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Analysis: Raptors, Knicks pull off blockbuster trade to end 2023


(Sam Donsig/INTERMISSION SPORTS)


By: Chris Harrison


Yesterday, the New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors, two franchises currently locked in a legal battle with each other, completed a shocking trade, with fan favourites moving in both directions. 


As reported by Shams Charania, the Knicks are sending Canadian national team member RJ Barrett, 2023 Sixth Man of the Year runner-up Immanuel Quickley and a 2024 Detroit Pistons second-round pick north of the border in exchange for O.G. Anunoby, Malachi Flynn and Precious Achiuwa. 


For the Knicks, acquiring Anunoby and Achiuwa fills an immediate need, but at no small cost. New York sits in the middle of the league in defensive efficiency this season (though they were a top-10 unit when starting center Mitchell Robinson was healthy) and their otherwise solid defence has been held back by the lack of a big wing defender capable of matching up with players like LeBron James or Paul George. Barrett has always been willing to put in work defensively but lacks the length to be a perimeter stopper in the era of super-skilled scoring wings. 


Anunoby is one of the league’s premier wing defenders and was named to the NBA all-defensive second team last season while leading the league in steals. Crucially, he’s a strong enough shooter to not exacerbate New York’s spacing issues – he’s knocked down 37.4% of his attempts from deep this season on reasonable volume. When Robinson returns from his injury, the two of them could be the foundation of a dominant defence.


They’ll also benefit from Achiuwa giving them a little more juice at the backup center position, where the Knicks have been forced to reshape their rotation after Robinson’s potentially season-ending injury. Isiah Hartsenstein, perhaps the league’s best backup center, has been moved up to the starting spot, which is fine, but they have struggled to find a suitable backup for him – Jericho Sims isn’t yet disciplined enough on defence and Taj Gibson had to be signed off the couch to fill in. Achiuwa’s not particularly big for a center but can fill some minutes there in a pinch and at the very least is good enough for the Knicks not to have to overuse Gibson. 


The Knicks are giving up RJ Barrett, their first first-round pick to sign a multi-year extension since 1999 – seriously, the Knicks’ record with developing their own picks has been dire – and Immanuel Quickley, a gem the Knicks unearthed with the 25th pick in the 2020 draft. 


Barrett has proven that he can be a 20-point-per-game scorer in this league, albeit at middling efficiency. Raptors fans will no doubt be excited at the prospect of one of Canada’s most talented players hooping in the nation’s biggest city but his skillset – physical finishing at the rim is his forte – will be just as awkward a fit next to Pascal Siakam as it was next to Julius Randle. This seems like as clear a sign as any that Siakam will be the next Raptors star to be traded. 


Even with the Raptors getting a former third-overall pick in this trade, the addition of Quickley will likely have a greater immediate impact. He’s a plus/minus monster and a member of nearly all of the Knicks’ best lineups. He’ll give the Raptors the plus three-point shooter they sorely need (he is shooting 39.5% from deep this year and is not afraid to let them fly) and is a good defender both at the point of attack and in rotation. It remains to be seen whether the Raptors will insert him into the starting lineup or continue to use him as a super sub, but he’ll likely see more minutes in Toronto than he ever did in New York, while also getting more opportunities to develop as a playmaker. 

With the subtraction of Quickley, New York will be facing a major downgrade at the backup point guard spot, which will likely be filled by some combination of Miles McBride and Flynn, neither of whom projects to be an impact player. Flynn has shown potential but is a below-average outside shooter, as is McBride. 


This trade is a result of two teams trying to balance their future and present. The Knicks picked up two players who can help them with their playoff aspirations this season while being young enough to stick around for a few seasons. They also kept most of their draft pick supply intact for a potential trade for a star player. Meanwhile, the Raptors got younger without going through a full teardown and could potentially still push for a play-in spot, depending on what happens with Siakam. They also get an early second-round draft pick. 


There’s a lot to like in this trade for both teams, but neither will come away completely thrilled with the result. 



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