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New York Knicks v Toronto Raptors

The Rap-Up: Hoping for more in 2024

The Raptors follows up a date with Cleveland with a long stretch of road games to kick off the new year.

Photo by Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images

For most of the season, the question hanging over the heads of Darko Rajakovic and the starters was, “Should Gary Trent Jr. or Dennis Schroder be the starter?”

On Saturday afternoon, Masai Ujiri answered that question by essentially saying, “Neither,” after trading one starter for two.

After years months weeks of speculation, Ujiri finally dealt OG Anunoby — along with Precious Achiuwa and Malachi Flynn — to the New York Knicks for RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, and a 2024 2nd-round pick. It was a truly historic trade because...

If/When Quickley reaches his potential that many observers have felt was possible (but not achievable behind Jalen Brunson), he will surely take over as Point Scottie’s backcourt mate. Will Lou on The Raptors Show summed it up well by saying that Quickley has the combination of Schroder’s ability to get to the rim with Trent Jr.’s ability to hit shots from outside.

Barrett is probably not as much of a shoo-in to be a starter as Quickley, but that means he’ll be an above-average 4th option or above-average 6th man — both wins for a Raptors roster in flux.

Many words will be written and many flowers will be given to Anunoby over the next little while, and deservedly so. He’s the second-to-last rotation piece left from the championship team, the scorer of the greatest buzzer-beater in team history, and one of the most beloved Raptors to ever don the jersey. OG, you will be missed!

January 1 vs Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers kick off the new calendar year with a lighter roster. Darius Garland is recovering from a fractured jaw he sustained on December 14th while Evan Mobley is 4-to-6 weeks from returning from knee surgery.

You’d think a 3-game losing streak plus finding you’ve lost your All-Star point guard and All-Defense power forward in the same day would torpedo Cleveland’s season, but this is a resilient Cavaliers team that is well-coached and quite deep.

Since losing both games of a double-header in Boston, the Cavaliers have won 5 of 7 games, including wins over Houston and Dallas. Their only two losses were against the Pelicans (on the second night of a back-to-back without Donovan Mitchell) and Bucks (Mitchell and Jarrett Allen combined for 64, while Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard combined for 65)

Cleveland fans are probably thanking the schedule makers for the upcoming cupcake slate of games while they await the returns of two of their stars. After returning home from Toronto, the Cavaliers have a 6-game homestand that includes games against the Spurs, Wizards (twice), Nets, and Bulls.

Fun fact that may only interest me

Assuming he suits up for this game, Barrett will become the 8th Canadian to play for the Raptors. He’ll be the 6th(!!) of those 8 with a last name starting with a ‘b’ (weird coincidence). More importantly, he could be the first Canadian to start for the Raptors in his first game.

Barrett’s 7 predecessors — Jamaal Magloire, Oshae Brissett, Cory Joseph, Anthony Bennett, Khem Birch, Dalano Banton, and Chris Boucher (only the last two began their Raptors careers with a loss) — all came off the bench for their first Raptors games.

Prediction

There may not be anyone happier about the Knicks-Raptors trade than Donovan Mitchell. Anunoby has especially been a thorn in Mitchell’s side whenever the Cavaliers and Raptors face each other. In their lone meeting this season, Mitchell was held to 10 points on 4-for-17 shooting.

While Cleveland has done well lately, it’s still worth noting that the Raptors have won 9 of the last 10 home games against the Cavaliers. Toronto should be welcoming some new faces, while Cleveland continues missing two important players. The Raptors will not only be motivated by its newest additions — in front of a home crowd, no less — but they should also be driven to rid themselves of Saturday’s embarrassing loss.

The Raptors kick off 2024 on a high note by defeating the visiting Cavaliers, 110-108.

January 3 @ Memphis Grizzlies

After 25 games and a 6-19 record, the Grizzlies were happy to welcome Ja Morant back from suspension. Memphis was an unwatchable mess in his absence, so it must have been inspiring to see Ja return to the court and ready to put the past beh—

Yes, the Grizzlies won the first four games of Ja’s return, earning Morant Player of the Week honours. However, a 37-point loss to the Nuggets (granted, without Morant) and 11-point loss to the Clippers (Morant’s first loss since returning) is a stark reminder that Memphis has zero room for errors or injuries. Winning only 24% of games with 1/3rd of the season now complete, Memphis will need a herculean effort from Morant and his teammates to make it into the Play-In tournament (or even the Playoffs).

Fun fact that may only interest me

Toronto has won its previous 5 visits to Memphis. The last time the Grizzlies beat the Raptors at home was almost 7(!) years ago, on January 25, 2017.

Memphis’ leading bench scorer was Vince Carter (7 points). Memphis’ leading scorer was Marc Gasol (42 points).

Prediction

The unofficial 28th edition of the Naismith Cup pits the Raptors against a Grizzlies squad playing its second game of a back-to-back after tangling with the Spurs.

This game is harder to predict because a lot of the season-long data is outdated! Is this the same Grizzlies roster with the worst-ranked offense in the league and only good enough to muster 2 home wins this season? Is this the same Raptors roster that can deploy an All-Defense stopper on Morant? No, and No.

