With Nick Nurse Out, Where Do The Toronto Raptors Go From Here?

For some teams, the 2022-23 NBA season has ended. The 16 playoff teams have moved on, ready to take a run at the NBA Championship. For the rest of those teams – including the Toronto Raptors – the season is being viewed in a retrospective sense.

There are many things to break down when it comes to the results of this season. How did the Raptors fare from a betting perspective? What will they do with important free-agent decisions this summer? All that and more will be explored below.

Recap of the 2022-23 season

Given that the Raptors were predicted by many to make the playoffs, it is safe to call the 2022-23 season a failure. The team made the Play-In Tournament as the No. 9 seed in the Eastern Conference, only to fall to the Chicago Bulls. BetMGM had the Raptors at -250 to make the playoffs before the season began.

It is hard to say exactly where things went wrong. Gary Trent Jr., Fred VanVleet, and O.G. Anunoby missed a combined 43 games. Missing key players for that many games hurts and could have been the difference in not only making the Play-In Tournament, but earning a top-six seed outright.

Calling the season an unmitigated failure would be a bit much. After all, this isn’t the team that won the NBA Championship in 2019. The Raptors don’t have quite enough star power to compete with the big boys in the East like Philadelphia, Boston, and Milwaukee.

Even still, the Raptors – on paper – should be a playoff team. The consistent inconsistency did not help with their results, and it leaves a lot of questions going forward. But before we get to what the offseason may hold, let’s take a look at the betting numbers of note from this season.

Mixed betting results

Unique stats are always the ones that stand out. One of the more unique stats from the 2022-23 Raptors season is that they managed to go exactly 41-41 against the spread. They had a four-game streak in which they covered from 10/31 to 11/6 and a five-game streak in which they failed to do so from 11/7 to 11/14.

When talking about the over/under, the Raptors excelled. As a matter of fact, they tied with the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs for the most overs in the league with 47. They finished third in over percentage with 56.6% of games hitting the over. They slowed a bit since February, going 17-15 in hitting the over. Hitting the overs on a regular basis is always fun, especially from a betting perspective.

With a 41-41 straight-up record, the Raptors were as average as it gets. Picking them on any given night created trouble for bettors, unless they were either on the road (14-27) or playing a divisional opponent (4-12) where there were more clear trends established.

A look ahead to the NBA Draft

For some teams, the draft is a chance to set the course for a bright future. Picking in the lottery means getting access to a potential franchise-altering player who can make a huge difference.

For the Raptors, they are going to need to make the most of their pick. That’s right, they only have one pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, a first-round lottery pick. Their second-round pick – plus a first- and second-round pick in the 2024 NBA Draft – went to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for center Jakob Poeltl (more on him later).

The Raptors won’t know where their pick is until the NBA Draft Lottery is held on May 16. They are projected to be in the early teens, around the 13th or 14th pick. Interestingly enough, the 13th pick has been a boom-or-bust position in recent years.

We have seen players like Devin Booker (2015), Donovan Mitchell (2017), Zach Lavine (2014), and Tyler Herro (2019) make serious impacts in the league. Then again, there have been names like Markieff Morris (2011), Kira Lewis Jr. (2020), and Kelly Olynyk (2013) who have had middling careers at best.

Picking 13th, the Raptors are going to likely be looking for the best player available. Their decision could be made depending on the future of a couple of veterans, but will likely be based on who is the best player on the board when they pick.

Look for someone like Jordan Hawkins from UConn. He had a breakout tournament en route to a National Championship, showing himself to be a sharpshooter throughout. He was rated in the 97th percentile in terms of spot shooting. He has great shooting ability in all situations and good off-ball movement as well. Playing behind a veteran core could allow him the time needed to properly develop and be a big part of the future in Toronto.

Offseason questions for the Toronto Raptors

Missing the playoffs after a Play-In Tournament elimination only underscores a debate that has been going on since a streak that saw the Raptors lose nine of 12. Sitting at 14-18 in the East, many wondered if it was time to break things down and start again.

The idea is certainly not completely out there. While they made the Play-In Tournament, they really were not far from the bottom in the East. Moreover, they have enough young talent that they could ship off the veterans and do themselves a service in starting the rebuild.

