Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

Where does the Raptors’ young core currently rank?

The Toronto Raptors have good, young talent. But how does it compare to the rest of the league?

If you hadn’t watched much of the NBA for the past four or five years, outside of the Toronto Raptors, you might think Scottie Barnes was the best and most exciting prospect in the league. Maybe in history. He slams dunks over bigs and smalls alike, splashes triples. He swats shots like prime LeBron James and picks off passes with his enormous length. He is one of the best and most productive passers in league history. And he’s doing it all at just 22 years old. 

There have only been 61 seasons in which players have averaged 20 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block per game. (And those 61 seasons have only been accomplished by 24 players -- Larry Bird has the most seasons, with nine to his name.) But Barnes is the fourth-youngest player to ever do it. 

The thing is, two of the other three (Luka Doncic and Alperen Sengun) have done it quite recently or are in the midst of doing it this year. Magic Johnson is the only historical comp. Young players are just putting up more numbers now than they ever have. So zoom out, and you’ll see that Barnes certainly is one of the best and most exciting young prospects in the league. But he’s not clearly the best in the league, as one might think. 

Comparison is the thief of joy, yes. But the NBA is a zero-sum environment that necessitates comparison. So where does that leave the Raptors? At the very least, having a little fun with rankings every now and then. How do Barnes and the rest of the young core in Toronto compare to the remainder of the NBA when it comes to teams that are positioned to contend in the future? 

First, some definitions. Obviously. The best part. So let’s cap this at 24 years old. Why 24? I don’t know. Random. It feels young. (And it includes Toronto’s best players, so.) We’re going to start with the Raptors, then look at some of the other best young cores in the league. Let’s sort by current production and chances at becoming a star, whatever that means. 

Toronto’s young core 

Scottie Barnes: Obviously the crown jewel is Barnes himself. He ranks seventh in win shares among players 24 or under. EPM has him a little lower, but still in the top 10. As said above, he does everything. His jumper is trending downward a little bit, but he’s still gone a long way to establishing a reputation as a shooter this year. He’s drawing longer closeouts, which is giving him opener driving lanes. 

The passing is the superpower. He throws some of the most advantage-creating passes in the league. Perhaps he’s top-five already, and I’m guessing there, but there’s really no one other than Trae Young, Tyrese Haliburton, Luka Doncic, and Nikola Jokic who are clearly better there. Everything else serves to unlock the passing. The scoring, the driving: It’s all to create the space for teammates’ cuts, shots, everything else. . 

He still turns his back too much on his drives. The finishing is good but has room to grow. The dribbling needs improvement. But the stage is fully set for him to become one of the best players in the league, and soon. You don’t need to squint too hard to see it.  

Chance at becoming a star: Near certainty. If he doesn’t even add anything new -- just sharpens what he currently possesses in the bag -- he’s a star. If he adds a handle? Yeah, the sky’s the limit. 

Immanuel Quickley: So far, the best thing that has come out of Toronto’s freewheeling approach to roster management this season has been Quickley. He represents the ideal player type to pair with Barnes: a speedy, screening, off-ball-moving, fireball from deep. He’s shooting 44.4 percent from deep on career-high attempts, and he’s almost tripled his assists per game from New York. 

And yet things haven't all clicked yet for Quickely. Learning the point guard spot is tough, and he hasn’t been perfectly balancing his own aggression -- which Toronto needs -- with running sets and getting his teammates the ball in their preferred spots. He was just a sparkplug in New York, and Toronto is asking him to complicate things infinitely. He can fade into the background at times, while at other times he does too much and tries to force something that isn’t there.

That means his turnovers have spiked at times, and he hasn’t been able to fire up nearly as many triples as Toronto would like. (It has also hurt him quite a bit that Jakob Poeltl, with whom Quickley was establishing great screening chemistry, both on- and off-ball, has been our hurt.) His inside-the-arc game hasn’t blossomed. Yet he still ranks 15th in win shares among players 24 years or younger.  

Chance at becoming a star: Possible, maybe not probable. Stardom looks different for different players, of course, but there’s a lot that has to happen for Quickley to become the type of player who can lead a halfcourt offense to success on his own. His passing reads have certainly improved in Toronto, but he needs to make huge strides there still. I’m confident that will happen, but where he really needs to add to his game is as an inside-the-arc scorer. 

Right now in Toronto, Quickley is attempting just over 13 percent of his shots from within three feet, and he’s shooting just over 50 percent there. That’s more or less as bad as it can get for a high-volume ballhandler. (Cleaning the Glass has him below the 20th percentile for both frequency and accuracy.) He’s missing his floaters since he arrived in Toronto, too. Until he can use those wide-open driving lanes, created by the threat of his shooting, he’s simply not going to be maximized as a player. And he might need to not just use those lanes, but to be a hugely productive finisher (think: Tyrese Maxey) at the rim in order for him to be a star. That’s a long way off, if he ever gets there. 

RJ Barrett: Toxic Asset is 24th in win shares among players 24 years or younger, ahead of players such as Evan Mobley, Paolo Banchero, Jalen Suggs, Trey Murphy III, and others. It’s been much better in Toronto (securing almost as many win shares in Toronto as in New York despite playing in fewer than half as many games), largely because he’s shooting nearly 75 percent from within three feet. (As well as 50 percent from short and long midrange, and 37.5 percent from deep.) So, yeah, he’s on a heater. But his passing and rebounding has been up, too; and even though he’s shooting very well, some parts have looked fairly sustainable. 

Barrett’s driving has been idyllic. Picturesque. Magnificent. Marvelous. Against the Los Angeles Clippers, he couldn’t find his lanes in the first half but then returned with some gems in the second, spinning back middle after getting overplayed. Since Jan. 1, he has been driving at a top-30 rate leaguewide and the Raptors have been scoring at a top-30 efficiency on those drives, among players with at least 100 drives. He has been mashing people with his strength, eurostepping around defenders, drop-stepping through tentative help, taking space until he is stopped, and finishing virtually everything when he gets into the paint.