The past month has been an exercise in comprehensive criticism of the Toronto Raptors. In no particular order, the issues have been as diverse as:
- A lack of athleticism (and functional size).
- An inability to shoot efficiently and seeming necessity of allowing opponents to shoot efficiently.
- An extended slump for Fred VanVleet.
- An extraordinary inability to find consistency in any single area of basketball.
- The defense falling apart.
- The four most important players all needing the ball in their hands.
- O.G. Anunoby tailing off on the offensive end recently.
- And much more! Fun.
We also, in small part, know what a functional and successful version of these Toronto Raptors look like. There are a lot of problems to fix. But with the trade deadline coming up, who might help fix those problems?
This is part one of an intended multi-part series wherein I'll look at guards who might help the Raptors.
The first thing I did was run a quick query using a couple of different databases looking for a whooole bunch of components. Without getting into actual percentages, I looked for guards with size, at-least-mediocre assist percentage, solid drive rates, solid drive efficiency, and at least a little bit of athletic burst (measured by first step on the drive). Then I filtered by players who are at least somewhat available (Ja Morant obviously pops up on the list, but the Raptors ain't trading for Ja Morant) and players who have shot well from distance at some point in their careers. Bonus for shooting well this season! Here's what we get:
- Zach LaVine
- D'Angelo Russell
I have long seen LaVine as the new version of the Kawhi Leonard trade. Yes, there is extraordinary injury history, and the knees are not what they once were. But that's why he's (at least theoretically) available. He's shooting 38.5 percent from deep, right in line with his career averages, including solid efficiency (33.4 percent) on a beefy rate of pull-up triples. He's shooting 66.5 percent from within three feet. His on/offs are poor, and he's never been a good defender. I don't care. The offensive ability solves so many problems that he would immediately launch Toronto into contender status depending on who the Raptors would manage to keep to pair with LaVine.
Russell is quietly having the most efficient scoring season of his career. He's an extraordinary creator and shooter, and he's no slouch as a defender, either. He is almost a picture-perfect addition to address Toronto's woes.
Big risk swings
- Russell Westbrook
So, obviously I skipped the shooting part here. But the driving, the creation, the size: that's all there in spades. Toronto would need to rejig to make sure the shooting around Westbrook makes sense. But he's so, so much better than people think he is. He's winning his minutes with the Los Angeles Lakers and doing a whole lot to make sure that's the case. He doesn't completely fit Toronto's vision. But he checks a lot of boxes for what might solve some problems.
Really solid bets
- Jordan Clarkson
- Malik Monk
- Jaylen Nowell
- Immanuel Quickly
This is the realistic group within which Toronto might be pursuing a player, if you're an optimist. It's not entirely clear all of these players are available (particularly Monk and Nowell), but none would be prohibitively expensive. Any of the four would also project to be a long-term, core piece of Toronto's foundation, rather than simply a rental.
Clarkson is having an outrageous season with the Jazz. He's remade himself as a playmaker, and he's creating a high volume of home-run assists, setting up wide-open jumpers and uncontested layups with consistency. He's shooting just as well off the dribble as he is off the catch, and he's great at creating his own points inside the arc, too. He's an elite isolation and pick-and-roll player this season. Clarkson would solve virtually the entire offense on his own. There may be some questions as to whether it's simply a hot year -- and his passing, unlike Russell, hasn't been at this level long enough to be certain to carry over -- but that's why he's in this group rather than the god-tier additions. There will be other suitors for Clarkson, and the Jazz may simply decide to keep him. He's that good. But acquiring Clarkson this trade deadline would be almost as good as the Raptors could do.