The past few months 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. (The offense is coming around.)
- An extended slump for Fred VanVleet. (He's coming out of it now.)
- An extraordinary inability to find consistency in any single area of basketball.
- The defense falling apart. (It was fantastic against the Kings.)
- 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 -- although, seemingly fewer over the past few weeks (as you can tell with some of the caveats above). But with the trade deadline coming up, who might help fix or at least alleviate those problems?
This is part two of a multi-part series wherein I’ll look at centers who might help the Raptors. You can find my look at guards here. A caveat: I think the Raptors are better positioned for the long term at the big spot than the guard spot. Precious Achiuwa is the truth, and he's a legitimate do-everything big. He needs to be playing big minutes for this team to be good now and in the future. Say the Raptors acquire Jakob Poeltl, for example: What happens to Achiuwa? Does he go back to 15 minutes a game? That would be bad for the long term, I think. Plus, Christian Koloko will be a defensive difference-maker sooner rather than later, so a stopgap solution shouldn't come at the expense of his minutes next season. On top of that, Scottie Barnes has shown incredible ability as a big, particularly alongside Achiuwa. So I'm picky about the Raptors acquiring a big. I'll be using stricter requirements than I did for a guard.
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 bigs with size (not 6-foot-9, preferably), some shooting chops, the ability to finish inside the arc, the ability to defend the pick and roll in multiple ways, and the ability to protect the rim. Then I filtered by players who are at least somewhat available (Joel Embiid obviously pops up on the list, but the Raptors ain’t trading for Joel Embiid). Here’s what we get:
- Karl-Anthony Towns
Okay, there's no indication that Towns is available. And yes, he's not the best defender. (He can play up to touch at the level of ball screens with some ability, but he's not going to thrive as a drop defender.) I don't care. Obviously this is depending on who the Raptors would have to trade to acquire Towns, but even assuming one or two go out the door, Toronto would still have an ideal cast of wings to help Towns on the defensive end and turn his length into a boon. He actually forces a lot of misses at the rim! He is a 7-footer, after all. Minnesota has never surrounded Towns with the right defensive infrastructure. Toronto lacks a guy like Towns, and it has the right cast to put around him to make his defense matter a little more.
On the other end, he and Pascal Siakam are almost perfect partners, and the Raptors' offense would transform from a middling unit to one of the best in the league. He's one of the best shooters of all time (not just as a big -- of anyone), and he's enormously efficient in the post, as a handoff hub, in isolation, or as a screener. It doesn't get better than Towns as a fit for this team. The Raptors would be a championship contender depending on what the team would have to offload, perhaps not this season, but certainly next.
- Nikola Vucevic
Vucevic might be the answer for Toronto, but he's a risk. There is real downside on the defensive end even though he's statistically been fine this year. Empirically, he's defending the pick and roll as well as Al Horford this year, but the eye test doesn't smell that way. He is at least passable in space, whether showing, playing at the level, or even switching late in the shot clock. He does it with positioning, not mobility, which is concerning -- if you're trusting a big like Vucevic on the defensive end, it should be in drop. But he's almost a negative as a rim protector, unlike Towns, which is what would make this trade so risky. He doesn't clean up others' mistakes, which is what Toronto needs from a center.
But he's enormously talented on the offensive end, in all the ways that would help Toronto. He's a great shooter, post player, handoff hub, offensive rebounder, passer, and more. The passing is especially phenomenal. The fit on that end would be seamless. Perhaps not quite as ideal as Towns, but still very good. Given his age, defense, and salary, it would be a huge risk. But the payoff could be stupendous.
Really solid bets
- Myles Turner
- Wendell Carter jr.
I'm cheating a bit with Carter in that there's really no indication he's available at all. (Which is true for a lot of guys on this list.) But still, if Toronto could acquire either of these players, it would dramatically change the outlook of the present and the future.
Okay, first, an admission: Turner is really the only name my spreadsheet spat out at me; he's the only guy who checks all the boxes. I initially had him in the god-tier addition category because of that, but I don't think he would move the needle to that extent. But it would be very, very difficult to find a better fit for this Toronto team. You want a reason to bump Achiuwa down the hierarchy? Turner is about as good a reason as you can get.
9 thoughts on “What center might fix the Toronto Raptors?”
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