Precious Achiuwa

Raptors Rumors: Anunoby, VanVleet, Boucher, Young, More

The Raptors aren’t actively looking to trade forward OG Anunoby, Michael Scotto said in the latest episode of The HoopsHype Podcast. According to Scotto, it would require a “substantial” return for Toronto to consider moving Anunoby, along the lines of a significant upgrade at center or a top-10 draft pick. That’s similar to what Jake Fischer has recently reported.

Scotto’s guest, Blake Murphy of Sportsnet 590 The Fan, agrees that it would take “a lot” for the Raptors to seriously considering moving Anunoby, noting that assistant GM Dan Tolzman recently expressed skepticism when asked if the No. 7 pick in this year’s draft would develop at the same rate and with the same ceiling as Anunoby.

While Murphy acknowledges that Anunoby would be an obvious trade candidate if the Raptors attempt to trade for an impact player, he believes the team would rather enter the 2022/23 season without a traditional center than include Anunoby in a trade for a center who isn’t as well-rounded and versatile a player as the 24-year-old forward.

Murphy and Scotto also point out that Toronto is high on Precious Achiuwa, whose role would be cut back if the team added a starting center to play 30-35 minutes per night.

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • Fred VanVleet and the Raptors are expected to discuss a possible contract extension this offseason, league sources tell Scotto. If VanVleet were to decline his 2023/24 player option, he could extend for up to four years and $114MM this summer. However, Murphy doesn’t think there will be a rush to get anything done, since Toronto will hold VanVleet’s Bird rights and would be in the driver’s seat to re-sign him if he opts out in 2023.
  • The Raptors have interest in re-signing both Chris Boucher and Thaddeus Young in free agency, according to Scotto. Murphy observes that the team should have about $31MM in wiggle room below the luxury tax line, which could be used to bring back Boucher and Young and fill out the roster, possibly using the mid-level exception. A deal in the mid-level range ($10MM) might make sense for Boucher, Murphy adds.
  • Addressing Boucher’s free agency in his own story today, Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report suggested that it seems safe to “pencil in” the big man’s return to Toronto.
  • Svi Mykhailiuk‘s decision on his $1.88MM player option may go down to the wire, according to Scotto, who says June 22 is the deadline for Mykhailiuk to opt in.
  • Murphy would be shocked if two-way restricted free agent Justin Champagnie doesn’t remain with the Raptors, perhaps on a two-year, minimum-salary deal.

Raptors Notes: Barnes, Offseason, Young, Achiuwa

The Raptors were unable to complete a historic comeback after falling behind 3-0 in their first-round series with the Sixers, getting blown out in the second half of Thursday’s Game 6. Still, Toronto exceeded expectations this season, having come into the year as a projected lottery team.

“I think we took a lot of steps,” standout forward Pascal Siakam said after Thursday’s loss, per Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca. “We got a lot better over the season. It was obviously up and down, but we did get better. Knowing this team and our front office and the people that we have in the organization, I know that the goal is to continue to get better and improve and be a way better team next year.”

Besides getting an impressive bounce-back season from Siakam, who is a legitimate All-NBA candidate, the Raptors saw players like Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Gary Trent Jr. take another step forward and Precious Achiuwa evolve from a roll of the dice into a potential long-term cornerstone.

The team’s biggest win, according to Lewenberg, was the selection of Scottie Barnes in last year’s draft — it’s “impossible to overstate his importance” to the team and its future on the heels of his Rookie of the Year debut, Lewenberg writes.

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • Despite the strides the Raptors made in 2021/22, there are important areas that need to be addressed. In particular, the club needs to add more shooting, writes Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca. Toronto’s lack of shooting was its undoing against Philadelphia, according to Eric Koreen of The Athletic, who notes that the team made just 7-of-35 (20.0%) three-pointers in Game 6 and 29.9% for the series. While Fred VanVleet‘s injury absence contributed to those struggles, the team could still use another outside threat or two.
  • Upgrading the bench will be another top priority for the Raptors this summer, Bobby Marks of ESPN (Insider link) writes in his offseason preview. Toronto has Bird rights on both Thaddeus Young and Chris Boucher and could re-sign them without dipping into its mid-level exception. The front office has also shown a knack for identifying young talent outside of the draft lottery, Marks adds, so the No. 33 pick could be useful for adding an inexpensive contributor.
  • Within his preview, Marks notes that VanVleet will become extension-eligible in July and Siakam will become eligible for a new deal in October. Both players are on contracts that run through 2024, though VanVleet has a player option for 2023/24 and could theoretically become a free agent in ’23.
  • Speaking on Friday to reporters, Young conveyed how impressed he was with the Raptors after coming over from San Antonio at February’s trade deadline. This organization is elite,” Young said, per Lewenberg (Twitter link). “One of the top I’ve ever been a part of… I loved everything about this experience. As far as the team, the sky is the limit… This team can be really, really scary.” Young added that his family will be his top priority as he enters free agency and didn’t rule out the possibility of undergoing surgery on his injured thumb (Twitter links via Koreen and Grange).
  • The pairing of Achiuwa and the Raptors represents a perfect marriage between a player and an organizational philosophy, Koreen writes for The Athletic. The team’s willingness to experiment with Achiuwa rather than trying to rein him in or pigeonhole him has paid dividends so far, says Koreen.