Two of those veterans worth looking into are VanVleet and Trent Jr. Both have player options they’re likely to decline for next season, which would make them free agents. Poeltl and Will Barton will be unrestricted free agents. VanVleet is an all-star level player while both Trent Jr. and Poeltl are starters. VanVleet is approaching 30 years old, and it has to be wondered if his performance will begin going downhill. Trent Jr. (24) and Poeltl (27) are still young enough to have some legs in the future.

All three are likely going to command a raise. Pascal Siakam (more on him later) could be due a hefty one at that. If they pay everyone, the Raptors are going to be in the luxury tax realm and that is never a great thing, especially when the team is so far from competing.
It all depends on where Toronto thinks it is in the rebuilding process. But the biggest question may be in the next section.

What to do with Siakam?

If a full rebuild is on the horizon for the Raptors, then that means cleaning house on everyone. Yes, that would include Siakam, unquestionably the star of the Raptors. The 27th overall pick in 2016, Siakam really became a stud for the team in 2019-20.

Since that season, he has averaged no fewer than 21.4 points per game, hitting a career-high 24.2 PPG in 2022-23. He has also been consistent defensively and rebounding the ball, holding around eight boards per game.

Trading Siakam would bring back a major haul. He could become supermax eligible this summer if he finishes with All-NBA honours. That would present Toronto with a greater financial conundrum to consider.

For the Raptors, the question is whether they are getting the very best contributions from him that they can get. At 29 and coming off of the best season of his career, it is hard to argue against that. Then again, his value is at an all-time high, and moving him would kickstart any rebuild.

Is it time to rebuild for the Toronto Raptors?

Ah, the million-dollar question. The Raptors are not clearly bad enough that they need to start fresh. Then again, it is clear that they are among the middle of the pack when it comes to the Eastern Conference.

It depends on where management sees itself. Moving in the direction of a rebuild can’t be done halfway. If the move is going to be made, the core pieces will need to be moved. That means Siakam, VanVleet, Anunoby, Trent Jr., and possibly more.

The more realistic response is to move Trent Jr. His salary ($18.8 million) shouldn’t be hard to move in a trade. Getting a first-round pick and a similar player back could be the best move. It would be the best value in return and help to keep the team away from the luxury tax.
If Siakam becomes supermax eligible, it could change the course of the ship for the Raptors. That is a huge investment to make in a player that will be turning 30. If they think that they can get more premium seasons out of Siakam, a few moderate changes would be the most of it.

What does it mean that Nick Nurse is now gone?

Following the end of the season, the Raptors announced that they were parting ways with head coach Nick Nurse. Nurse will forever be remembered in Toronto as a legend as he was the head coach when the team won its only NBA Championship. Nurse also embraced coaching for the national basketball program as well, further adding to his profile as one of the elite head coaches in all of basketball.

Now that Nurse is gone, it officially signals a fresh start for the franchise. They’ll be looking for a new head coach, potentially one that is more interested in going through a rebuild and spending time developing young players.

Nurse will definitely land on his feet and get a job for another NBA franchise. However, the bigger question is who will replace him for the Raptors? Earl Watson is one of the team’s top assistants and could be an option, however it seems more likely that they go for someone outside the organization. If that’s the case, keep an eye on Frank Vogel or Kenny Atkinson.

New Raptors CoachOdds
Ime Udoka-110
Adrian Griffin+300
Frank Vogel+600
Kenny Atkinson+600
Steve Nash+800
Jerry Stackhouse+800
Odds courtesy of Sports Interaction.

The future has potential for the Raptors

The Raptors, despite not making the playoffs, do have optimism to be had. Siakam is a star. They have talented young players in Anunoby and Scottie Barnes, the reigning Rookie of the Year. If anything, the Raptors should look at the Boston Celtics for inspiration.

The Celtics were 17-19 to start the 2021-22 season before turning the corner. The Raptors could stand to make some changes to their offence, implementing a bit more creativity. Finding versatility on defence, particularly with the personnel they employ, could be the schematic change that makes a difference.

Still, this will be an offseason to watch from a fan’s perspective. We will get the answers to all these questions and more before the start of the 2023-24 season.