After being a major factor in the Eastern Conference playoff picture for the past several years, the Toronto Raptors have gotten off to an extremely slow start to the 2020-21 season. After two weeks of action, the Raptors sit second to last in the East with a 1-5 record, with their lone win coming against the upstart New York Knicks.
There are many factors that have contributed to Toronto’s slow start, but according to All-Star guard Kyle Lowry, the team’s lack of grittiness — and “swagger” — have been the key culprits that have led to the Raptors’ early season woes. Despite such a small sample size in the new campaign, Lowry knows that his team needs an attitude adjustment.
“We just need to get a little bit grittier, get a little bit tougher and a little bit nastier, and have a little bit of a swagger to us,” Lowry said of the Raptors, via ESPN. “Right now, we have no swagger to us. We have nothing. There’s nothing to us. Teams are looking at us like, ‘All right, let’s go eat’ … That’s not a good feeling.”
For many members of the Raptors, being at the bottom of the conference standings and looking up isn’t a familiar, or comfortable, position.
“This is probably uncharted territory for most of us,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said after Toronto’s 126-114 loss to the Boston Celtics on Monday night. “Just speaking for myself, I’ve never been a part of something like this. But we can’t hang our heads. No one’s feeling sorry for us. There’s no secret recipe. There’s a boatload of problems and we gotta find ways to solve them.
“When things are going great, it’s great. When they’re going bad, it hurts,” VanVleet added. “So I put my blood, sweat and tears into this and I care. So this stuff keeps me up at night, so it’s tough. It’s tough to be in this position, but we got a long way to go. We got a lot of season in front of us, we’ve got a lot of talent, and we’ve got guys that can figure it out … so we’ve got to stay positive and believe in ourselves and find ways to get through this.”
One of the main reasons for Toronto’s slow start is the fact that its frontcourt isn’t as formidable — on either end of the floor — as it has been in recent seasons. It lost both frontcourt starters from the 2019 title team in free agency over the offseason, as Marc Gasol signed with the Los Angeles Lakers and Serge Ibaka joined the Los Angeles Clippers. Not only did Gasol and Ibaka combine to produce well over 20 points per game for the Raptors, they were also dominant defensively. Toronto’s new big man trio of Aron Baynes, Chris Boucher and Alex Len hasn’t been able to replicate the production of Ibaka and Gasol.
Another thing that has contributed to the Raptors’ early issues has been the play of Pascal Siakam. He took a major step forward last season following the departure of Kawhi Leonard, and it led to him being named to his first All-Star Game and All-NBA team. This season the Raptors were hoping Siakam’s development would continue, but that hasn’t happened. Instead, it appears as though Siakam’s play has plateaued, or even regressed. After leading Toronto in scoring last season with 22.9 points per game, Siakam is just third on the team this season at 17.6 points, behind both VanVleet (21.8) and Lowry (18.7). Through six games, he is shooting a career-low 40 percent from the field, just 30 percent from 3-point range and averaging a career-high three turnovers per game. If Toronto is going to make any real noise this season, it will need Siakam to step it up offensively in a major way.
The good news for the Raptors is that it’s still very early in the season, so they have time to turn things around. If they don’t do so quickly, though, the team’s streak of seven straight postseason appearances could be in jeopardy.