The Toronto Raptors will begin life without Kyle Lowry on Wednesday night when they open the season against the visiting Washington Wizards.
Pascal Siakam, who will be looked upon as the new Raptors' leader, will not play in the opener as he recovers from shoulder surgery and is about two weeks away from a return.
After Lowry's departure to the Miami Heat, the Raptors still have a star point guard in Fred VanVleet, also a key player in Toronto's 2019 championship run.
OG Anunoby is expected to continue his emergence as a top player beyond his defense.
"He's going to be guarding the best players in the league every night," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. "Because he can do it."
The difference is that Anunoby will continue to have more opportunities to be an offensive force, a trend that developed last season.
"He's confident in his abilities right now," Nurse said. "He's going to take his chances a little bit more, you know, those kinds of things I just think again are experience and feel, and again just confidence in his own ability."
Under new coach Wes Unseld Jr., the Wizards have undergone a makeover but still have Bradley Beal. He leads a roster with seven new players, including Spencer Dinwiddie, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, Aaron Holiday and Kyle Kuzma. Among the returning players are Deni Avdija, Davis Bertans, Daniel Gafford and Raul Neto.
"We're getting chemistry down on the floor, understanding where help is going to be on defense, spacing on offense, our roles and all of that," Beal said Monday.
The Raptors acquired Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa from Miami in the deal for Lowry.
Gary Trent Jr. and Khem Birch are back following strong partial seasons with the Raptors, and Malachi Flynn is expected to continue to develop in his second season. Scottie Barnes, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, could have an impact.
Siakam will be a vital player after an inconsistent season, but he feels he does not necessarily need to be the No. 1 option all the time.
"I'm super happy for OG (Anunoby); I want him to be the best player that he can be," Siakam said. "If you see me out there, I try to help him, try to give him whatever little knowledge I have that could help him to the best level he can get to. I don't think it matters. Whoever can make the play makes the play. The more players you can have, the better it is for the team."
"I just want to get better every day," Anunoby said. "If I get better throughout the season as it goes on, or if I just feel like I'm better, then I'm happy."
Unseld said the Wizards have flexibility and depth.
"You can play small, you can play big, you can bump guys down, you have multiple ball-handlers who can create and finish," he said.
"I think we have a high ceiling," Beal said. "Obviously when we get guys back healthy, get (Thomas Bryant) back, get Rui (Hachimura) back in here and back acclimated, I think we'll be really, really good. Obviously, we want to make it to the playoffs and have home court. ... I think we can be that caliber team.
"Obviously, we're not there yet. We still have a lot of work to put in."
--Field Level Media