Atlantic Notes: Rivers, Achiuwa, Nurse, G. Williams

With the Sixers in danger of becoming the first team ever to lose a series after taking a 3-0 lead, coach Doc Rivers is defending his playoff record, writes Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Rivers, the only coach in NBA history to lose more than one 3-1 advantage, asked reporters to “tell the whole story” about his playoff history.

He pointed out that the Magic team he coached in 2003 was an eighth seed that overachieved by taking the series lead in the first place. He added that Chris Paul was playing with an injury when the 2015 Clippers squandered a 3-1 lead, and L.A.’s 2020 loss took place in the Orlando bubble without the benefit of home court advantage.

“But, it just happens,” Rivers added. “So I would say with me, some of them is … I gotta do better always. I always take my own responsibility. And then some of it is, circumstances happen. This one, let’s win it, and we don’t have to talk about it.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Second-year center Precious Achiuwa has played an important role in helping the Raptors turn the series around, observes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. In his first significant postseason experience, Achiuwa has matched up well with MVP candidate Joel Embiid and has improved steadily throughout the series, according to Smith. “He feels like a more confident, different player to me,” coach Nick Nurse said. “We used to say that a little bit about Serge (Ibaka) back in the old days. All of a sudden Serge became a factor later on in the series when he kind of got used to what was going on out there and stuff.”
  • Overcoming a 3-0 deficit may be unprecedented, but Nurse doesn’t see it as impossible, per Lori Ewing of The Toronto Star. The Raptors have survived two elimination games already, and they seem to be embracing the optimism that Nurse has been trying to convey. “Listen, everybody was disappointed about the 3-0 start and it felt a little heavy for a while,” he said. “But when we got back to the film room the next day, I liked the body language, I liked what I was hearing communication-wise and I felt that we were ready to go.”
  • Grant Williams had an under-the-radar role in helping the Celtics sweep the Nets, according to Nekias Duncan of Basketball News. Williams took advantage of Brooklyn’s focus on Boston’s stars to average 11.3 points per game while shooting 50% from beyond the arc. He was also part of the group of defenders who held Kevin Durant in check.

Raptors Notes: Superstar, Anunoby, Barnes, Achiuwa

Despite facing constant double teams in the first three games of the Sixers‘ series vs. the Raptors, Joel Embiid is thriving, averaging 27.7 PPG and 13.0 RPG en route to three Philadelphia victories. The 76ers have outscored Toronto by a total of 31 points with Embiid on the court.

As Eric Koreen of The Athletic writes, Embiid’s dominance is a reminder to the Raptors how much easier things are in the postseason when you have a superstar to lean on. The last time the two teams met in the playoffs, it was a Toronto superstar – Kawhi Leonard – who was the difference in the series, but the club no longer has a player of that caliber.

While Fred VanVleet was an All-Star this season and Pascal Siakam is an All-NBA candidate, neither player commands the sort of defensive attention that Embiid does, especially in the half court. The Raptors ranked 25th this season in half-court offensive efficiency in part because they’re missing that superstar, according to Koreen, who stresses the importance of Scottie Barnes‘ development as the club seeks that sort of player.

