Right before the calendar turned, the New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors collaborated to bring us our first major trade of the 2023-24 regular season.
And now just about all of the pieces involved in the deal (the lone exception being Malachi Flynn, who is dealing with a right ankle injury) have played some minutes with their new teams.
So let’s analyze how both teams utilized their new weapons in their debuts to get a sense of how the Knicks and Raptors might look in the days ahead.
OG Anunoby in the Big Apple
We’ll start with a report on how the most high-profile player in this deal. To most succinctly describe what the OG Anunoby trade acquisition gives the Knicks, one only needs to fixate on three words: shooting, size and defense.
Shooting is the easiest one to point out. Over the last three years, Anunoby (15.1 points per game with TOR in 2023-24) is hitting 45% of his wide-open 3-pointers (91st percentile, per NBA.com) – a strong indicator of his acumen as a play-finisher and spacer.
Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo and Quentin Grimes are all close to that mark. But because the team also rostered guys like Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson, Isaiah Hartenstein, RJ Barrett and Josh Hart, the team often fielded two to three poor/non-shooters on the court at once (a big no-no if you plan on making a deep playoff push).
With Anunoby, Tom Thibodeau’s club, which is tied for seventh in the Eastern Conference rankings and 8.0 games behind the first-place Boston Celtics, has another guy who can punish teams for collapsing the paint on Brunson/Randle drives.
Anunoby’s herculean physique gives the Knicks another credible rebounder – something the team desperately needs since it was announced that they would be without Robinson for the remainder of the season.
Regardless of the Robinson injury, as we saw with last season’s Denver Nuggets, having size across the board is a massive advantage. A play from Anunoby’s debut that perfectly illustrates this phenomenon can be found below (second clip in the video montage).
Normally (first clip in the montage), when an offense can get dribble penetration, the defense’s bigs (who are oftentimes the team’s best rebounders) have to sell out to stop the drive. This leaves the defense vulnerable to offensive rebounds because it needs to rely on smaller players to box out the offense’s bigs.
But when you have someone of Anunoby’s stature, that’s no longer as big of a problem. (See what we did there?)
Anunoby’s incredible positional size permeates into his defensive value. Anunoby may be built like a bodybuilder, but he floats around like a butterfly. That combination of power and gracefulness allows him to guard almost every player type in today’s NBA ecosystem.
Against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Anunoby shadowed 7-footer Karl-Anthony Towns (first clip in the montage below) and the 6-4 Anthony Edwards (second clip).
He also effectively battled with the 7-1 Rudy Gobert in short spurts, but those moments didn’t produce any significant highlights.
We also got a glimpse of Anunoby’s world-class defensive playmaking (he led the league in steals per game last year) as he nabbed a pair of interceptions against the Timberwolves.
Along with all the other contributions we outlined, Anunoby will surely bolster New York’s turnover creation rate (they are currently only 19th in opponent turnover percentage).
The 6 God is Watching Over Quickley
Like Anunoby, Immanuel Quickley’s 3-point shooting helps space the floor. Over the last three years, he’s hitting 39% of his wide-open 3-point shots.
And while he isn’t going to guard all five positions like his predecessor, he is an above average perimeter defender.
In his debut against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Quickley primarily played the part of chaser, following around known sharpshooter Max Strus around an obstacle course of off-ball screens.
That’s cool, but why would the Raptors trade for someone who seemingly does what Anunoby does just to a lesser degree (he’s shooting a lower percentage on wide-open 3s and has a lower defensive DRIP)?
Simple, Quickley brings other skills to the dance. Anunoby’s archetype – a two-way off-ball forward – is incredibly valuable on most rosters. But it was becoming redundant on the Raptors’ specific team construct.
With Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam occupying the forward spots and Jakob Poeltl at center, Toronto needed a guard who could defend at the point-of-attack and oscillate between playing on and off the ball on offense. Essentially, they needed a combo guard.
Quickley allows Barnes and Siakam to get their on-ball touches while also generating offense for the team when those two are on the bench or can’t manufacture good shots on their own.
It wasn’t always perfect, but he flashed his on-ball powers on multiple occasions on New Year’s Day:
On the year, Quickley is in the 82nd percentile in pull-up 3-point efficiency and 75th percentile in true shooting on drives (per NBA.com).
Quickley isn’t the defender or catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter that Anunoby is. But his on-ball scoring/creation abilities are good enough that those sacrifices are worth making for Toronto.
RJ’s Return Home
On Toronto’s side, Barrett (18.2 PPG with NYK) does little to alleviate their spacing concerns (a career 34.2% 3-point shooter). But the former third overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft does offer them some more ball handling, which should help them in the half court.
And if you are going to have poor spacing, you might as well have sport as many long and physical drivers as possible. As a small forward with a 6-10 wingspan and a drive frequency in the 84th percentile, Barrett clearly checks both of those boxes.
He’s also certainly capable of taking over games with a career-high 46-point performance against the Miami Heat in 2021-22 and a 44-point effort against the Chicago Bulls last season.
The Knicks’ trade also netted them Flynn and Precious Achiuwa. As we mentioned, Flynn (2.4 assists per game) has yet to make his debut. Although, when he does, he will likely be tasked with helping New York survive its non-Brunson minutes.
Achiuwa, in theory, should offer the Knicks some lineup versatility as he gives them the means to play small with him at center. However, for the time being, his offerings remain theoretical.
Achiuwa struggled in a limited role against Minnesota – going scoreless while missing both his field-goal attempts and picking up two fouls in a total of eight minutes in his Knicks debut.