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Toronto Raptors v Golden State Warriors

The Rap-Up: Trade season re-opens

The Raptors are reeling after a depressing weekend in Orlando. Can they rediscover their identity this week in the comfort of Scotiabank Arena?

Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

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On December 15th, a slew of players that were signed as free agents during the off-season will be trade-eligible. So, regardless of the Toronto Raptors’ two recent losses to the Orlando Magic — and the angst they’ve created — trade machine season was about to kick off anyway.

While most of the trade ideas you’ll see will never happen, the ones that actually do are interesting to analyze, both short-term and long-term. Take the Raptors’ opponents this week as an example.

The Kings, Nets, and Warriors traded for Domantas Sabonis, Ben Simmons, and Andrew Wiggins, respectively, with varying returns on investments.

I’ll be the first to admit that when the Sacramento Kings shipped rising star Tyrese Haliburton and guard Buddy Hield to Indiana for Sabonis, I thought the Kings were absolutely fleeced! Haliburton’s All-Star caliber season and Hield’s current trade value still make this trade a win for the Pacers, but the margin of victory has greatly reduced over the first quarter of this season. Sabonis has brought a better balance to Sacramento’s offense that hasn’t been present for many years (more on this below).

Not-so-early returns of the Simmons trade that sent James Harden to Philadelphia have not been as ground-shaking as the Nets would have hoped. Simmons had missed over a year of competitive basketball, so it’s understandable that he’ll have his ups and downs. Considering the Brooklyn Nets have overcome a slow start and are ahead of Philadelphia in the standings, this trade can still be chalked up to being too early to judge.

Two seasons after being traded from Minnesota to the Golden State Warriors for D’Angelo Russell (along with a pick that turned into Jonathan Kuminga), Wiggins not only produced his first All-Star season but was an integral piece in the Warriors’ championship run last season.

All of this is to say that, while Masai Ujiri is not one to be trigger-happy with trades it’s probably best to hold out on judgment.

December 14 vs Sacramento Kings

The Kings are #5 in offensive rating. To say that’s a crowning (sorry) achievement would be an understatement. Sacramento hasn’t had a top-5 offense since the ‘04-’05 team with Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, and Peja Stojakovic.

Sacramento has offensive playmakers throughout the lineup. De’Aaron Fox is in the 89th percentile among guards in points per shot attempt. He also ranks in the 97th percentile in short-mid accuracy and the 92nd percentile in accuracy at the rim. Kevin Huerter has been lethal from the outside. Almost 50% of his shots have come from non-corner threes and he’s hitting them at a 44% clip! If the Raptors try to force the Kings off the line, Harrison Barnes and Sabonis are in the top-20 in 2-point FG%. If the Raptors want to kick-start their league-leading fast-break, the Kings have the #1 transition defense!

Whether it’s Lighting the Beam or post-game bling, the vibes in Sacramento are immaculate!

Fun fact that may only interest me

Sabonis has not even played the equivalent of half a regular season with Sacramento (40 games in a Kings uniform) and is already putting up elite numbers. He leads the team in rebounding (11.3) and assists (6.5). Sabonis is one of only four players in the NBA who leads his team in both of those categories — and the only one who does not also lead his team in scoring.

The other three are Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic, and Pascal Siakam.

Prediction

The Raptors catch the Kings on the back end of a back-to-back, while they get to enjoy two days of rest after spending the weekend in Orlando. The Kings should be road-weary as they play their third game in four nights and the fifth of a six-game road trip. Toronto has won 9 of the last 10 meetings and scored at least 118 points in six of the last seven. The Raptors are the only team in the NBA without a 3-game losing (or winning) streak.

With all that said, why are the Raptors still in danger of losing?

It’s hard not to be concerned after watching the offense struggle in Orlando. With O.G. Anunoby possibly out of the lineup and the Kings posting their best defensive performances recently — holding the Clippers and Cavaliers under 100 points — the Raptors are not likely to score anything close to the 118 points they’ve had in recent matchups with Sacramento. Toronto falls to Sacramento, 115-110, and sends all remaining Raptors optimists into panic mode.

