With the 2023-2024 campaign underway, the Toronto Raptors are off to an unimpressive start. Running back generally the same roster as the past few seasons with a couple fringe additions including journeyman guard Dennis Schroder and rookie sharpshooter Gradey Dick, the Raptors appear to have let the short-term post-Kawhi era pass by them. Mr. Bet-on-Himself Fred VanVleet has done just that, taking his talents to Texas for a king’s ransom, leaving forwards Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Chris Boucher as the only remaining players from the glory days. Although only one week into the newest NBA campaign, it may be time for the Toronto Raptors to press the reset button.
The Raps have hit the apex of a positional struggle that has been plaguing them since passing on Jalen Suggs for Scottie Barnes in the 2021 NBA draft. Although the Raptors appear to have ended up with the better player as Scottie won rookie of the year and has maintained a starting role in the league while Suggs has remained a deep bench guard for an up-and-coming Magic team lead by Paolo Banchero, they’ve placed themselves in NBA purgatory in the process. While there are differences in the playstyles of Barnes, Siakam, and Anunoby, with the players excelling at passing, finishing, and catch and shoot threes respectively on offence, they effectively play the same role on the court in an NBA game.
All three players are excellent defenders that can defend one through five, however struggle to create their own shot offensively. This leads to a stagnant Raptors offense that can score in transition, but consistently stalls in the halfcourt. The stalled halfcourt offense further creates issues on the defensive end as opposing teams can run fastbreak offense before the Raptors can get set up defensively. Like other stars with similar archetypes to Scottie Barnes such as Draymond Green, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Domantas Sabonis, Barnes would excel best with shooters and shot creators surrounding him.
The most logical path to a Raptors reset lies in trading Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby, allowing Barnes to become the main ball handler on offense and a switch heavy rim protecting defender. As players with championship pedigree, Siakam and Anunoby command a high return on the trade market. In addition, their individual yet similar skillsets are in high demand by contending teams that are dominated by either superstar centers or guards. Similar to how the addition of Canadian 3-and-D forward Andrew Wiggins elevated the Golden State Warriors to their fourth championship during the Curry/Thompson/Green era, the addition of Anunoby or Siakam would help a variety of contending or near contending teams, including the Memphis Grizzlies, Philadelphia 76ers, and Sacramento Kings. Particularly in Anunoby’s case, his exceptional catch-and-shoot 3-point shooting alongside his stellar switchable defense would make him an instant impact player no matter the trade destination.
The departure of Anunoby and Siakam would leave the Raptors with a core of Barnes, center Jakob Poeltl, shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. and a combination of draft picks and young talent received in return for the two NBA champion players. This would allow Barnes to play point-forward, acting as a facilitator on offense as centers/forwards Domantas Sabonis and Draymond Green play for their respective teams. With young shooter Gradey Dick helping to round out the starting five, a relatively young Raptors team would have sufficient floor spacing and facilitating to improve their halfcourt efficiency.
Defensively, pickpocket Gary Trent Jr. could hound the lead guard of the opposing squad, while Barnes would act as the off-ball disruptor alongside a bigger player manning the paint. This role is best demonstrated by Defensive Players of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Although Anunoby and Siakam would be missed defensively, the projected offensive improvement would help to compensate, as a score for the Raptors reduces the fastbreak opportunities for the opposition.
Depending on your Raptors outlook, you may feel that they simply need more time to fit all the pieces together. One week into the season may be a small sample size to press the reset button, however this reset has been visible on the horizon for at least a full season. In any case, trading Siakam and Anunoby does not improve the Raptors in the short-term, in fact it may result in a worse Raps team for this campaign. While trading away two of our remaining three championship pieces may bring a tear to our eyes, it is a necessary evil for the Raptors to move forward around our future: point-forward Scottie Barnes.