There are only five teams with a worse record than the Toronto Raptors. Three of those teams visit Scotiabank Arena before we head into the All-Star Break.
This week’s Rap-Up carries a ton of volatility. As we count down toward Thursday’s trade deadline, we also get closer to the Raptors possibly having a depleted roster if they trade a player or two... or three or four...
Not to be outdone, all four of Toronto’s remaining opponents before the All-Star break figure to be sellers (to varying degrees) at the deadline. The Spurs will likely field calls for Jakob Poeltl, Josh Richardson, and Doug McDermott, while the Jazz could find new homes for Mike Conley, Malik Beasley, and Jarred Vanderbilt. As for Orlando, they’ve got a treasure chest of young prospects and draft picks they can offer Toronto for Fred VanVleet. The Pistons say the asking price for Bojan Bogdanovic is high, but there are 20 other teams that can use his services — especially in a league with this much parity.
In fact, let’s use this opportunity to resurrect a gimmick I’ve run for previous trade deadlines: fake trades with Raps opponents! For this week’s Rap-Up, I’ll “trade” the fun facts section in exchange for a fake trade between Toronto and that night’s opponent.
February 8 vs San Antonio Spurs
Once Dejounte Murray was traded in the off-season for a bevy of picks (and cap space after waiving Danilo Gallinari), it was crystal clear what direction the Spurs were taking this season.
That direction included many games lost, improving lottery odds for a franchise player in the draft, and tons of player development. Jeremy Sochan has been one of the brightest stories — figuratively and literally.
Mike Breen recently shouted out Jeremy Sochan’s stunning turnaround as a one-handed free-throw shooter— BasketballNews.com (@basketbllnews) February 1, 2023
He also referenced @AlexKennedyNBA’s story on the history of unorthodox free throw forms, which you can read here: https://t.co/2Dhjgok8q8 pic.twitter.com/fxAZxTXosF
Malaki Branham, who the Spurs selected with the pick they received from Toronto in the Thad Young deal, is another positive story coming out of San Antonio. He’s scored 22 and 26 points respectively in each of his last two games — both career highs.
There will be no shortage of familiar faces on the Spurs: Jakob Poeltl, Stanley Johnson, and, in a different, bleaker universe, Keldon Johnson. On the bench, I imagine Brett Brown has PTSD whenever he enters Scotiabank Arena.
Fake trade that may only interest me
Raptors get: Doug McDermott and Jakob Poeltl
Spurs get: Gary Trent Jr. and Malachi Flynn
The problem with the Raptors this season (well, one of the main problems) has been the defense. Toronto’s length and versatility on the defensive end last season have mostly disappeared this season, despite the roster looking essentially the same. Poeltl solves Toronto’s center issue, which in turn should improve the team’s overall defense, while also recouping some of Trent’s shooting by taking on two years of noted Raptors killer, Doug McDermott.
For San Antonio, it’s been reported that Poeltl would command multiple picks. The hope here is that the inclusion of Trent Jr. makes up for the lack of picks included. Masai could probably add a lottery-protected first or multiple seconds to get it done. If you think that’s too much for Toronto to give up, remember that San Antonio has the leverage to hold onto Poeltl, who may be leaning towards re-signing with the Spurs in the off-season.
It’s hard to believe San Antonio started the season 5-2. Their eighth game was against the Raptors — a game Toronto would win by 43 points! If they end up with Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson, Spurs fans should thank the Raptors for kick-starting their tank!
This is the second game of San Antonio’s annual rodeo road trip. For all the complaining about Toronto’s recent west coast road trip, I always keep my mouth shut because the Spurs have been spending three weeks away from home every year since 2003.
The Raptors have won the last four meetings — the last three by at least 15 points. Toronto typically starts slow in their first game after a long road trip, so I’m wary of the possibility of a letdown game. However, this is their last game before the deadline (yes, same for San Antonio, but their direction is clear), so it’s not hard to envision a “win one for the gipper” type of game. Who that “gipper” is specifically will be determined shortly after, if not already. The Raptors defeat the visiting Spurs, 123-108.
February 10 vs Utah Jazz
Unlike the Spurs, who embraced the tank early in the season, the Jazz have stubbornly hung around the playoff picture. It certainly helps that they received an All-Star (Lauri Markkanen) in the trade for Donovan Mitchell and a defensive stud (Walker Kessler) in the trade for Rudy Gobert.
With Malik Beasley, Collin Sexton, and Jarred Vanderbilt all being solid rotation players is another positive sign that Danny Ainge really knocked these two blockbuster deals out of the park.
Utah’s front office has injected new life into an organization that was always “good but not good enough.” The Jazz have only made the Conference Finals once since their last NBA Finals appearance in 1998. Utah has a perfect mix of rising prospects, gritty veterans, and a plethora of draft picks.
It’s those gritty veterans that might find new homes.
Fake trade that may only interest me
Raptors get: Mike Conley, Malik Beasley, and Jarred Vanderbilt
Jazz get: Gary Trent Jr., O.G. Anunoby, and Khem Birch
I plugged these trades into two machines — ESPN and Fanspo — and both claim the Raptors would gain at least two victories. Honestly, I don’t see how. Trent Jr. is a better scorer and is younger than Beasley. Vanderbilt is a solid defender and makes up for some of the defensive versatility lost with Anunoby, but certainly is not fully replacing O.G. Obviously, the differences are made up in gaining Conley while offloading the unused Birch.
