The 2021-22 NBA season is a little less than a month away, with preseason set to begin in early October. The Toronto Raptors will play five preseason games from October 4th to 12th, before tipping off their 27th season in franchise history on October 20th when they host the Washington Wizards.
Can the Raptors bounce back?
After making the playoffs seven years in a row, the Raptors missed out last year, finishing with a record of 27-45 in a shortened season. The team struggled to stay healthy, and their depth was just not good enough to make a playoff push.
Things are not necessarily getting easier with franchise icon Kyle Lowry headed to the Miami Heat in a sign-and-trade deal. However, the Raptors were able to bring in a promising young forward in Precious Achiuwa and a reliable veteran point guard in Goran Dragic with the move.
They also managed to retain newly acquired restricted free agent Gary Trent Jr. and draft an extremely high upside athlete in Scottie Barnes. Aside from these moves and a couple of training camp roster spots that are up for grabs, the Raptors will bring back a similar core to what they had last season. Led by head coach Nick Nurse, Pascal Siakam, Fred Vanvleet and OG Anunoby will serve as the Raptors’ top three options while Montreal natives Khem Birch and Chris Boucher will see a lot of minutes in the frontcourt as well.
Siakam, a former All-Star, has been involved in trade rumours over the last couple of months. The 27-year-old had an up-and-down season after a breakout campaign in 2019-20 and was involved in a heated exchange with coach Nurse after a loss last season. Siakam and the Raptors have shot down any question of whether there is tension or animosity on either side.
“I think that it’s time for people to let it go,” Siakam said on the Bob McCown podcast. “It’s frustrating, losing. And those are things that two people who care about winning, you know, you go out there and sometimes you get frustrated. I think it was nothing more than that, just being frustrated about not being able to accomplish what we feel like we’re capable of doing and it was just a disagreement, and we kind of moved past that a long time ago.”
“It was just funny for me watching TV and seeing people still talk about it,” he said. “Me and Nick, the whole organization, we focus on winning. We want to get back to who we know we are and I think that’s the only thing that’s on our minds.”
The question with this team remains: how much stock can be put into last season; a season that was played in Tampa, Florida and saw various players miss significant time?
The team showed a couple of flashes of good basketball, like when they took down the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in back-to-back games on the road, and then beat the East-leading Philadelphia 76ers as part of a four-game win streak. Or when they obliterated the Golden State Warriors 130-77 in what was their largest point-differential win in franchise history. However, they certainly had enough down moments as well, like when they lost 13 of 14, or when they went 0-7 to finish the year.
It really is tough to gauge what to expect from this team in 2021-22.
Regular season wins
The Raptors are expected to win 35.5 games next season. That would situate them somewhere around 11th in the Eastern Conference and around ten games below .500. Coming off a down year and losing their franchise player, one can understand such a low win total. However, with added depth and (knock on wood) a healthy season, a playoff appearance, or at least a play-in berth, seems more than feasible for this roster.
Our pick: Over 35.5 wins (1.83)
To make the playoffs
The Raptors are set at 3.80 to make the playoffs next season and 1.28 to miss them after the play-in tournament is settled, suggesting that the Raptors have approximately a 3-in-4 chance to miss the postseason. Led by Siakam, Vanvleet and Anunoby, there is plenty of reason to believe this team has better than a 25% chance to make it to the playoffs.
Our pick: Yes (3.80)
The Raptors are set at 151.00 to win the NBA Finals and 61.00 to win the East. It is always enticing to go for it on high stakes bets, but at the end of the day, this roster is not built to contend for a title.
Verdict: Fair value – withhold
MVP (Pascal Siakam: 151.00, Fred Vanvleet: 301.00)
Siakam has the best odds out of any of the Raptors to win MVP in 2021-22, while Fred Vanvleet is also listed. Siakam and Vanvleet are solid, all-around basketball players but any Raptor fan would admit that neither is going to be the MVP next season.
Verdict: Fair value – withhold
Rookie of the Year (Scottie Barnes)
Raptors fourth overall pick Scottie Barnes is listed at 13.00 to win Rookie of the Year. Barnes has as much, if not more, upside as anybody in this year’s draft class. However, he is seen as a guy who will probably not be the best player in the draft in year one. Three or four years down the road may be a better time to judge the Raptors on this pick. Additionally, with established forwards like Siakam and Anunoby on the roster, it is unlikely he will get enough touches to compete with guys like Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green. 13.00 is decent value for a fourth overall pick, and fun for routing interest. However, at the end of the day, Barnes’ circumstances seem to stack the odds against him for this award, not taking anything away from him and what he could bring to the team for years to come.
Verdict: Fair value – withhold
Defensive Player of the Year (OG Anunoby: 81.00, Chris Boucher: 101.00)
Anunoby should be in the Defensive Player of the Year race every season. He is that good. From point guard to center, OG can lock up just about any type of player one can throw at him. He is not the big name like Rudy Gobert or Ben Simmons or Anthony Davis, but on the defensive end of the floor, he is right there with those guys. 81.00 feels like excellent value, but will he get the votes that he deserves? Boucher is an electric shot-blocker but does not have as complete of a defensive skillset as Anunoby.
Verdict: Good value for Anunoby, poor value for Boucher – Bet Anunoby (81.00)
Coach of the Year (Nick Nurse)
Nurse is set at 46.00 to win 2021-22 NBA Coach of the Year. The fourth-year head coach has won the award before but comes into this season with a very different group of talent than he had when he won it in 2019-20. This award often goes to the coach that not necessarily wins the most games, but achieves the best results given the talent that they have. With a team like Toronto that may be a little bit underestimated by the media, Nurse could put himself in good position to win if the Raptors can find their way into the top half of the East next season.
Verdict: Great value – Bet Nurse (46.00)
While they are not favoured to win any of the major awards or to win the most games, this would not be the first time that betting odds underestimated the Raptors. A few solid value bets are there for the taking that could get you some nice returns if things go Toronto’s way.