Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

RJ Barrett won’t replace OG Anunoby, but he can help Toronto’s rotation

RJ Barrett can help the Raptors, even if Quickley is the centerpiece of the trade.

Once upon a time, fans and media would have collectively believed RJ Barrett to be the centerpiece of the OG Anunoby trade rather than Immanuel Quickley. He is Canadian, and he averages more points than Quickley, and that would have been that. We know better now. Don’t get it twisted: Quickley is the major reason why the Raptors made this trade, as he will fit perfectly with the Raptors.

But Barrett is an intriguing piece, regardless. He is another wing on a team full of them despite trading away Anunoby. He may be moved in a second deal, as the Raptors still have a tax crunch upcoming if they keep this team together — Quickley is a restricted free agent this offseason, about to get paid, and Barrett is about to make 25.8 M in 2024-25.

If the Raptors keep Barrett, he will certainly be a contributor. He is a made man for Team Canada, contributing to the most important international achievement on the mens’ side, perhaps ever, this past Summer. But will he be as impactful with the Raptors?

Unlike Quickley, Barrett has been a relatively high-volume scorer since entering the league. His points per game has been very stable since his sophomore year. As has his efficiency, which has been quite poor. To that point, among 62 players to average at least 18 points per game, Barrett’s true shooting percentage of 53.6 ranks 60th. That’s less efficient than, for a point of comparison, Fred VanVleet last year.

Yet he’s big and strong and a high-volume driver. He takes a huge volume of his shots at the rim, and he draws an enormous rate of free throws. There are tons of positives.

Can they outweigh the negatives?

Barrett is slightly below league average as a shooter, which will mean more in Toronto than it did in New York. In New York, a Barrett triple was a relatively poor offensive outcome. In Toronto, it will be better. (The Knicks have the eight-best offense in the league, while Toronto is 20th.) He will give Toronto more spacing than, say, Chris Boucher or Precious Achiuwa or Dennis Schroder, as he draws at least some closeouts. We’re sort of comparing bad to worse here, but that matters for the Raptors. He attempts 5.0 triples per game, which would rank fourth on Toronto before the trade. (And fourth after, with Quickley replacing Anunoby.) He’s shooting 34 percent on catch-and-shoot triples, which is actually a good thing for Toronto. That’s far from his best trait, though.

His best trait is likely his cutting. New York is scoring 1.275 points per chance on a Barrett cut around a screen. That ranks second in the entire league among 147 players with at least 100 cuts. He is fast and strong, and he is much better at gathering for layups on the catch versus the bounce. He cuts hard around screens and runs — which sounds simple, but the Raptors have really lacked for the past few seasons. And he sets solid screens for his position as well, making real contact. (Again, Toronto has desperately needed contact on more of its screens this year.) He’s a nifty screener on or off the ball, and he’s a good decision-maker in the short roll, with a real penchant for putting his defender in jail behind him, slowing down, and jamming the ball down the defense’s throat.

According to Second Spectrum, Barrett is an 86th-percentile driver for frequency, averaging around 17 per 100 possessions. That’s a ton, right in line with Quickley and even Anthony Edwards. It’s big for a third-option wing. Sure those drives are not particularly efficient, but the Raptors just don’t have enough players who can put the ball on the floor and dribble through gaps. Barrett will do that. And though he’s not efficient at the rim, he has spent his entire career as an above-average attempter of shots there. There’s value there for Toronto, who ranks 12th in drive frequency despite having so little shooting. Barrett can create for himself, whether as an initiator or as a second-side attacker.

And Barrett also draws free throws on 14.5 percent of his shots, an 88th-percentile rate. That is the lone pillar propping up his efficiency, and it’s the most valuable scoring tool in an offensive arsenal — especially for a player shooting 83.1 percent from the line this year. He has been above 90th percentile in shooting fouls draws in three of the other four seasons of his career, so this is absolutely the norm.