Personally, I wouldn’t do this trade, but if Anunoby is really unhappy and Trent Jr. is giving the impression that he’ll want more than $25 million in the offseason, then this might be the best offer out there (hypothetically, of course).
These teams met in Utah last week, so it’ll be interesting to see what changes are made, tactically (I obviously have no control over any possible roster changes). For the second time this season, the Raptors had 27 more field goal attempts than their opponent (Jan. 4 vs. Milwaukee). Toronto lost both games.
The last time Utah visited Scotiabank Arena, VanVleet notched his first career triple-double. However, it was his 3rd quarter performance that will live in Raptors lore.
Utah’s rookie head coach, Will Hardy, has yet to experience the chess match that is the NBA playoffs. With less than two weeks since they last met, Nick Nurse has a distinct coaching advantage and should be able to make the necessary tweaks for his squad to succeed. Toronto defeats the visiting Jazz, 124-119, and re-ignites false hope that they’re making a playoff push.
February 12 vs Detroit Pistons
As insignificant as this matchup looks to the other 28 teams in the league, it will probably garner a ton of interest (and money) from gamblers all over North America. This game between two lottery-bound (for now) teams is one of the last games to finish before the Super Bowl. Whether you’re hosting a Super Bowl party, joining your office’s Super Bowl pool, or are a degenerate gambler like me, prop bets make Super Bowl Sunday that much more entertaining.
Who will score more points, the Kansas City Chiefs or Fred VanVleet?
Who will kick/make more field goals, the Philadelphia Eagles or Precious Achiuwa?
Which will be longer, the national anthem at the Super Bowl (sung by Country singer, Chris Stapleton) or Dalano Banton’s playing time?
Will the colour of the Gatorade splashed on the winning coach match the colour of the Pistons’ or Raptors’ uniform?
What’s more likely to happen, Patrick Mahomes celebrating his second Super Bowl MVP or Dwane Casey celebrating another win over the Raptors?
Fake trade that may only interest me
Raptors get: Nerlens Noel and Saddiq Bey
Pistons get: Otto Porter Jr. and Khem Birch
For Toronto, Noel is the answer at Center while Bey is the redraft candidate this team has focused its offseason signings on. The Pistons will have to soon decide between Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart, and Bey regarding what to do as their rookie contracts expire. Signs point to Bey being the odd man out.
As for Detroit, they’re looking for 3-and-D wings and veterans to help guide this young roster. They’re also not trying to win any more games this season, so waiting on Porter Jr. to return next year fits their timeline.
Seriously, what are you doing watching this game? You should be getting ready to go to that Super Bowl party or preparing to host one of your own! There’s nothing to get excited about with this game. If Toronto wins, that’s not a big deal because they’re supposed to defeat the East’s worst team (who also happens to be missing their best player). If Toronto loses, Casey will happily dance on the Raptors’ grave, then proceed to lose every game until he’s fired.
You’re still reading so I’ll give you a prediction anyway. The Pistons come into town and steal another win at Scotiabank Arena — their fifth in six visits — defeating the Raptors 117-115.
February 14 vs Orlando Magic
Mo Bamba has been suspended four games for his altercation with Austin Rivers — which means he’ll be back in time to suit up for the Raptors as his old team comes to town. I think the NBA got it all wrong with Bamba. Getting into a fight with Austin Rivers should earn you four extra games worth of pay.
Just as surprising as Bamba’s suspension is Bol Bol’s blocked shot location chart. If I had to guess, Chris Boucher’s chart looks similar to Bol’s.
NBA: Blocked shot location of the 12 players with most blocks during this season!— Edoardo Vergani (@ed_vergani) February 4, 2023
What pops out? Let me know! pic.twitter.com/shFXLWFonW
Fun fact that may only interest me
Raptors get: Wendell Carter Jr. and Jalen Suggs
Magic get: Fred VanVleet
The irony of this trade — as unlikely as it is — is that Suggs was seen as the appropriate draft pick for a Raptors team about to lose Kyle Lowry. How ironic that he’d replace Lowry’s protege instead!
The trickle-down effect of Fred’s departure is that Trent Jr.’s usage goes up AND he reunites with his Duke teammate, Carter Jr.
Wendell BLOCK ❌ ➡️ Gary AND ONE— Duke Men’s Basketball (@DukeMBB) December 30, 2017
Crazies are hype pic.twitter.com/u4mCgYCnL7
It’s Valentine’s Day but there will be no love coming from the Raptors. After winning nine straight meetings between April 2019 and October 2021, Toronto has lost three of the last five meetings with the Magic, including a double-header in early December. Those back-to-back games in Orlando were, for some, the start of Toronto’s downward trajectory because they dipped below .500 and have not recovered.
Orlando’s length prevents Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. from going off. Jonathan Isaac’s return gives Siakam PTSD from the 2019 playoff series, prompting him to play another poor game.
Thankfully, O.G. Anunoby returns from his wrist injury to shut down Paolo Banchero while Precious Achiuwa forces Franz Wagner into an inefficient game. Scottie Barnes finds his groove in the fourth by figuring out how to attack Orlando’s bevy of long arms. Toronto puts away the Magic, winning 122-118*.
*Those last two paragraphs will look absolutely ridiculous if the Raptors make any deadline deals.