Here’s more out of Toronto:

  • Bruce Arthur of The Toronto Star agrees that Embiid’s superstar performance is overwhelming Toronto, but says this series feels different than when the pre-Kawhi Raptors used to get eliminated year after year by LeBron James. This time around, Toronto has enough potential in-house star power – especially in Barnes, Siakam, and OG Anunoby – that the team doesn’t need to dream about bringing in a big name via trade or free agency, Arthur opines.
  • Anunoby remains a mystery for the Raptors, Koreen writes in another story for The Athletic. The fifth-year forward is once again playing some of his best basketball in the playoffs (24.0 PPG on 57.4% shooting), but injuries interfered with his development this season and it’s unclear how his postseason production would be affected if Philadelphia wasn’t so focused on slowing down Siakam. Toronto badly needs at least 70 games from Anunoby next season to get a better sense of his long-term role for the franchise, says Koreen.
  • Following the Raptors’ Game 3 loss, head coach Nick Nurse told reporters, “We’ll have Scottie back on Saturday and another weapon to use” (Twitter link via Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca). Despite being down 3-0 to the Sixers, it sounds as if the Raps expect to bring Barnes back in Game 4 after the standout rookie missed the last two games due to an ankle sprain.
  • Second-year big man Precious Achiuwa, acquired in last summer’s Kyle Lowry sign-and-trade, missed a pair of crucial free throws near the end of the Raptors’ Game 3 loss, but the team came away thrilled with the 22-year-old’s play (20 points on 9-of-11 shooting) in a high-pressure game, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. Fred VanVleet called it a “breakout performance,” while Nurse said he was “really proud” of how Achiuwa played.

Raptors Notes: Lowry, Nurse, Playoff Rotation, VanVleet

Before returning to Toronto for the first time since signing with the Heat during the offseason, Kyle Lowry wrote a piece for The Players Tribune expressing gratitude to the fans who cheered him during his nine seasons with the Raptors. Sunday night’s game will mark Lowry’s first time in Scotiabank Arena since February 28, 2020, as that season concluded at Disney World and the Raptors played their home games in Tampa, Florida, last year.

In his article, Lowry details the phone call he made to team president Masai Ujiri to break the news that he was leaving and tells Toronto fans that he’s “excited as hell” to play in front of them again.

“I’m excited to be on a court with (Fred VanVleet) and Pascal (Siakam) and OG (Anunoby)  again — if Masai is big bro, then those are my little bros, and they’re the guys now, they’re taking over,” Lowry wrote. “And I’m excited to experience that energy of Toronto basketball again. But I also think it might just be a normal night in some ways, you know what I mean? Because regardless of the jersey I’m wearing, a lot still hasn’t changed … and won’t ever change. It’s never going to be a wrap between me and this city. With family, it’s never goodbye.”

There’s more from Toronto:

  • Lowry played a vital role in reviving the franchise, but the Raptors couldn’t have taken the next step in their development without him leaving, argues Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca. Lowry’s departure provided an opportunity for Siakam to become the primary ball-handler and it created a full-time role for rookie Scottie Barnes, who is seeing some of his 35 minutes per night at point guard. “We knew we were going to be losing a big leader,” coach Nick Nurse said, “… but for some of the guys that have been around here long enough, we needed them to understand they are the leaders of the team, and it’s up to them to perform and act like that.”
  • The Raptors’ recent hot streak gives Nurse the freedom to experiment with his rotation ahead of the playoffs, Grange adds in a separate story. In Wednesday’s victory over Minnesota, Precious Achiuwa, who’s shooting over 40% from three-point range since the All-Star break, started the second half in place of Barnes and provided a lot more spacing for the offense.
  • Lowry may be on hand to watch VanVleet break one of his franchise records, per Mike Ganter of The Toronto Sun. With 236 three-pointers, VanVleet is only three behind Lowry’s single-season mark.

Raptors Notes: Anunoby, Siakam, Barnes, Birch, Achiuwa

Raptors forward OG Anunoby, who has been sidelined since the All-Star break due to a fractured right ring finger, was reevaluated on Monday, according to Blake Murphy of Sportsnet.ca (Twitter link).

“It’s kinda the same,” head coach Nick Nurse said of Anunoby’s finger injury. “It’s not fully healed. He’s got a decision to make.”

According to Nurse, the plan is for Anunoby to practice on Tuesday and see how he feels — the team will know more at that point about his status. Nurse’s comment about Anunoby having a “decision” to make suggests that playing through the injury before it has fully healed could be an option if the pain isn’t too bad.

