Winners and losers during Toronto’s lost weeks

The Raptors have been uncompetitive for weeks. But we've still learned much about the players.

The Toronto Raptors have not had a good time since Scottie Barnes broke his hand. They suffered a (very explicable) 15-game losing streak which, by margin of victory, was the sixth-worst 15-game stretch of any team in league history. And that’s honestly not so shocking; the talent on the floor, by virtue of injury, just wasn’t competitive. Still: we learned. 

And once players, NBA-caliber players, starting players, started trickling back into the lineup, the Raptors started playing real basketball again. They went on a two-game winning streak with most of the rotation back, barring Barnes and Jakob Poeltl. In those wins, too, we learned. 

But what did we learn? Who looks like a future star, who a future contributor, and who a future non-Raptor? What has this stretch told us about each Raptor?

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Ochai Agbaji

Agbaji is emerging into Toronto’s best point-of-attack and wing defender. The Raptors haven’t had a player like that since … yeah, OG Anunoby. Now, Agbaji isn’t that caliber of defender, by any means. But it’s impressive that he has picked up the mantle of team’s best defender that Anunoby left behind. 

What Agbaji offers is the classic combination of strength, length, and foot speed. He is listed at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, but that undersells his hulking size on the court. He has the length of one of the league’s larger small forwards, at 6-foot-10; it’s not Anunoby or Barnes-like, whose wingspans are both over 7 feet, but it’s still very good. He’s used that length especially well in the pick and roll, denying anything over the top while mostly switching onto the big. The Milwaukee Bucks ran him through approximately 1000 picks against Damian Lillard, and he held up well. Then the Indiana Pacers did the same with Haliburton, and Agbaji let him get loose. That's life. The Raptors have asked Agbaji to guard those stars, as well as Jalen Brunson, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Cade Cunningham, Jamal Murray, and others. He’s not been the issue in most defensive games.

At his peak, Agbaji might be best used at the point of attack while Barnes is Toronto’s hulking tagger and helper to provide court coverage. The two could exchange those roles if a switch requires it. But the Raptors have needed someone to step into the role of defensive focal point. Agbaji isn’t elite there, but he’s the best on the team. That’s a win, and it’s been a win with him on the court, with Toronto being better on both ends with Agbaji playing.

There are still downsides. He can die on screens (this is the biggest problem, and it happens a lot, forcing Toronto to switch even when the personnel shouldn’t), and his east-west mobility isn’t ideal for dealing with shiftier guards. And offensively, even though he has shown juice in a number of areas, such as live-dribble passing, cutting, and shooting, he isn’t consistent enough in any of them to be a plus. But he looks the type of player that Toronto needs. Or at least, he looks like he will become that. Finding such contributors is the purpose of lost weeks. Consider his performances to be Toronto’s most significant positive. 

Immanuel Quickley

Over the months of March and April, he has been averaging 20 points and 9 assists per game. That’s maybe not quite all-star point guard numbers, but it’s pretty darn close. (Tyrese Haliburton got there in 2022-23 with one extra assist per game.) Quickley’s turnovers have been incredibly low, at just 2.5; among assist leaders his assists-to-turnover ratio has been fifth in the league over that time period, behind only Fred VanVleet, Tyrese Haliburton, Chris Paul, and James Harden. That’s veteran, high-quality passing. (Even if part of you wishes he took more passing risks to create higher-quality looks, and so maybe had a few fewer turnovers.) 

And Quickley has done it on a cold streak from deep, shooting just 33 percent since March 1. It’s all the more impressive that the passing has been so hot without the shooting. 

He’s done it all with dramatically improved driving. He’s taking extra dribbles, driving further into the paint, and using east-west direction change to create actual layups rather than just floaters. (He’s very good at floaters! But layups are better.) Since March 1, Quickley’s add extra drives per game and extra driving efficiency. He’s done it largely with extra shots around the rim finishing his drives, adding almost 0.2 points per such shot as compared to his season prior to March 1. 

Add it all together, and Quickley is looking like the point guard of the future. It’s not a stretch to say that he could grow into an All-Star guard over time, if the passing and driving sticks around. He’s an elite off-ball player and growing into an elite on-ball one. Talk about a perfect offensive guard partner for Barnes.