This is, however, the same Memphis team still dealing with injuries — Steven Adams will not play this season, Brandon Clarke hasn’t debuted, Luke Kennard has only played 8 games, and David Roddy is 3rd on the team in total minutes. This is also a Raptors that has finally (almost) chosen a direction and is desperate for more wins. Barnes and Siakam are playing like All-Stars AND now have surrounding pieces that should improve the team’s cohesiveness.

The Raptors overcome a monster effort by Morant and beat the Grizzlies, 115-110.

January 5 @ Sacramento Kings

There’s a tiny bit of irony in this matchup with the Kings. Sacramento and Indiana pulled off a semi-similar trade a couple of years ago that Toronto and New York just completed with Anunoby being the Domantas Sabonis-like known hot commodity and Quickley being the Tyrese Haliburton-like rising prospect. Ideally, this trade ends up being the win-win it was for the Kings and Pacers. (Even more ideally if Quickley breaks through at the All-NBA level Haliburton has)

As this game draws near, don’t be surprised to read/hear louder whispers surrounding Sacramento’s interest in Siakam. If you asked me last week, I would have said there’s no chance of a Kings deal because of their lack of pick equity. But after seeing what Masai received from New York, it’s within the realm of possibility that a similar deal could be made with Sacramento. Keegan Murray and Harrison Barnes would be the rising prospect + solid wing that Quickley & Barrett netted for Toronto (with players like Sasha Vezenkov and Davion Mitchell being the added salary/talent filler bridging the gap between Siakam and Anunoby’s trade/salary values).

Damn, I’ve gone down another trade machine rabbit hole.

Fun fact that may only interest me

The Kings have two players who rank in the 97th to 99th percentile in both assist percentage and assist-to-usage ratio....and neither is named De’Aaron Fox.

Sabonis ranks in the 98th percentile in assist percentage and the 97th percentile in assist-to-usage ratio among all bigs.

Malik Monk ranks in the 99th percentile in both assist percentage and assist-to-usage ratio among all wings.

Prediction

The Kings rank 29th defensively in shots allowed in the short-mid area, and 24th in accuracy allowed at the rim and in the short-mid areas. These all bode well for Jakob Poeltl’s offensive game (read: push shots), Quickley’s floater game, Siakam’s spin moves, and whenever Barnes does his Antetokounmpo impression of bully-ball.

On the other side, Fox doesn’t really have anyone who can stay in front of him. Sabonis has the kind of offensive game that Anunoby and/or Achiuwa could have limited. With those two rolling — and with Sacramento’s solid home record, 11-5) — Toronto will be hard-pressed to keep up with the Kings’ offensive firepower (6th in offense over the last two weeks).

Sacramento lights the beam as the Kings defeat the Raptors, 129-118.

January 7 @ Golden State Warriors

Was I one section/game too early for the trade machine fodder? Because I think I hear Andrew Wiggins’ music playing! Toronto’s acquisition of Barrett will only fuel the pundits who think the Raptors covet Canadian players (but never seem to trade SGA to Toronto).

I’ll save you the trade machine ideas between the Warriors and Raptors because they’re too depressing.

It is, however, probably more likely than a deal with the Kings. At least Sacramento is performing at the level that was expected of them. Golden State is arguably in a much worse scenario than Toronto! For the Raptors, at least it was known that this would be a transition year. For Warriors fans, this was supposed to be the final stand — or at least that’s how I saw it when I (gulp) predicted they’d be a top-3 team this year.

With four of their top five players (in average minutes) aged 33 or older, and the fifth player (Wiggins) having the worst season of his career, it was bound to happen that this team would fall victim to father time. Klay Thompson, Chris Paul, Draymond Green, and Steph Curry are all past their primes. Although, it certainly helps that Curry’s prime was significantly higher than most. His numbers are still ridiculously good and the main reason why the Warriors haven’t fully cratered.

Both teams figure to be playing in the play-in, at best, in April. So, let’s enjoy all the 2019 championship highlight reels!

Fun fact that may only interest me

Since the championship season, the Raptors have played the Warriors 7 times.

With Draymond Green in the lineup, the Warriors are 4-0

Without Draymond Green in the lineup, the Raptors are 3-0

Draymond Green is still out, serving a suspension indefinitely for punching Jusuf Nurkic.

Prediction

This is not your older brother’s Golden State Warriors. Thompson shot 1-for-11 against the Warriors on Saturday. Wiggins is a shell of himself. Green may or may not play again. I’m only half-joking when I say that Darko should pay tribute to the 2019 team and play box-and-one on Curry.

Jonathan Kuminga has started to break out and Brandon Podziemski looks like he could make All-Rookie by season’s end.

But this is the kind of matchup that Toronto should be getting up for if they want to turn this season around. The absence of Green should really open up the floor for Barnes and Siakam to operate. Toronto defeats Golden State, 123-114.

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Last Week: 2-1

Season Record: 20-12

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