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • As Eric Koreen writes for The Athletic, Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes are both technically forwards, but their versatile skill sets allows them to function as de facto point guards at times, and they’re developing intriguing chemistry together. “I think we have kind of like similar skill sets, and we always feel like we have a mismatch every time down the floor,” Siakam said over the weekend.
  • Noting that Toronto enjoyed success in Denver on Saturday with a shooting-deficient lineup made up of Barnes, Khem Birch, Thaddeus Young, Chris Boucher, and Dalano Banton, Eric Koreen explores Nurse’s unconventional rotation decisions, dubbing the Raptors the NBA’s “delightful weirdos.”
  • Birch appreciates the Raptors’ willingness to stick with him as a rotation regular and a frequent starter, given how much time he has missed this season due to injuries and illnesses. “Honestly, I feel like with any other team I probably wouldn’t even be playing right now,” said Birch, who has missed 26 of 68 games (link via Doug Smith of The Toronto Star). “The fact that they just have that type of confidence in me despite all the injuries I’ve had, all the setbacks, and I’m still getting minutes tells a lot about how they feel about me, and it gives me a lot of confidence to keep going despite my injury.”
  • Nekias Duncan of BasketballNews.com examines the progress that Raptors center Precious Achiuwa has made in his second NBA season and the areas where he still has room to improve.

Atlantic Notes: Harden, Achiuwa, Pritchard, Quickley

James Harden was brilliant in his Sixers debut Friday night, but he couldn’t escape questions about whether his reputation has suffered after issuing trade demands to two teams in 13 months, writes Brian Hall of The Associated Press. The former MVP put up a near triple-double with 27 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds in a win at Minnesota, but the postgame conversation centered around the circumstances that led to his departure from Brooklyn.

“Just because the current situation happened, whatever happened, happened,” Harden said. “It doesn’t mean that I’m a bad teammate. Me, personally, I feel like I needed to do what’s best for my career, and help myself and be happy. It doesn’t harp on whether I’m a bad teammate or not.”

Sixers players and coaches are extremely happy to have Harden on board. Doc Rivers raved about how Harden has raised the level of communication since arriving, and Joel Embiid noticed an immediate difference in the quality of shots that he’s getting.

“I’ve never been wide open like this in my life,” Embiid said. “Seriously, the passing, like I wasn’t even expecting it and it was just coming.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Although the Raptors were blown out Saturday for the second straight night, Precious Achiuwa continues to be impressive, notes Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca. The 22-year-old big man, who was acquired from the Heat in the Kyle Lowry trade, put up 21 points and nine rebounds in 30 minutes off the bench. He could be on the way to replacing Khem Birch in the starting lineup, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports.
  • The Celtics‘ decision to keep Payton Pritchard at the trade deadline is paying off, says Trevor Hass of Boston.com. The second-year guard played an important role in Saturday’s win at Detroit, delivering 19 points and six assists in 27 minutes, the most he has logged in two months. “My confidence never should waver,” Pritchard said. “For me, it’s just staying ready and trying to find little ways to help this team win. That’s my job, so I’m going to keep doing it.”
  • The slumping Knicks could use a boost from Immanuel Quickley, who is mired in a long shooting slump, writes Peter Botte of The New York Post. Quickley, who’s expected to become a primary ball-handler off the bench with Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker both unavailable, is shooting 30.7% from the field and 26.6% from three-point range in his last 19 games. “Teammates tell me all the time, sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t, but you just gotta keep the main thing, which is playing defense every night, playing hard every night and just bringing other things to the table,” Quickley said. “You can do other things good when you don’t shoot well. You can still bring other things to win.” 

Atlantic Notes: Celtics, Thibodeau, M. Robinson, Raptors

Despite being one of the NBA’s marquee franchises, the Celtics haven’t hosted the All-Star Game since Bill Russell played for the team, back in 1964. According to Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe, the team may be interested in changing that. Sources tell Washburn that the Celtics’ ownership group is taking steps to submit an application to host the event.

As Washburn writes, the Celtics don’t own the TD Garden outright, which is a logistical hurdle that must be overcome, and the locales for the next two All-Star Games – Utah in 2023 and Indiana in 2024 – have already been set. But the fact that Boston is taking steps toward applying is noteworthy, according to Washburn, who says the ownership group’s interest level in hosting the game has long been “tepid” until now.

