Young Raptors Bench Looking for Ways to Keep Raptors Contending
It was a summer of change for the Toronto Raptors.
With shabby veterans of the calibre of Cory Joseph, DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson, and P.J. Tucker moving on from the team, the Raptors were left to rely on their young, up-and-coming stars. While unproven to say the least, it was very clear that the plan for the organization was to continue to compete – at the very least, for the next three years.
Re-signing Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry to big-money extensions, sent a direct message to the youngsters. The training wheels are coming off and the pressure is about to rise a few ticks. The Toronto Raptors were set to throw their promising young players in the fire to show them the ropes of the NBA game. In a league in which respect is earned, not given, the start of the regular season has presented the next step in the development process of the young Raptors.
“I’m already mature, it’s not necessarily my team, but I feel like my voice is respected,” says the second-year guard out Fred VanVleet. “I’m not out here preaching to everybody, guys who play, DeMar [DeRozan] and Kyle they kind of give everybody an equal platform. It’s a good thing about being on a team like this, with good vets and good leadership. Don’t belittle anybody, you come in everyday and work hard, you will get your respect.”
For players like Fred VanVleet, the journey to the NBA was not an easy. Undrafted out of Wichita State, VanVleet, had to claw his way onto the roster and put in the necessary work just to remain on the main roster.
“I put a lot of work in. That’s something I hang my hat on,” replies the 23-year old guard. “I really put the work in. That’s what I do all summer. Took a few weeks off right after the season and got back to work getting ready for Summer League. I really worked hard this summer at my game in all aspects and my body just to come back a better player, that’s something I take a lot of pride in so when you put to work in, it gives you a bit of confidence and then you go from there.”
VanVleet is not the only young Raptor looking to carve out a niche for himself on the roster. Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, and rookie O.G. Anunoby are all in the same boat. While just starting their third year in the league, Delon Wright and Norman Powell have more or less found their roles, but that has not stopped them from continuing to learn and adapt to the league.
A lottery pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Poeltl has continued to show promise down low. Shooting at a very efficient 65% clip, ‘Yak’, much like the rest of the Raptor young guns, has been bringing a lot of much needed energy to the floor. Similar to the Austrian big man, sophomore power forward Siakam has been focused on taking his game up a few notches as well.
“I think there is always pressure to perform in this league,” Says the New Mexico State alum. “You always got to be ready to play. I’m just ready whenever I get minutes. It’s a long year, there’s the ups and downs, and just stick with it and keep working.”
Echoing Siakam’s sentiments, the season is one long process and things will only get tougher from here, but everyone in the Raptors locker room understands that their season may very well hinge on their young depth. Whether or not the Raptor young guns can grow on the go will be the question that this season will answer.