July 12, 2024

In approximately two weeks, the Raptors will officially reach the midway point of the NBA season, prompting reflection and projections. Rookie head coach Darko Rajakovic made his first starting lineup change after 30 games to address slow starts. With 34 games played, an assessment of Rajakovic’s work is now possible, despite the incomplete roster awaiting further changes.

One trade has significantly altered the narrative and potential outlook of the team. Rajakovic has consistently been the most energetic and engaged figure on the court, navigating challenges with limited options, as he highlighted the absence of a player like Steph Curry.

Despite a recent loss to Detroit, a transformative trade set the Raptors on an upward trajectory. Wins against Cleveland and Memphis, though with certain contextual considerations, have injected hope. The team, once deemed unwatchable, now exudes a newfound pep, joy, and togetherness.

The introduction of RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley has been impactful. Barrett’s consistent effort compensates for occasional shooting inconsistencies, while Quickley’s sharpshooting and fearless approach have added a dynamic dimension. Starting both has allowed Rajakovic to strengthen the bench with Dennis Schroder and Gary Trent Jr.

The Raptors aim to correct their 0-9 record against divisional opponents, benefitting from the current Western road trip for team bonding. Despite an incomplete roster, Rajakovic now has options to manage and experiment, reminiscent of his time in Memphis.

Defensively, Barrett defends the perimeter and plays in the paint, offering a different profile than OG Anunoby. Quickley’s shooting abilities and unique skills provide a dimension absent in Anunoby. Early signs are positive, but it’s premature to draw definitive conclusions, considering the potential for further changes. The trade has given Rajakovic options, allowing him to evolve as a head coach with the current roster composition.

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