The Toronto Raptors are back in NBA action this week after a scorching start to their preseason. The Raptors won their first three preseason games, and the stats show that it isn’t just a fluke.
The Raps started with a 112-99 win against the Sacramento Kings, where new head coach Darko Rajakovic debuted the Raptor’s new starting lineup. As expected, Pascal Siakam is back as the team’s starting power forward alongside OG Anunoby at small forward and Jakob Poeltl at centre. The guard position is where things look different this year, as Scottie Barnes looks to be the new starting guard for the Raptors alongside newly acquired Denis Schroder. The new squad showed no signs of rustiness in their first game. Barnes led the starters with 15 points and seven rebounds, while Gary Trent Jr. sunk 22 points along with three steals off the bench.
The next game against Australia’s Cairns Taipans proved no different. Scottie Barnes dropped another 14 points with a block, two steals, four assists, five rebounds, and a promising 66 per cent accuracy score from three-point range.
If Barnes, who has struggled with his three-point shot thus far in his career, can maintain a steady efficiency from beyond the arch, he will be a serious threat in the league. The Raptors lack a star player, but the front office is banking on Barnes developing into one. The Raptors reportedly made him “untouchable” in trade talks for superstars Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard.
Their third preseason win against the Chicago Bulls may have just showcased why this was the case. Barnes dropped 22 points with an absurd four blocks, two steals, six rebounds, and three assists. The 22-year-old point forward did it all on both sides of the court, showing flashes of his potential throughout the game. Throughout the three preseason games, Barnes is averaging 17 points, six rebounds, nearly four assists, one steal, and one block while shooting at a whopping 50 per cent from the three-point range.
Barnes isn’t the only one shining so far. Rajakovic shared high praise for new Raptor Jalen McDaniels: “I really like his defense, his ability to get deflections, ability to get over the screens, to change shots. […] I think that he can be a very good cutter, especially inside of our system. […] I think he’s already a really good player, but I expect him to take it to another level.”
Rookie Gradey Dick hasn’t given fans what they expected so far. A sharpshooter in college, Dick averaged only six points in preseason action on 33% field-goal percentage. His performance shouldn’t be alarming, though. Dick needs more time to adjust to the NBA skill level, and he has already shown some glimpses of doing so in his limited playing time. Dick should take a bench role this year, and if he can shoot even close to as well as promised, the Raptors will be very happy.
Fans have a lot to look forward to this season. How will the new squad play together? Will Scottie Barnes take a leap to stardom? How will Darko Rajakovic’s new coaching tactics fair for the team? Can the Raptors contend this season? All the answers will come as the Raptors kick off their season at home on Wednesday, October 25, against the Minnesota Timberwolves.