Barrett is also a plus passer for his position, particularly on the drive. His ability to fit passes on the move into tight windows will fit with ease into Toronto’s offense, which is kinda what the team has built the whole boat out of.

Those laydowns to Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, and Scottie Barnes will yield great efficiency, and because Barrett is so strong, he should be able to create a fair number of those looks. Toronto will always be flashing a big into the middle on his drives. Of course, he is not particularly threatening (relative to NBA wings) as a scorer in those moments — but hey, neither was Anunoby, and he still found lots of lay-down assists this year in Toronto. Barrett is a better ballhandler than Anunoby, with better balance and more mobility inside the lane. The scoring efficiency around the rim hugely favours Anunoby, though. But Barrett will fit well into the offensive structure, and his best assets suit well what the Raptors are trying to do.

It’s worth emphasizing that a Barrett pass out of a drive is worth much more, statistically, than a shot — coming in at 0.942 points per chance on a pass versus 0.811 on a shot. Barrett will have fewer chances in Toronto than he did in New York, with so many more wings north of the border. If he’s able to scale down and find more efficiency, that would be a huge, huge boon. Don’t bet on it, but it’s always a possibility that players will find more success in smaller roles.

Speaking about that role, does Barrett start? It’s hard to say. Quickley is virtually guaranteed, but that leaves Dennis Schroder and Gary Trent jr. competing with Barrett for the fifth starting spot. I imagine whether Barrett owns the role comes down to his defense.

Barrett has never been a defensive stopper, even though the Knicks have cast him as one. New York has been worse defensively with him on the floor every season of his career. He doesn’t generate blocks or steals, although he does rebound well for his position. But don’t expect an Anunoby-like performance on that end, or really anything like it. Opponents have scored well on virtually every action defended by Barrett this year, whether picks, handoffs, post-ups, or isolations. He doesn’t foul, and he is switchable on the pick and roll. (He’s better as the screener defender than the ballhandler defender, for my money.) He’s a very competent tagger, getting to the paint early and physically, with the vertical pop to break up passes over the top and the legs to close back out to the corner. He’s terrific at closeouts.

Barrett is no stopper, but he’s a solid team defender, even if there aren’t numbers to show it. He’s improved there as his career has gone on. Don’t expect him to lock up Luka Doncic or Nikola Jokic. But he can certainly be on the floor while good team defense is being played. That’s valuable. I doubt he’s as sticky a guard defender as Schroder, but he should be a solid bench defender coming in at the 3 or 4.

While I am not a huge fan of single-number metrics, I actually think they make an honest case for Barrett. He is, according to EPM by DunksAndThrees, basically a net neutral (-0.4). The Raptors can use some replacement-level players. Anunoby was far above that, of course, but the hope has to be that Quickley replaces his value, and in a way that is more beneficial to the context and structure of Toronto’s offense. And for all his potential, Precious Achiuwa was a negative this year, as was Malachi Flynn. Replacing those two with a neutral in Barrett is a win.

The Raptors closed against the Boston Celtics with Jalen McDaniels, largely because he had a huge fourth quarter. But it was telling that they can’t find five players who can consistently play well. There are certainties in Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes, and now Quickley. Though Barrett may not be a certainty, at least not yet, he is far above the other options. He is a rotation-level player in the NBA. And for the Raptors, who have few such players, that is extremely valuable.

To that point, the Knicks have been consistently better on offense and defense with Barrett on the bench for the last few seasons. That’s bad! But part of that is because the Knicks have been replacing his minutes with those of Quickley and Quentin Grimes, both elite bench players. The Raptors don’t have those.

Barrett will certainly give more value to Toronto than he did to New York. He may not average 18 points a game, as he has in New York. But he can fit into the structure of the offense and provide competent minutes. For the Raptors, that’s a win. That’s both a commentary on the modest expectations that should be set for Barrett going forward, as well as the miserable expectations that have been set for the Raptors to this point of the season.