Plenty still to be learned about this Raptors team

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Questions heading into a season are normal.

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Questions following a season that ended so poorly and left a bad taste in the mouths of just about everyone it involved from the team president on down isn’t just normal, it’s a near certainty.

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Perhaps the biggest question about this team is whether it can shoot well enough to take advantage of all the athleticism and length the roster possesses that makes it a tough team to play against.

But let’s start first with what we do know heading into tonight’s season opener against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

We know the starting five for rookie head coach Darko Rajakovic will be Dennis Schroder, Scottie Barnes, O.G. Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl.

We know the first bodies off his bench will be in some order based on need, Gary Trent Jr, Precious Achiuwa, Chris Boucher, Jalan McDaniels and Malachi Flynn.

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We know, because he told us, that Rajakovic prefers a 10-man rotation that he is expected to use more liberally than his predecessor Nick Nurse and that the offensive emphasis will be on moving the ball and creating passing lanes with good off the ball movement.

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Defensively, this team will not be quite as prone to gambling as it has been in the past but certainly will put an emphasis on disrupting through deflections. Rajakovic reiterated Monday that the goal each night is for 32 or more deflections.

This will be a team that runs in transition and plays an up-tempo game to keep defences from getting set and thereby hopefully avoid too much time trying to figure out an efficient and effective half-court offence.

The list of what we don’t know is much, much longer.

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We don’t know how Schroder and his new teammates will mesh. Schroder’s role is pivotal for the Raptors but he has slowly amped up his game through the pre-season after a long summer in which he led Germany to a FIBA World Cup championship.

Schroder says he’s ready to go — one would expect nothing else — though Rajakovic, ever the realist admits it’s going to be a few weeks before we see Schroder fully up to speed with his new teammates.

Toronto opens the season with six games in nine days. Four of those games are against teams expected to be 48-plus win teams — two against Philadelphia, one against Milwaukee and tonight’s opener against Minnesota. The other games — Portland and Chicago are considered fringe playoff teams at best.

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So, we know Toronto is going to have its hands full in this first week and a half.

And it won’t be just Schroder finding his sea legs. Rajakovic is the other most impactful new face and no one has seen how he handles a bench in the regular season because this is his first NBA head coaching job.

The belief is he will be far more active subbing in from his bench than Nurse was but what we can’t know is how committed he’ll remain to this if the hoped-for results don’t follow and that expected depth the team showed in the pre-season isn’t quite there in the regular season.

Will he expand his rotation and dip into some of his older depth — Otto Porter Jr, Thad Young, and Garrett Temple or will he reach for his rookie Gradey Dick who has made strides throughout the pre-season but still looks like the rookie he is figuring things out on the fly.

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Dick possesses the one skill this team needs most in shooting. The sooner he finds his shooting NBA form the better it will be for the Raptors who don’t appear to have addressed their shooting woes otherwise.

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For now, though, there is a positive caution coming from both the players and coaching staff.

They like where they are, they know there is a lot of work still to do but they feel the malaise of a year ago is now history.

No one is being promised anything from minutes to touches but so far everyone appears to be on board with the new program.

We know this team is not going to go undefeated in the regular season, but can they maintain the happy disposition they had going perfect through the pre-season when the trials and tribulations of a full 82-gamew season undoubtedly pop up?

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That is something we’ll all find out together beginning tomorrow night.

QUICK HIT

Minnesota will be without their lockdown defender Jaden McDaniels for Wednesday’s game. The brother of Raptors forward Jalen McDaniels is dealing with a left calf strain. Point guard Mike Conley is also a game time decision having missed the final pre-season game due to illness. The only Toronto player unavailable will be centre Christian Koloko who is dealing with some respiratory issues.

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