Trade Grades: The Raptors bet big on Quickley, but the Knicks took the sure thing
And the Pistons are grateful to both
[Editor’s note: Happy New Year! The trade news yesterday bumped up my usual Tuesday article to today; I’ll be back with another late next week. Thanks!]
The long-awaited OG Anunoby trade finally happened. Two teams currently suing each other, Toronto and New York, made a very fun deal weeks before the trade deadline. Recent comments from Quentin Grimes and Josh Hart suggesting the Knicks had too many players and not enough shot attempts and minutes to go around had me suspecting some sort of consolidation trade was in the works, and here it is!
But most people don’t realize that this was actually a three-team trade. The terms:
New York gets: OG Anunoby, backup point guard Malachi Flynn, and big man Precious Achiuwa
Toronto gets: Sixth Man of the Year runner-up Immanuel Quickley, forward RJ Barrett, and the Pistons’ second-round pick (which will likely be the 31st or 32nd pick overall)
Detroit gets: An end to their historic embarrassment
Let’s talk about it.
Detroit Pistons: A++++
The Detroit Pistons beat the Raptors by two to ring in the New Year with a victory, snapping a historic 28-game losing streak. Anunoby was unavailable for Toronto thanks to this trade, which was facilitated by a Detroit second-round pick New York had previously acquired. It’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t have been worth three points.
Of course, maybe the real magic was in the Pistons pajamas my Michigan-based in-laws gave me for Christmas. Who knows?
Toronto Raptors: C+
I have mixed feelings, but I get what Toronto is aiming for.
RJ Barrett is nearly a 20-point scorer who is playing improved defense this year. He can absorb some of the frontcourt minutes left behind by Anunoby’s move, and he’ll provide some rim pressure and volume bucket-getting. Barrett was arguably New York’s second-best player in their playoff run last year, an encouraging sign after earlier struggles. He could be well-served by a reduction in his role.
Quickley, the prize of the trade, is having the best shooting season of his career (45% from the field, almost 40% from deep on solid volume). He’s a good perimeter and team defender and vocal communicator. He possesses some latent playmaking skills that weren’t utilized to their fullest in New York, and I’d expect his assists to uptick dramatically for the Raptors. His floater game should be a huge asset for Toronto’s space-starved offense:
He instantly becomes the best point guard on the roster and should help a dreadful Raptors halfcourt offense clogged like a Porta-Potty at Ribfest.
But several things trouble me.
First, Barrett won’t slide in easily next to Toronto’s emerging superstar Scottie Barnes. Barrett is a willing shooter, but he’s not an accurate one. He had a hot start to the season, inspiring me to write an article literally titled, “Is RJ Barrett tricking us again?” Turns out, he was! Barrett has reverted into a bad shooter providing decent-not-great defense, and he still makes confounding decisions at inopportune times. This charge committed on a 4-on-1 fast break at the end of the Christmas Day game, when New York was managing a lead, should have earned him a suspension (even if the Knicks held on to win):
Toronto’s Barnes is the team’s offensive hub, and he can’t find consistent success next to Pascal Siakam, a far superior player to Barrett despite similar shooting woes. If the Raptors plan to slot Barrett into a high-minutes role, they will encounter some of the same issues. And that’s before we get into Barrett’s contract, which runs until 2027 and pays him $27 million annually!
Barrett’s not a terrible player, but he’s moving from one lousy fit to another.
Quickley, on the other hand, is a great fit in Toronto for all the reasons I stated above and more. He’s used to playing next to a ball-dominant forward, and he can share some of the creation burden that currently falls so heavily on Barnes. He’s a better defender than Dennis Schroder, the team’s starting point guard for most of the year.
But Quickley is a small guard. Small guards traditionally struggle to make a big impact in the playoffs, and Quickley’s performance thus far inspires very little faith that he’ll buck that trend. His difficulties in his rookie year (30% shooting, 27% from deep) weren’t unexpected. But last year, after nearly winning Sixth Man of the Year, he shot 35% (24% from deep) while somehow compiling more turnovers than assists across eight games and two series. His hyped defense didn’t carry over, and he was beaten up when matched against bigger wings or switched onto forwards and centers. And all that understates how bad he was when the lights were brightest.
We’re talking small sample sizes from a young player. He can and should be better. But Quickley is a free agent this year who wants something along the lines of $25 million per season or more — Jalen Brunson money, some might call it. That’s not a crippling amount of money, but even the rosiest projection of Quickley might slot him in as the 15th-best starting point guard.
It comes down to the opportunity cost. Anunoby was widely rumored to have received an offer for four first-round picks a year ago; that may or may not have been true, but it would have been extremely easy for Toronto to find two. Even on an expiring deal this year, Anunoby would have returned decent draft capital. Few late-first-round draft picks end up being as good as Quickley. But the team currently has the seventh-worst record in the league, and their pick this year gets sent out unless it’s top 6! So the big reward for the complete teardown would’ve been committing to the tank and keeping their potentially excellent pick this season to pair with the ascendant Barnes.
The Raptors decided they’d rather roll with Quickley (and Barrett). That suggests they’ll likely trade Pascal Siakam for players, too, and hope to retool on the fly and make another playoff push. If they can find a floor-spacing wing to replace some of Anunoby’s three-point attempts, maybe this will work out!
Quickley is a good player, and the team is better than it was last week. But better enough to be worth their best trade asset? Can Quickley become a great player? The Raptors think so. I’m not sure.
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