The Raptors have a new look for 2024, with the franchise-altering OG Anunoby trade setting the team up for a very different approach in the New Year.
The Raptors were said to be evaluating the roster for basically all of 2023, making a long-awaited move on December 30. Anunoby was sent to the New York Knicks for Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett.
Many Raptors fans declared the trade a win in the immediate aftermath, but how has it panned out for them?
The Raptors have made a mixed start to 2024, winning three of their first seven games. That’s left them with a 15-24 record in the Eastern Conference, which is only good enough for 12th - 1.5 games shy of the Play-In.
It has to be said that their last six matches were on a tough West Coast road trip, where they competed in most of their matches. However, they departed having been blown out 145-113 by the Utah Jazz, which was a sour note to end on.
However, the Raptors were competitive in the first five games, including wins over the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors. They endured narrow defeats to Sacramento and the two LA teams, but each game featured a fresh, attacking verve which this team lacked in 2023.
In Quickley, the Raptors have a genuine scoring threat at point guard once again. The 24-year-old has also been vocal about improving his assist numbers in Toronto, having been limited to a mainly scoring role in New York.
Barrett has also proved to be another very capable attacking option, both as a scorer and facilitator. He’s also helped to make the Raptors look like excellent three-point shooters with some red-hot perimeter shooting. While that’s unlikely to continue, he adds real energy to this Raptors’ offense.
As sad as it was to see OG go, the trade has made the Raptors better going forward. However, this is the NBA and every trade has its downsides.
While the Raptors added two offensive upgrades, they traded away their best defender in order to get them. With Precious Achiuwa also thrown into the deal, the Raptors lost another capable defender and rebounder.
Going into the season, the starting five was seen as an elite defensive group. That didn’t pan out, with the team ranking 22nd in Defensive Rating across the season. Anunoby looked like an elite stopper for a large chunk of the season, but he went off the boil before the trade.
The biggest letdown is that the pieces around him couldn’t shine on that end of the floor. They don’t seem to have improved in his absence and now the team lacks a clear number one option defensively.
Scottie Barnes has been given some tough assignments guarding the likes of Steph Curry, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard during the west trip. However, if he’s going to remain the Raptors’ top offensive option then that seems like an exhaustive workload for the third-year player to carry.
Dennis Schroeder has probably been the best defensive performer since the trade, but he tends to shine against guards. Not only that, but Quickley’s arrival has bumped him down to a bench role.
Defending has been a problem all season, so it’s hard to imagine the answer to their issues lies within.
The Raptors stand at a real crossroads right now. They are within reach of the Play-In, but they’re also on track for seventh spot in the 2024 Draft. With the pick they traded to the San Antonio Spurs Top-6 protected, they could yet retain that asset.
The other factor to consider is Pascal Siakam, who is out of contract in the summer. Reports suggest he’s being actively offered around the league, with the Raptors looking for a similar return to the Anunoby deal focused on younger players with potential.
Siakam looks more likely to be dealt than not given his situation and the reports around him. Any trade based around the two-time All-NBA selection could also fix their defensive issues, although rumoured trade partners like the Sacramento Kings, Dallas Mavericks and Indiana Pacers are also lacking in that area.
Finishing seventh-bottom, missing the Play-In and handing the Spurs a prime pick for a misfiring Jakob Poeltl is the worst possible scenario from here for Toronto. Matching last season’s ninth-place finish is still within their sights, but that’s a risk, especially if it involves holding Siakam through to free agency.
The Raptors have now drifted to +30000 to win the NBA Championship, while they are +12500 to win the Eastern Conference.
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