The Toronto Raptors project to be one of the most flexible teams in the league ahead of the 2022 NBA trade deadline at 3 p.m. on Feb. 10, in a position to either be buyers or sellers depending on how it all plays out.
The Raptors’ core players have been fantastic this season and have put the team on their backs, leading them to a record of 22-22 that puts them ahead of schedule for where most people pegged them to be. And they have done all that without good health and with the worst bench in the NBA.
“We’ve got some guys that we really believe in that we’re growing with for the future—like a really good group of core guys. Those, I would say, six for sure, or seven maybe, would be guys we want to focus on,” head coach Nick Nurse said about their approach to the trade deadline. “You don’t want to do anything to disrupt that group in a huge way.”
Depending on the way the deadline shakes out—whether it’s a buyer’s market or a seller’s market, or whether one of their targets is being undervalued or one of their players is being overvalued—the Raptors are in a good position to pounce. Unlike many teams in the NBA who have already shown their cards, the Raptors are not desperate to buy or sell, and therefore they are in a good position to negotiate from.
Still, there are significant flaws in their roster, including the lack of a traditional pick-and-roll center who puts pressure on the rim on one end and protects it on the other, as well as a lack of outside shooting and shot creation off the bench. And while the Raptors being buyers would have sounded bold coming into the season, improving in even one of these areas at the trade deadline could catapult the Raptors into the playoffs and give their young core an opportunity to play meaningful basketball in April, seeing how they stack up against the Eastern Conferences’ best.
Should the Raptors choose to be buyers ahead of the 2022 NBA trade deadline, here are six players reported to be on the trade block that we think they should target:
The idea behind trading for a center is that while Khem Birch and Precious Achiuwa are a decent stopgap—and while the frenetic style of defence that the Raptors currently employ with a bunch of 6-foot-9 guys switching and running all over the place has utility in small doses—they likely need a center upgrade to allow them to play a more traditional defence at times, to improve their defensive rebounding, and to ultimately raise their ceiling.
Right now, the Raptors are trying to amalgamate a traditional center by sending multiple bodies to protect the rim, causing them to be one of the most foul-prone teams in the league as well as one that surrenders the second-highest percentage of corner 3s to opponents. A traditional rim protector would allow the Raptors to “stay home” on shooters and to foul less. On the other end of the floor, a better rim runner would allow them to put more pressure on the rim in the pick-and-roll, creating more space for others to operate from as defences collapse into the paint.
2021-2022 season stats: 12.8 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists per game on 60/0/44 percent shooting
Poeltl was drafted ninth overall by the Raptors in 2016 and spent his first two seasons in Toronto before being traded to the San Antonio Spurs as part of the Kawhi Leonard deal.
The 26-year-old has thrived in San Antonio, blossoming into one of the best two-way bigs in the league, albeit in an under-the-radar way. That’s because nothing Poeltl does is sexy, but the 7-foot-1 big man from Austria has an elite feel for the game on both ends of the floor and is always in the right position at the right time.
Despite not having an outside shot, Poeltl provides spacing in a different way: He’s a great screen setter, freeing up space for his ball-handlers to come off of, and he ranks in the 54th percentile as a pick-and-roll finisher, timing his rim runs with perfection and using his soft hands to finish 71 percent around the rim. He’s also a great cutter and understands how to find open spaces on the floor, so it’s no wonder the Spurs are +7.8 points per 100 possessions with Poeltl on the floor. Defensively, Poeltl is another elite rim protector, averaging 1.6 blocks per game and a block percentage of 4.7, with opponents shooting a similarly poor 54.2 percent at the rim against him.
As a member of the bench mob in 2017-18, Poeltl proved that he could succeed beside Siakam even without an outside shot, and while that was primarily against bench units, both Poeltl and Siakam have improved to the point where there is no reason to think the two couldn’t succeed together again.
Chris Boucher + a first-round pick works.
On the other end of the trade spectrum is the Raptors’ need for a guard off the bench who can take some ball-handling responsibilities from the NBA’s minutes leader Fred VanVleet and also provide some much needed floor-spacing for the rest of the team.
Right now, the Raptors only have three players who can consistently knock down 3s in VanVleet, Anunoby, and Gary Trent Jr., and their floor spacing is suffering as a result. Adding even one more high-volume 3-point shooter would help open up the paint immensely, and adding another trustworthy ball-handler would allow VanVleet to rest without the team being -17.1 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the bench, as they currently are.