he success of the Toronto Raptors in the last several years have been undeniable. They have consistently been among the top 4 in the Eastern Conference, they have won a championship in 2019, and they have established a winning culture, something that has been lacking for most of the team's existence.
Masai Ujiri's track record speaks for itself, Kyle Lowry's dedication to the franchise will without question result in his jersey being retired in Toronto, and Nick Nurse has proven in his short tenure that he was a massive upgrade over Dwane Casey as head coach.
However, with that said, the Raptors have started the 2020-21 season on the bad end of things, going 0-3 on their first 3 games, which should be worrying in a more powerful Eastern Conference. What is frustrating is that outside of their season opener against the Pelicans, the last two games have been competitive, and they have just failed to execute effectively down the stretch in the fourth quarter. One alarming fact is that in all of their games thus far, they have dropped double digit leads.
Is this a trend of what's to come? We certainly hope not, but with new faces on the squad, they will definitely need time to figure things out.
Pascal Siakam's Struggles Continue
Siakam's embarassing performance in the NBA Bubble was mentioned by most that it was just a bump in the road, and that he will come back stronger. Sadly however, the struggles from the bubble a few months ago are still occurring now.
There's no secret that the scouting report is out for Siakam. His success prior to the alarming struggles are aspects of game that aren't as noticeable anymore. His deadly transition game, coupled with his elite touch from either hand around the basket and that spin move are hardly strong aspects anymore, often shooting more 3 pointers than ever before.
Shooting 6 free throws out of a whopping 56 field goal attempts simply won't cut it, but also shooting 8/23 in the paint won't translate to any success as well. His game has unfortunately become predictable, with many opposing defenses using last season's playoff series against the Celtics as a perfect example, and both the Raptor's coaching staff and Siakam himself have failed to counter that defense effectively in a more sustainable way.
It is still early, and Siakam certainly has time to turn things around which I believe he will, but it will be an uphill battle because the level of patience the Raptors once had isn't as apparent anymore.
Masai Ujiri Has Not Signed an Extension Yet
Although Ujiri has made it clear on many occasions that he indeed loves Toronto, he is one of the most sought after executives in the NBA, and the fact that an extension has not yet been signed is a concern.
With the news a few weeks ago of Giannis Antetokounmpo signing an extension with the team that drafted him in the Bucks, many people have turned to Ujiri about his future with the Raptors since his contract concludes in the 2021 offseason. It was an open secret that Antetokounmpo was in Ujiri's plans, and this goes back for several years, when Antetokounmpo was drafted seven years ago.
Now that this is no longer an option, it leaves the Raptors in a predicament; their best player currently is a 34 year old veteran in Kyle Lowry, what does this say about the direction the team will go?
A direction that focuses on rebuilding might not be something that Ujiri is interested in, and Bobby Webster, a young Ujiri hire might be given the keys to the franchise if that is the case, which could explain why he has not signed an extension yet, but only time will tell.
The Reliance on 34 Year Old Kyle Lowry is Jarring
Lowry, who turns 35 in March, has been the heart and soul of the Raptors for almost a full decade. He will have his jersey retired, and none of the success the Raptors have enjoyed would have happened if Lowry wasn't in the picture.
The Raptors have developed a core of Fred Vanvleet, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Norman Powell, with neither of them have been truly effective when Lowry isn't on the floor. In the plus/minus category, all of these players are in the minus double figures, which is clearly a cause for some concern.
However, with that said, if you thought the loss of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka on the frontcourt was significant which it is, the impact of Lowry off the court vs when he is playing is a night and day difference.
When referencing cleaningtheglass.com. Lowry is ranked in the 95th percentile since the team allowed 27.2 more points per 100 possessions when he sits. The Raptors are also scoring approximately 40 more points more per possessions in the roughly 111 minutes he's played thus far than the 33 minutes he has not played, ranking him in the 100th percentile in the NBA for the on/off impact.
The fact that Lowry at this stage in his career is this impactful for the success of the Raptors should be mind-blowing, especially since father time is undefeated, which leads to the obvious conclusion that the others must step up. Norman Powell has been god awful in the first three games, shooting only 17 percent from the floor, which is unacceptable for a player who should be on the rise at this stage in his development.
Rookie Malachi Flynn played exceptional in the pre-season, and for whatever reason he has been glued to the bench thus far. The Raptors need to analyze the options they have, because running Lowry to the ground in losses will not bode well for the team moving forward.
It's also been only 3 games, but building bad habits as a unit early in the season could translate into a trend if not addressed effectively, and if you couple that with the Eastern Conference having a stronger teams, things must turn around soon.
Lowry and Ujiri's time with the Raptors might honestly depend on it.