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The Rap-Up: Fake trades are silly but fun

This week has a pair of back-to-backs as the Raptors make up for postponed games. Thankfully none of the opponents have a rest advantage. Let’s dive into some fake trades before predicting game outcomes.

Atlanta Hawks v Toronto Raptors Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

With the All-Star reserves set to be announced this week and my opinion on who should make the East roster discussed (at least partially) last week, I’m going to use these next two editions of The Rap-Up to resurrect my favourite gimmick: dumb trade machine ideas involving Toronto Raptors opponents!

A couple of caveats before diving into them:

  • OG Anunoby & Scottie Barnes are 100% untouchable. Their skill sets and contracts are simply perfect foundational pieces.
  • Fred VanVleet & Pascal Siakam are 99% untouchable (think DeMar-for-Kawhi). Since a top-5 talent is currently not pining for a trade, it’s safe to assume the team’s core four will remain intact for the foreseeable future.
  • Say what you will about Goran Dragic’s absence from the team, but he’s essentially been gifted a second off-season. He’ll be ready to go for any team that needs his services for the playoff push. There are multiple teams that are waiting for him to be bought out. If those teams want to avoid a bidding war, they could “dump” an unwanted contract on the Raptors. Toronto has the cap space to take on an extra year. That’s my long-winded way of saying Dragic’s trade value isn’t completely dead.

January 31 @ Atlanta Hawks

This game was originally scheduled a day later, but Toronto fell victim to some schedule reshuffling from an earlier Heat-Spurs postponement. After all these years, Kyle Lowry and Jakob Poeltl are still affecting Raptors games.

Three weeks ago, the Hawks were easily the most disappointing team in the league. After finishing two wins short of an NBA Finals appearance, hopes were sky-high for the Hawks heading into this season. However, the team’s defense took a nose-dive, Nate McMillan’s carriage turned back into a pumpkin, and suddenly every Hawk not named Trae Young was appearing in trade rumours.

The scapegoat was Cam Reddish, who was traded to New York shortly after the Hawks lost to the Heat, dropping to 17-23. His carelessness on the defensive end led to his demise and also signaled to the league that Atlanta was ready to turn things around. The Hawks are 7-2 since the Reddish trade, with victories over the Bucks, Heat, Celtics, and Lakers.

Fun fact fake trade that may only interest me

DON’T close the page! I swear this is my worst fake trade.

With Sacramento bowing out of the Simmons sweepstakes, the best available player on the trade market may be Collins. Once Daryl Morey is fined for tampering with James Harden, he’ll soon realize that waiting until the off-season may be too late, especially with Joel Embiid having an MVP-calibre season. Morey surely won’t want to waste another year of his superstar’s prime. Collins’ presence alone would relieve pressure from Embiid. The move also allows Tobias Harris to transition back to the Small Forward position and form a massive frontcourt trio.

In this (fake) deal, Atlanta seeks help from Toronto to grease the wheels by adding a veteran point guard — who can slide straight into a Sixth Man role as Tyrese Maxey’s backup — and a young point guard who can grow through Philadelphia’s development system (and take over backup duties if Dragic leaves as a Free Agent).

For Toronto, this closes the book on Dragic (better late than never) and Flynn, who hadn’t made the strides in his second season that the Raptors were hoping he would. Gallinari offers exactly what the doctor, err, Nurse ordered, as a much-needed scorer off the bench.

Prediction

The game plan for both teams seems fairly simple.

For Toronto, create turnovers and get out in transition. Atlanta has the second-worst transition defense, ranking 29th in points allowed per transition opportunity.

For Atlanta, be aggressive! The Hawks are excellent at getting to the line, ranking 4th in free-throw rate.

The Hawks swept the season series last year, but last I checked, the Tampa season wasn’t real. After removing those 3 games, the Raptors have won the last 10 straight against Atlanta. On the flip side, the Hawks have won 7 straight and starting to look like the team that surprised the East last year. Despite playing on a back-to-back, only Young played more than 27 minutes. The Hawks use a large free-throw advantage to prevail over the Raptors, 119-115.

February 1 vs Miami Heat

This game was originally scheduled two days earlier. Now it’s the back-end of a road-home back-to-back. Thanks for nothing, COVID!

For what it’s worth, the Heat will also be playing the 2nd of a back-to-back. In fact, this will be their 4th game in 5 nights.

One of those four games, of course, was the epic battle that took place on Saturday against Toronto. I’m not sure which was my favourite moment. The double-block by Pascal Siakam on the man he’s chasing for an All-Star reserve spot? Scottie Barnes’ pressure-packed free throws that forced overtime? Gary Trent Jr.’s fearless drive into the teeth of two of Miami’s toughest defenders, drawing a foul and subsequently tying the game on free throws? OG Anunoby’s tie-preserving steal in the dying seconds of the first overtime? Fred VanVleet’s 29’ foot three-pointer that gave Toronto the lead in the second overtime?

