Toronto Raptors 2024 NBA offseason preview: There's young talent to build on here

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 10: Scottie Barnes #4 of the Toronto Raptors celebrates with Jakob Poeltl #19 and Immanuel Quickley #5 against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half of their basketball game at the Scotiabank Arena on February 10, 2024 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
Scottie Barnes made his first All-Star appearance this season. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

2023-24 season: 25-57

Highlight of the season: When the organization realized, on Dec. 30, the necessity of pivoting toward a youth movement after years of being stuck in the mud.

Optimistically. The Raptors may have been bad this year, struggling to put together a cohesive offense, while presenting a defense that was made of Swiss cheese, but their midseason trades have given Raptors fans hope for the long-term future. Moving off both OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam were not easy calls, particularly after losing Fred VanVleet last summer to the Rockets, but the trade return of Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett lifted the spirits of both the organization and a frustrated fan base.

Barrett, notorious for his inefficient scoring as a Knick, found new life after returning to his home nation of Canada, while also undergoing a position change. The 6-foot-6 lefty, who was mostly used as a guard in New York, saw significant minutes at power forward, allowing him to operate with more perimeter talent on the floor. The result? A major increase in offensive efficiency, as Barrett connected on over 55% of his shots and upped his playmaking capabilities.

As for Quickley, the Raptors have found their VanVleet replacement after initially signing Dennis Schröder over the offseason, which was never a long-term solution. The 24-year-old guard went from coming off the bench in all of the 30 games he played with the Knicks this season to starting all 38 games he played with Toronto. He made leaps in both rebounding and playmaking, while settling into life as a starter. Quickley’s production — 18.6 points, 6.8 assists and 4.8 rebounds — has turned him into a key free agent this summer, when he’ll hit restricted free agency.

Trades aside, the Raptors also saw internal improvement from Scottie Barnes, to the point where he made his first All-Star team. The 22-year-old offered up 19.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.1 assists, while becoming one of the most effective switch defenders in the NBA. Whether Barnes will ever become a high-level scorer remains to be seen, but his current trajectory indicates he, at worst, will be a formidable second option on a good team. If by next season Barnes can take another step, Toronto should be in good shape.

Where the Raptors will need to see improvement next year is in the play of Gradey Dick, their rookie lottery pick. While he came alive in the second half of the season, averaging 12.4 points over his final 32 games, the rookie struggled initially, and it’s fair to wonder how much stock should be put into March and April, at least from a competitive standpoint.

Lost in the optimism of the future of their young players, the Raptors do need to concede that they didn’t produce well enough. They went 6-21 after the All-Star break — in part due to injuries, but also a lack of quality depth, which has to be on the list of priorities as they enter the offseason. They aren’t yet sure if they’ll be able to keep their lottery pick, as they owe the Spurs a top-six protected selection via the Jakob Poeltl trade. They currently sit at No. 6, but a bad lottery could see them gift wrap a new teammate to Victor Wembanyama.

Outside of retaining Quickley, the Raptors need quality depth and to further add to their youth movement. Dick isn’t ready for a major role yet, and the team could lose Gary Trent Jr., which means a shooting guard should be high on the list. Unfortunately for the Raptors, the best young shooting guard on the market is Trent Jr., but they have no matching rights if he receives offers elsewhere.

The Raptors have two first-round picks and an early second-rounder and will be looking to add a variety of talent across the board. For some inside rim protection, they could possibly target a Canadian hero in Purdue star Zach Edey. Also in the mid-first round range is 7-foot Duke center Kyle Filipowski. With the early second-round pick, Toronto could take a swing on Kentucky 6-8 wing Justin Edwards, who could end up being the Peyton Watson of this draft class — not very productive in college, but his game translates better to the NBA. — Krysten Peek

Projected draft picks (pre-lottery): Nos. 6, 17 and 35

The Raptors find themselves in a tricky situation. The cap hold of Quickley ($12.5 million) is far cheaper than the contract he’ll end up signing, so Toronto will need to do its business before re-signing Quickley. However, if a team like the Spurs swoops in on Day 1 to offer Quickley the max, time will not be on the Raptors' side if they intend to match — which they should given what they relinquished to get him in the first place.

Given that Trent Jr. accounts for $27.8 million on their books until he’s either re-signed, signs elsewhere or his rights are relinquished, that further complicates the number the Raptors actually have to deal with. If Trent Jr. is to be retained, and to a lower number than his aforementioned cap hold, the Raptors need to act quickly, so the lower — and actual — contractual number applies.

Regardless, the Raptors aren’t projected to have much in the way of available money, and by acting like an over-the-cap team they will retain the use of the full non-tax mid-level exception, worth close to an estimated $13 million.

Key free agents:

Immanuel Quickley (RFA)

Gary Trent Jr. (UFA)

Develop lineup symmetry. There is considerable talent in Toronto, and now that talent needs to find a way to become more cohesive. Role acceptance will be a big part of this team going into next year, especially as all three of Quickley, Barrett and Barnes can handle the ball and all seek to playmake from time to time. Finally, the Raptors are hoping that no other fringe talent on their roster will receive a lifetime ban by the NBA for placing bets on their own games.

Sign Quickley — quickly. He will become a restricted free agent this summer unless the Raptors extend him a $6.3M qualifying offer. However, his production across 38 games warrants a new, lucrative deal. What's more encouraging is that in 25 games with Barnes in the lineup, Quickley averaged 17 points with six dimes, four boards and one stock, proving that he's capable of running the show alongside one of Toronto's prized assets. — Dan Titus