Raptors exhibition game success a positive sign for team’s upcoming season
By Tyson Biever, Contributor
The Toronto Raptors’ preseason is off to a great start, as the team has quickly jumped out to a perfect, 3-0 record that stands atop the Eastern Conference standings. Their latest triumph was a tough 106-102 victory over former-Raptor, Demar DeRozan and his team, the Chicago Bulls.
While the Raptors meeting with the Bulls on Oct. 17 was the team’s most recent outing, their first preseason game was held on Oct. 8 against the Sacramento Kings in Vancouver. The Raptors would go on to win, 112-99.
Raptors head coach, Darko Rajakovic, wasted no time in playing his top players as the team’s starting lineup in their first preseason game consisted of small forwards O.G. Anunoby and Scottie Barnes, power forward Pascal Siakam, point guard Dennis Schroder and centre Jakob Poeltl.
The Raptors followed up their win over the Kings with a friendly exhibition match against Australian team, the Cairns Taipans. The Taipans are one of 10 teams that participate in the National Basketball League (NBL)— Australia and New Zealand’s professional basketball associations.
With the level of worldwide talent the Raptors have on their roster, the NBA team dominated in a blowout victory over the NBL team — a final of 134-93.
In their opening three games, there’s a lot to like about this season’s roster.
For starters, new recruit Dennis Schroder playing in the starting point guard position seems to be working so far. Last season, Schroder averaged 30.1 minutes per game with the Los Angeles Lakers while racking up 830 points over a span of 66 games played.
Shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. is doing well in his new role as a ‘super substitute’ too. The move was done in the hopes that Trent Jr. can make important plays off the bench.
It was an offseason full of changes for the Raptors as several moves were made after the team lost in the play-in round last season.
Most notably, the Raptors made a massive coaching change, firing head coach of five years, Nick Nurse, and replacing him with Darko Rajakovic — a former assistant coach of the Oklahama City Thunder. Nick Nurse went on to become the latest head coach for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Since his hiring, it seems that Rajakovic plans on helping the Raptors improve on both offence and defence by teaching the team to focus on their decision-making process. Personally, I’d recommend that the team avoid passing the ball when their teammates are contested by an opposing guard as too many times it was intercepted and led to the other team scoring last year.
Despite this being Rajakovic’s first time as a head coach in the NBA, his players have already admitted that their new coach is doing really well. Part of the reasoning being, Rajakovic already acts like a veteran coach and excels at listening to what his players have to say.
Meet the Crew
Not even the Raptors roster was spared during the annual offseason shuffle.
Former Raptor point guard Fred VanVleet departed from the team after signing a three-year deal with the Houston Rockets, while German-star Dennis Schroder along with 13th-overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, Gradey Dick, joined the club.
Dick, a small forward and shooting guard, has been called a sharpshooter by many. Wearing number ‘1’ on the court, the rookie is keen to do whatever his team and coaches want from him and has promised to work hard on his training — that is, if he isn’t busy filming cameos in Drake’s latest music videos!
Along with the new recruits is returning player Scottie Barnes. Drafted fourth overall in the 2021 NBA Draft, Barnes took the league by storm almost immediately. In 2022, the first-round pick was named the NBA Rookie of the Year and is already entering his third season with the team. NBA basketball player by day and Subway ambassador by night, Barnes switches between power forward and small forward positions for the Raptors and averaged 15.3 points a game during the 2022-23 season.
Let’s not count out Pascal Siakam, either. Siakam, who was drafted by the Raptors in 2016, is an NBA all-star that averaged 24.2 points per game for the team last season. And, now that the previous rumors hinting that Toronto could be trading Siakam have quieted down, there might be a better chance that he may sign another contract with the Raptors at the end of this season.
Great preseason in hand, the Raptors are a young team who will be very interesting to watch. The team’s season-opening game will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 25 where they will host the Minnesota Timberwolves.