the Golden State Warriors for the first time in their 26 year history. 

However, the championship success did not last long. Leonard, who was always linked to a move to Los Angeles, left that same summer for the Los Angeles Clippers. Danny Green left that same year for the Los Angeles Lakers. After the successful first season without Kawhi, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol also left for Los Angeles, each joining the Clippers and Lakers respectively. 

For the start of this season, the Raptors have barely looked like themselves. They are currently sitting at a record 18-26, good for 11th place in the Eastern Conference Standings. At this pace, the Raptors will end the season with a losing record and not advance to playoffs.

It all begs the question: What’s going on with the Toronto Raptors?

The most noticeable flaw is the Raptor’s lack of starpower. After Kawhi Leonard left the team, Pascal Siakam was en route to take the role of team leader. During the Raptor’s championship season, he had a breakout year, playing second fiddle to Leonard and winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award. Siakam became the focal point of the team, leading the Raptors in scoring, and earning him his first All-Star game appearance. It prompted the Raptors to sign him to a 4-year, 116 million dollar max extension contract. However, during the 2020 postseason in the NBA Bubble, Siakam was a shadow of the player he was prior to the season stoppage, struggling to make an impact on both ends of the floor. This year, although he is putting up respectable numbers at 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game, his inconsistency shows that he is yet to take on the “leading man” role many expected him to take. 

While most games have ended in losses, Raptors star Fred VanVleet has made sure to play his part in the winning games, having dropped a career high 54 points against the Orlando Magic. In doing so, he holds the record for most points ever in a game in Raptors franchise history. (Sakeef Kibria)

Prior to the start of the ongoing 2020-21 season, many eyes were on Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo. After back to back NBA MVP awards, Antetokounmpo has become one of the top players in the league. However the lack of playoff success of the Bucks has prompted rumors that he might leave  the team for one better tailored to win a championship. Among those teams were the Toronto Raptors. If Giannis had bypassed signing a max contract with the Bucks last summer, the Raptors certainly would have gone all out to acquire him this summer. However, his signing of the Bucks max contract offer meant that he would remain on the Bucks – and for the Raptors, that they would remain without a superstar to supply that star power. 

It is not just the players, but the statistics defining the Raptor’s performances, that show that they have taken a turn in the wrong direction. The Raptors are managing 112.1 points per game this season, leaving them with a ranking of 18th out of the 30 teams in the league. Their defense is not faring much better, giving up 112.5 points per game and putting them at 19th in the league. Their offensive and defensive rating fall well below what they were capable of last season, when the team held the second best defensive rating of the 30 teams in the league. 

Unlike other teams, the Raptors have had to overcome many hurdles. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Canada did not permit other teams from the NBA to travel across the border to play games. Given this, the Raptors have been playing away in Tampa Bay, Florida. This sudden change of scenery certainly plays a role in how comfortable the players are, and thus affects their ability to perform while being so far away from home. 

While this season has been a tough one for the players, and for the fans to watch, the Raptors have been a resilient team. Although frequenting losses, the games tend to be close. It is that lack of star power or home court advantage that seems to have the Raptors slipping. With just under half the season remaining, it remains to be seen whether the Raptors will bounce back and return to their winning ways for the last portion of the season.

For the start of this season, the Raptors have barely looked like themselves. They are currently sitting at a record 18-26, good for 11th place in the Eastern Conference Standings. At this pace, the Raptors will end the season with a losing record and will not advance to playoffs.