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • Marc Berman of The New York Post argues that Tom Thibodeau shouldn’t be the fall guy for a disappointing Knicks season, observing that the front office made multiple roster moves Thibodeau wasn’t gung-ho about, including adding Kemba Walker and letting Reggie Bullock walk in free agency. Thibodeau also reportedly wasn’t exactly pushing for last month’s Cam Reddish trade. “They haven’t collaborated with him like they did last year,” a coaching source tells Berman.
  • Sean Deveney of Heavy.com spoke to one rival general manager who thinks Mitchell Robinson‘s next contract will be in the range of the full mid-level exception, projecting a three-year, $33MM deal. The Knicks center, who is currently extension-eligible, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
  • Eric Koreen of The Athletic looks at some of the questions facing the Raptors for the rest of the 2021/22 season, including how important Precious Achiuwa and Dalano Banton are to the franchise, both in the present and future. As Koreen notes, Achiuwa and Banton have played well enough to warrant regular roles, but they don’t contribute much in the half-court offense, which has been Toronto’s biggest Achilles heel.
  • Within the same story, Koreen suggests the most likely outcome for the Raptors‘ open 15-man roster spot is that two-way player Justin Champagnie is promoted to fill it.

Atlantic Notes: Tatum, Smart, Achiuwa, Irving

Celtics star Jayson Tatum still holds a strong desire to play with Jaylen Brown, he said on J.J. Redick’s podcast, The Old Man & The Three (Twitter link). The Celtics have faced questions over the last year or two about their ability to win with Tatum and Brown leading the way, but Tatum insisted that he and Brown are committed to making it work.

“I think we’re both still very far from our prime,” Tatum said as part of a larger quote. “And I think what people don’t understand is like, alright, if you want to break us up, the grass is not always greener. There’s not a lot of guys in the NBA like JB [Jaylen Brown].”

Tatum and Brown have combined to average 49.4 points per game this season. The duo has played five seasons together and has led Boston to a 34-26 record this year.

“I couldn’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to have two of the best players that are under 25 on your team,” Tatum continued. “And, yeah, there are certain rough patches, but we’ve won way more games together than we’ve lost.”

Here are some other notes from the Atlantic:

  • During the same appearance on Redick’s podcast, Tatum discussed Marcus Smart‘s early-season criticism, adding that the Celtics are “past it now,” Brian Robb of MassLive.com writes. As we wrote in early November, Smart called out Brown and Tatum for not passing the ball more. “I wasn’t angry or mad or anything,” Tatum said. “I just waited to the next day. I saw Marcus at the facility and we sat down and talked. It was a great talk actually. We had some time to sleep. The adrenaline was gone from the game. He apologized for what he said and that was something he shouldn’t have said in the media and that they got his words mixed up. I didn’t take offense.”
  • Raptors big man Precious Achiuwa is optimistic that his breakout is coming, Doug Smith of The Toronto Star writes. Achiuwa is in his first season with Toronto after being acquired in a sign-and-trade with Miami. “I want to be lethal,” Achiuwa said. “Being lethal on both sides of the ball game, both offense and defense. I think I have the physical abilities and God’s given abilities to evolve into that player.”
  • Zach Lowe of ESPN.com (Insider-only) examines 10 noteworthy stories around the NBA, including Kyrie Irving‘s future with the Nets. Irving has only appeared in 14 games this season, averaging 24.1 points and 5.4 assists per contest. He holds a $36MM player option for next season.

2021/22 Rising Stars Team Rosters

As we previously relayed, the NBA announced a new format for its Rising Stars event at All-Star weekend, which will take place on Friday, February 18. The event will feature four seven-player teams competing in a three-game tournament (two semifinals and a final).

The player pool is comprised of 12 NBA rookies, 12 sophomores, and four players from the G League Ignite, while the games will be played to a target score: 50 points in the semifinals and 25 points in the final, in honor of the league’s 75th anniversary season.

The rosters were announced on February 1, but now the four honorary coaches (75th anniversary team members Rick Barry, Isiah Thomas, Gary Payton and James Worthy) have selected their seven-man teams, per our JD Shaw (Twitter link). Here are the rosters:

Team Barry:

Team Isiah:

Team Payton:

Team Worthy:

James Ham of ESPN 1320 and The Kings Beat provides (via Twitter) the full draft results.

The top 10, in order, were: Edwards, Mobley, Ball, Anthony, Giddey, Barnes, Cunningham, Bey, Bane, and Wagner. It’s worth noting that Worthy and Anthony both went to the University of North Carolina, so Anthony’s selection at No. 4 is less surprising given that context.

What do you think of the teams? Who do you think will come out on top? Head to the comments section and let us know your thoughts!