John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
The Toronto Raptors may not be the best team in the league, or even in the Eastern Conference, but for the first time in a long time, they are extremely fun to watch. The ball movement, the chemistry, the locker room vibes—things are slowly coming together both on and off the court for the new-look Raptors.
The Raptors kicked off their season with a 97-94 win against the Minnesota Timberwolves, where Dennis Schroder kept fans on his hype train – scoring 22 points to go along with his seven assists. Since the opening game, Schroder is fifth in the league in assists and is slowly cementing himself into a solid starting guard for the Raptors. Schroder has been an extremely versatile player in his tenure thus far, leading the plays on the court, scoring when needed, but also dishing out key passes at critical times.
The opening win also marks Darko Rajakovic’s first career win as a head coach and the team showed him all the love in the locker room, showering him with water to celebrate. Rajakovic seems to have created a new culture in the locker room; the players appear to be happy and more outgoing, responding well to the coach on the court. It’s a stark difference from the Nick Nurse days.
The difference became especially apparent after the Raptors’ first game against Nurse’s new team, the Philadelphia 76ers. When asked about seeing Nick Nurse again, Scottie Barnes said: “I don’t know. I didn’t really look over there that much. I was focused on the game… I don’t know… good to see him, I guess.” Though the Raptors lost the game, they showed signs of improvement, specifically in the three-point department – shooting 53% as a team from three.
Perhaps the best story of the season so far this season is Scottie Barnes. I know, I know, I’ve spoken a lot about Barnes the past few weeks, but this is his team now and he’s making his mark. In the first game of the season, he racked up a career-high five blocks. He followed that performance up with his second career triple double against the Chicago Bulls, where he added another two blocks. His third game? 24 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and another two blocks. Barnes is amongst the league leaders in blocks per game since the season started, but even more impressive is that he’s doing it while averaging over 20 points per game, nearly 10 rebounds per game, and almost six assists per game on 51% field goal percentage.
Following a disappointing loss to the Portland Trailblazers, the Raptors bounced back with their most impressive win of the season so far. Up against the Milwaukee Bucks and their new star duo of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard, the Raptors put on a show. Siakam, Barnes, and Schroder each put up more than 20 points, Jakob Poeltl had a huge 14-point, 12-rebound, and 4-block double-double, and OG Anunoby held Giannis to only 16 points. The Raptors dismantled the Bucks in an all-around game from the entire squad.
The Toronto Raptors get their first big challenge of the season in their upcoming stretch of games, facing the Dallas Mavericks, Boston Celtics, and Milwaukee Bucks in a five-game span. This challenge should give fans a more realistic look at how the Raptors match up with more competitive and playoff-bound teams. Fans can only hope this new style of play remains steady, with a better record to show for it.