December 16 vs Brooklyn Nets

That list of new trade-eligible players on December 15th includes a slew of Nets: Patty Mills, Edmond Sumner, Markieff Morris, TJ Warren, Kessler Edwards, and Yuta Watanabe. So, don’t be surprised if those names pop up as Nets fans try to find Kevin Durant another star teammate. On a totally related and hilarious note, James Harden is also on the December 15 list.

Not included in the list but very much trade-eligible is Joe Harris, who is the latest to be linked to a trade rumour — this time for John Collins.

Brooklyn are winners of seven of their last eight games and slowly distancing themselves from the jumbled East playoff picture. The list of opponents leaves something to be desired, but at the very least, they’ve taken care of business in wins over Portland, Orlando, Atlanta, Washington, Charlotte, Indiana (with the Nets’ entire starting lineup sitting), and, of course, Toronto.

Fun fact that may only interest me

Ben Simmons’ Basketball Reference page continues to be a hidden treasure. Here’s the list of all of his nicknames (most of which I’ve never heard on a broadcast or seen in a tweet):

  • Simmo the Savage
  • Young Socialite
  • Fresh Prince
  • Peacemaker
  • Benny
  • The Yank
  • Big Ben
  • The Wizard of Oz

Even with all of these spectacular names, nothing will beat this timeless tweet.

Prediction

It’s a Friday night game against the Nets. Toronto is 0-6 on Fridays and 0-3 against Brooklyn. That’s not good. However, the last time either of these teams swept the season series the Nets were still in New Jersey when Toronto won all four games during the 2009-10 season.

Two streaks are better (worse?) than one. Brooklyn completes the season sweep and defeat the Raptors, 110-106.

December 18 vs Golden State Warriors

The defending champions roll into town a week before Christmas to renew pleasantries with the only franchise to eliminate them from the playoffs over the last six seasons (three titles, two missed playoffs, one playoff series loss).

Both teams have not been able to build records better than two games over .500 this season. While Toronto has the excuse of injury luck (or lack thereof), Golden State does not. The Warriors’ offense has improved from 17th last season to 8th this season, but the defense has dropped from 2nd to 12th.

Klay Thompson is averaging a career-low 40.6% from the field and is shooting under 40% from three for the second consecutive season, after averaging at least 40% from three in each of his first eight seasons. Draymond Green is still integral to the team’s success, but his career-low 12.7% usage rate is a sign that the torch is being passed. Jordan Poole hasn’t been able to match his shooting numbers from last year’s breakout campaign, but he’s slowly trending in the right direction.

This team, however, lives and dies with its leader, Steph Curry. He’s on track to join Steve Nash and Larry Bird as the only members of the 50/40/90 club with multiple entries. It’s his 14th season in the league and somehow only the 3rd where he’s averaging 30 points. Add to that a career-high average in rebounds (6.6) and his second-highest average in assists (7.0), it’s amazing his name is not near the top of every MVP conversation.

Fun fact that may only interest me

The San Antonio Spurs are paying $89.0 million in salaries this season, including the $14 million dead cap money to Danilo Gallinari and Josh Primo.

The Golden State Warriors are paying $88.6 million in salaries this season to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson alone.

Prediction

If you thought Toronto’s home-road splits were bad (10-3 at home; 3-11 on the road), you’ll be happy to see Golden State’s (12-2 at home; 2-11 on the road). The Warriors will be playing their fourth game of a season-long six-game road trip.

All of this week’s predictions are built on the idea that Anunoby is out, or at least not 100%. But I can’t imagine he’ll still be out if it’s “only” soreness and the Raptors are (hypothetically) in a four-game losing streak. With O.G. back and the Scotiabank Arena crowd buzzing, the Raptors end the week on a high note by beating the Warriors, 105-103.

Sidenote: It would be extra sweet if Otto Porter Jr. is back in the lineup to face his former team.

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Last Week: 2-2

Season Record for Predictions: 17-10

A rivalry week cap off as Raptors head to Portland to take on Trail Blazers. Preview, start time and more

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