The Toronto Raptors have struggled to start the 2020-21 season, and their 9-12 start is indicative of it. While the Raptors are a better team than their record suggests (they’re a +1.7 in point differential this season), there are still holes that need to be addressed in some way, and their lack of talent at the centre position stands out most.
Losing defensive anchors Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol to free agency was anticipated to hurt the Raptors this year. Bringing in Aron Baynes was meant to somewhat fill the void left by the departures, and so far he’s off to a disappointing start that even caused his minutes to take a nosedive momentarily.
Alex Len was also signed in the offseason as a low-risk bench piece with some upside, but that experiment ended after he was shortly waived due to an uninspiring performance.
That leaves the team with the one shining spot at the big man role, and that’s Chris Boucher. The 28-year-old is having a career year so far averaging 13.0 points, 6.1 rebounds and two blocks. The efficiency has also been great, as he owns a 65.4 true shooting percentage, and is shooting 44% from downtown. It’s safe to say the Quebec native has earned every minute so far this year.
But the reality is that only having Boucher perform at the five spot isn’t going to cut it. He can’t stay on the floor forever and still tends to get into foul trouble rather quickly. Going small only works in spurts and isn’t an attainable style of play over a whole season (ask the Houston Rockets).
Toronto doesn’t have a guy like Gasol anymore who can hold down the paint without fouling excessively, and that issue reflects statistically as the Raptors allow the fourth-most free throw attempts per game.
It’s not much better on the other side of the floor, either. Other than Boucher, the offensive production at the five spot is essentially non-existent besides whatever he contributes.
There are options out there that the Raptors can target to address the issue, but first, they’ll have to look at themselves and understand what kind of direction they want to take this season.
The long-term approach
If the Raptors want to capitalize on a draft class with elite potential up top, going after a top pick is a viable option that could benefit the franchise. If Toronto continues to lose, perhaps trading a guy like Kyle Lowry for future assets could help the team bow out of the playoff race and use a top pick for a guy like Evan Mobley.
Mobley is a seven-foot five-star recruit currently playing for the USC Trojans, and the kid has sky-high potential. His advanced offensive skill set paired with his long and athletic frame can lead to a deadly two-way player as he spends time in the NBA and naturally grows into a stronger frame as he gets older.
Given the Raptors’ decorated recent history with draft picks beyond the lottery, there’s no reason they wouldn’t be able to do wonders with a probable top-five pick in the 2021 draft.
If they end up with a guy like Mobley come July, this could lead to one of the quicker “rebuilds” in recent history given his high ceiling.
If Mobley is unavailable and they’re in the lottery, Charles Bassey from Western Kentucky is another quality centre option who’s projected to be a lottery pick. There are a couple of solid big man choices for Toronto should they take this route.
The quick fix
If Toronto starts winning more and wants to give it a shot this season, there are a couple of solid options that should get Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster on the phone as soon as possible. The main prize in this scenario is Myles Turner of the Indiana Pacers.
Turner makes plenty of sense for the Raptors for several reasons. For one, he is only turning 25 this coming March and is locked up through the 2022-23 season at $18 million per year. It’s a fairly hefty price, but his talent combined with his young age makes the gamble worth it.
The big man is a shooting threat from all over the court, despite his 34.1% shooting from deep, and should always be respected by defenders when open. This also helps space the floor for guys like Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby to drive to the paint and improve their driving game.
On the other side of the floor, Turner is a smart defender who is a major rim-protecting threat. He currently leads the league with a whopping four blocks a game. He would be a massive upgrade over Baynes in talent and is nearly a decade younger.
It’ll be hard to steal him from Indiana, but it’s worth picking up the phone and starting a conversation if you’re Ujiri.
The second option is Andre Drummond of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Drummond makes less sense for the Raptors than Turner, but if he can be hauled at the right price (which shouldn’t be super high), it could be worth a shot.
Drummond is one of the greatest rebounders to ever play the game, and he’s continuing that trend this season averaging just north of 15 rebounds. This could benefit Toronto as they’re a bottom rebounding team in the league.
The issue is he doesn’t space the floor and plays questionable defence in any situation, two things the Raptors excel at. But, if there’s any system that could help him work on his flaws, it’s Toronto.