All of those plays happened in the clutch. All of those players played at least 54 minutes. No team has ever had 5 players play at least 50 minutes in the same game in NBA history. Whether or not that ends up being the turning point of the season, the performance solidified a number of items:

  • Toronto can compete (and win) against any team — even the East’s #1 squad
  • Having multiple options in the clutch will be impossible for opponents to defend — and wondrous for Nick Nurse’s end-of-game play-calling.
  • The Raptors need help from the bench, hence, the reason for this week’s fake trades gimmick

Fun fact fake trade that may only interest me

Have I lost all credibility? The joke’s on you — I never had any!

Miami gets the secondary creator they need plus incite some nostalgia by bringing Tim Hardaway’s son on board. Dallas finally gets Dragic on the team while also swinging for the fences in hopes that Sabonis is what helps elevate the Mavericks to championship contenders. This one’s a no-brainer for Toronto that doesn’t need further analysis. Justifying this for Indiana is tougher, but the writing’s been on the wall for a while. The Pacers un-clog their frontcourt, Myles Turner gets the extra usage he craves, Robinson aims to re-discover his shot with Malcolm Brogdon setting him up, and Flynn gets a better shot at rotation minutes.

Prediction

Miami kicks off a 6-game road trip the night before in Boston. As pointed out last week, the Heat have struggled with zero days rest, now 2-6 after Saturday’s defeat. Tyler Herro may not shoot 5-for-22 again, but the defenders that annoyed him most, Anunoby (1-for-6) and Barnes (0-for-5), aren’t going anywhere either. Butler, forever Raptor killer, made a field goal against all 7 Raptors that tried defending him! He did, however, suffer a right ankle sprain during Saturday’s game and is questionable to play in Boston on Monday. A less-than-100% Butler (or injured altogether) is not great news for a Miami team that’s hit hard with absences. Toronto beats Miami for the second time this week, prevailing 103-100.

February 3 vs Chicago Bulls

This is the makeup game from the Boxing Day postponement that would’ve seen Toronto face an injury-depleted Chicago squad. With Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, and Derrick Jones Jr. still out (along with Patrick Williams, who’s out for the season), the Bulls still come to town short-handed.

This game is also the front-end of a road back-to-back for Chicago. It could be the latest edition of “will everyone cross the border or will some players meet the team at their next destination?” I’m not one to make any judgments, but for the purpose of this preview, I’ll assume no one additional will be missing.

Fun fact fake trade that may only interest me

Raptors get their backup Point Guard and traditional Center at the expense of the team’s best reserve. Boucher has never looked better in a Raptors uniform — yes, I remember all the 30-point games he had last season. He’s finally carved out his role on the team. However, I also remember the many bad Boucher moments and can’t seem to shake them from my memory. Bradley is a big the Raptors should have targeted previously and someone who can put pressure on the rim. White brings scoring and ball-handling off the bench that Flynn simply hasn’t provided yet.

Prediction

The Bulls have spent all season proving doubters wrong (myself included). The defense is not as bad as originally predicted, although it has slipped from top-10 to slightly below-average. The injuries listed above should have derailed the team but they’ve responded with wins over the Raptors and Blazers this week. Nurse is an excellent coach who knows how to make the necessary adjustments for his team to succeed. How the Raptors performed in the second half last week in Chicago — on the road, in the second game of a back-to-back, without VanVleet, down 19 points in the third quarter — coming back and taking the lead in the final minutes, was indicative of how well Toronto matches up with Chicago. The Raptors put together a more complete game against Chicago this time, winning 109-98.

February 4 vs Atlanta Hawks

Oh look, another back-to-back. 4 games in 5 nights is the type of scheduling the NBA has made a conscious effort to avoid. Unfortunately, a global pandemic can lead to an unexpected canceling of games. As a result, Nick Nurse and his staff will rely heavily on any notes from Monday’s game in Atlanta and work with a tired group to try and keep pace in the jumbled East. At the very least, Atlanta will also be playing a back-to-back.

As a Head Coach, Nate McMillan has typically coached well in his second season. With Seattle, he led the Supersonics to a 7-game improvement. With Indiana, McMillan had the Pacers improving by 6 games in his second season. Considering how well the Hawks performed when he took over last season, it’s no wonder prognosticators were expecting big things from Atlanta this year. Could their recent 7-game win streak be the catalyst to another successful sophomore season for McMillan?

Fun fact fake trade that may only interest me

Eric Koreen is a gem!

Prediction

The post is getting long and we already know what works and what doesn’t against the Hawks, as discussed above. I trust Nurse’s coaching over McMillan’s any day. Also, Tony Snell is no longer a Hawk. The Raptors learn from Monday’s game and lay a beating on the Hawks, winning 123-110.

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Last Week: 2-1

Season Record for Predictions: 25-22