Tonight, newly-minted Raptors RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley make their first return to Madison Square Garden, from where they were jettisoned just three weeks ago. In the trade with Toronto, the Knicks acquired defensive lynchpin OG Anunoby, and bench players Malachi Flynn and Precious Achiuwa. While the swap was unexpected and bittersweet for RJ and IQ—not to mention the fans—both players have found success with the Raptors, and Anunoby has been a breath of fresh air for New York. Win-win, ya dig?
Since the trade, Quickley, the runner-up Sixth Man of the Year has averaged 18 points, 5.2 assists, and 4.8 rebounds in 10 games for the Raptors. The young sparkplug exceeded expectations while in New York and has finally achieved his goal of becoming a lead guard in the NBA. He deserves a standing ovation from even the grinchiest of Knicks fans tonight. After that, we’ll watch in rapt attention as IQ squares off with New York’s lead man, Jalen Brunson. Quickley is sure to show us his best tonight.
His cohort RJ Barrett has averaged 20.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in his last 10 games. The third pick in the 2019 Draft, RJ never reached the heights we’d hoped for him while in New York. Although the small forward might not receive as warm a reception as Quickley tonight, he still deserves respect for his role in helping to turn the franchise around. Now back in his home country, RJ joins Scottie Barnes (see below) and IQ in a trio that the club seems intent to build around.
And the team is indeed retooling, if not completely rebuilding. They lost mainstay point guard Fred VanVleet in the off-season, and have since dealt away key players Anunoby and Pascal Siakam (traded this week to the Indiana Pacers). Currently, the Raptors (16-26) sit 12th in the Eastern Conference, lost to the Bulls on Tuesday, and have won only four of their last 10 contests. It will be very interesting to see what other moves team president Masai Ujiri makes before the February trade deadline and during the offseason.
The New York Knicks (25-17, fifth in the Eastern Conference) won their last game, 113-109, against the Washington Wizards on Thursday. Jalen Brunson scored 41 points to scrape out a bated-breath win. The bench contributed seven (seven) points in that contest and will need a better team effort to defeat the Canucks.
New York won its first two games against the Raptors this season. The teams previously met on December 12, with the Knicks winning 136-130 behind 34 points from Julius Randle. OG Anunoby scored 29 for the opponent.
As for the other Raptors’ starters tongiht: wing Gary Trent, Jr. has averaged 11.6 points and 2.2 rebounds this season. He is shooting 41% from downtown on 5.5 attempts per game. Surely OG will spread the word to harass his ex-teammate on the perimeter. And center Jontay Porter is filling in for the injured Jakob Poeltl. Porter has averaged 5.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.6 assists in just nine games for Toronto this season. He is a big boy (6’11”, 240 lb) but Isaiah Hartenstein has the clear advantage today.
Last but not least . . . with Siakam traded this week, third-year man Scottie Barnes became the team’s per game leader for points (20.4), rebounds (8.4), steals (1.4), and blocks (1.5). The 22-year-old holds the best defensive rating (115) among the starters and ranks second for assists (5.6) behind Dennis Schröder. Toronto picked Barnes fourth in 2021 Draft, behind Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, and Evan Mobley. If the draft were held again today, odds are good that Barnes would go first. He’s sure to be a P.I.T.A. tonight.
The Knicks seek to continue their January surge. They’ve gone 8-2 since the Toronto trade—which, by the way, no expected because the two teams are fighting a legal battle. As William Goldman said, “Nobody knows anything.” With that in mind, ESPN.com favor the Knicks by 68%, and my oft-erroneous gut worries that emotion will be the deciding factor in tonight’s tilt. My head, however, says that in a sad-homecoming for our homegrown boys, New York takes it +8.