This was supposed to be a developmental year. When Toronto Raptors vice chairman and president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster created the 2021/2022 roster, they knew the team would have some ups and downs due to youth and combined experience.
Coming into this season, the team had quite the amount of young players with little to no experience in NBA level basketball. They had their young veteran core of Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet who were entering their sixth year, and OG Anunoby, who was entering his fifth year.
The three young veterans were tasked with elevating the team and taking on roles as leaders, especially since Kyle Lowry, long-time point guard, departed the team.
Starting off the 2021/2022 season, there was no pressure on the young Raptors team. They weren’t title contenders yet, so there were no expectations of a deep playoff run. The goal was to see how the new-look team of Anunoby, Siakam and VanVleet’s elevation to leadership roles, with the addition of sharpshooter Gary Trent Jr., would win games.
Fans also wanted to see how the 4th Overall Pick Scottie Barnes would look alongside the young core, especially after his showing at the 2021 summer league.
Some fans didn’t expect how fun the team would end up being or how fast they would learn to play together and win games.
Coming into the season, sports outlets gave their predictions of where the team would finish by the end of the regular season. Some predicted the team in the play-in mix, fighting for a playoff spot.
Many didn’t expect the team to finish with a 48-34 record, earning the fifth spot in the eastern conference. Yes, the Raptors had an abysmal 2020/2021 season after being displaced from their home market and had to play their season in Tampa, Florida, finishing in 12 places in the east with a 27-45 record.
The Tampa situation was not a true representation of the team, and for the people who are fans of the team or just general basketball fans, they knew the Raptors possessed talent. With the chance to return home to Toronto and stay healthy for the season, there was no reason for them to not play the winning basketball they’ve been known for.
The team did just that. They played winning basketball, went on multiple winning streaks — their longest for the season being eight straight wins. They also beat the teams they weren’t expected to, and made sure to fight their hardest until the end of the buzzer.
It wasn’t just the team as a whole winning. Players were also receiving personal accolades. Scottie Barnes, the 4th Overall Pick from the 2021 NBA draft, won rookie of the year, an award given to the best first-year player of the season. Fred VanVleet also earned his first all-star spot.
Between Barnes bringing his talents and proving to be a bright spot for the team, Precious Achiuwa who was brought in from the Kyle Lowry sign and trade, showed the growth of his game as the season went on. VanVleet proved himself to be a leader, Siakam did as well as returning to his all-NBA form, Anunoby showed the growth of his game, and Trent Jr. showed how much of a talented player he is.
These are the core guys Ujiri and Webster plan to roll out next season, and while some more talent, such as shooting and maybe a center, needs to be added to the bench in the offseason, this core has proven how well they can play and how much they want to win.
They weren’t able to make as deep of a playoff run this season due to some youth and injuries, but they were able to receive playoff experience. With a long offseason to train and improve their game, it’s only a matter of time before they come back hungry for more wins and of course a championship.