Raptors pizza party: Gary Trent Jr.’s value, Immanuel Quickley’s picks and more



Back in early December, Toronto Raptors coach Darko Rajaković made a promise to his team: If and when the Raptors won three games in a row, he would take them out for a meal.

“That’s something I took … to heart, to be honest with you,” Rajaković said. “When I announced that, Pascal (Siakam) said, ‘Yeah, the team is gonna pay for that.’ He thinks I’m cheap, and that’s not true. Once we get three wins in a row, I’m taking players and staff to dinner, and it’s gonna be out of my pocket.”

Rajaković isn’t making Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr type of money, but first-time head coaches in the NBA still make enough to pay for a large dinner comfortably. The Raptors went 0-4 in their previous four chances to win three in a row, including three when Siakam was still a Raptor, losing the games by a combined 55 points.

Well, the Raptors finally did it, and Rajaković’s upcoming expense came at … Siakam’s expense. The two-time Raptors All-Star was traded to the Indiana Pacers last month, and the Raptors beat the Pacers 130-122 on Monday night, securing their third win in a row. Bring on the pizza party.

A modest proposal: Siakam put in a lot of work for the Raptors. The Pacers come to Toronto on April 9 for the last game between the teams this season. How about dinner on April 8 and Siakam can hop along?

Here are five things that stood out from the win.

Trent came into Monday’s game shooting almost 42 percent from 3-point range. That is really, really good. After his up-and-down tenure in Toronto, the Raptors should be overjoyed.

Yet, his season has felt like a disappointment, and maybe that is inevitable as a more experienced player on a team that needed to be dismantled because it was underperforming. Trent’s lack of playmaking and so-so defending stood out as the Raptors struggled. His recent excellent play is a reminder that he only has to do a little more to make sense as a Raptor — as he looks forward to unrestricted free agency, he is just 25.

He made some small plays against the Pacers that he needs to make habitual. With Immanuel Quickley giving the ball away after being trapped, Trent caught the pass along the sideline and made the next read, a quick look to Jakob Poeltl, on time. RJ Barrett got an easy layup as a result. Trent also had a nice drop-off dish to Barrett for a bucket.

Defensively, he did a lot to help slow Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton. Trent jumped back in a play and helped cause a turnover in the first half. He has been more dogged in general lately. He has some size and strength limitations, but there is no reason he has to be a minus on that end.

Inconsistency has plagued his career, as have untimely injuries. There were moments this season when I thought the Raptors would be better off letting Trent leave in free agency than giving him a competitive offer. However, if he continues to play more of a two-way game, a multiyear contract earning him somewhere between the mid-level exception and $20 million annually might make sense for the player and the team. Maybe it makes little sense, given the Raptors have two players on rookie deals: Gradey Dick and Ochai Agbaji. Trent is at least giving Toronto something to think about.

Cool stats

• With 21 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists, Scottie Barnes recorded his fourth triple-double of the season, breaking the franchise record held by Kyle Lowry from the 2017-18 season. Barnes also had five blocks.

• Bennedict Mathurin had 34 points, a barrage that included some wild shots, the most ever for an opposing Canadian player against the Raptors. He kept the Pacers in a game in which, frankly, the Raptors outplayed them.

• Dick had 18 points, making all four of his 3-point attempts. He has been excellent lately.

• The Raptors have 72 assists in the past two games. Sure, those games were against the Pacers and Atlanta Hawks, ranked 26th and 28th, respectively, on defence, but it has been pretty offensive basketball.

• The Raptors’ starting five of Trent, Barnes, Quickley, Barrett and Poeltl was plus-six in about 18 minutes, raising its overall plus-minus to plus-42 in 135 minutes over eight games. That is encouraging, which made Poeltl’s exit with a left ankle injury particularly rough to see. Poeltl missed 11 games with a left ankle sprain in January.

More like Immanuel … strongly

Last week, I noted my concerns about the lack of interplay between Quickley and Barnes since the guard was traded to Toronto at the end of December. Both have had their moments, but the idea when the trade happened was that their skill sets would play off each other and elevate accordingly.

There has been some progress on that front lately, and more came against the Pacers. On the play in question, Quickley didn’t even touch the ball. Barnes was running a pick-and-roll with Poeltl. Before the main action began, Quickley ran around Poeltl as if he were trying to get loose for an off-ball cut, with Andrew Nembhard trailing him. Instead of darting to the basket, Quickley came back toward Poeltl’s man, Myles Turner, setting a back screen. When Poeltl started to dive to the basket, Turner was blocked by a clean screen and the Raptors’ centre smashed home an alley-oop toss from Barnes.

What happens if Turner reads the play better or there’s more help on the weak side? Well, then maybe Quickley would have been open for a 3. That is a way to have Quickley more involved and get key reps with Barnes, even if he didn’t end up recording any box score statistics for the play.

Ochai Agbaji and the path not taken

Agbaji’s performance in Toronto will be fascinating simply because the Raptors made a calculated gamble when acquiring him: His two-plus years remaining on a rookie contract would be more valuable than a player picked at the end of the first round of this year’s NBA Draft. If that player hit, the Raptors would have him on a rookie-scale deal for four years.

Of course, it is not that simple: The Raptors also got Kelly Olynyk in the deadline-day trade with the Utah Jazz, giving up a pick that will likely be in the final five selections of the first round. The Raptors already have the Pacers’ first-rounder in 2024, the Detroit Pistons’ second-rounder, which will be near the top of the second 30, plus potentially their own pick if it falls in the top six. This is supposed to be a weak draft, so there’s no sense in potentially bringing four rookies to training camp next year. I liked the trade when it happened and still think it made sense. I’ll probably still think that even if Agbaji doesn’t pan out.

Obviously, that’s not the preferred path. Agbaji hasn’t done much in Toronto, but he had one of his better stints on the team in the first half. His ability as an off-the-ball player was evident, getting on the end of passes from Barnes and Olynyk. He has shown little with the ball, and you would like him to get to a place where he can create a bit on the second side. He showed some high-end creativity with a dish to Dick in the fourth quarter, though:

He is probably more of a defensive prospect, and he certainly moves his feet well. However, T.J. McConnell and Siakam had no trouble getting set and hitting midrangers over him. Agbaji has a 6-foot-10 wingspan, per the 2022 draft measurements, so he should be able to bother shots more. He has to figure out how to be a little more physical with his body, which is something the whole league struggles with given the officiating favours offensive players.

TSN analyst Jack Armstrong is a treasure

Armstrong understands more about basketball than I could ever hope to, so hopefully he understands this as praise: He is better as an entertainer than an X’s and O’s guy. And there is more room to entertain when a team’s games are less important.

You can be a lot looser when wins and losses are not of the utmost importance. Play-by-play man Matt Devlin got on Armstrong early for giving up beer for Lent but not wine or other kinds of alcohol. I am not a Catholic, but Armstrong’s giving up beer on its own seems a fair concession. It is its own thing!

Armstrong made that argument, too, saying that giving up beer for an extended period is a challenge for him.

“The last time I said no to that question, I didn’t understand the question,” Armstrong said of turning down a beer.

Give the man a variety show.

(Photo of Immanuel Quickley: Andy Lyons / Getty Images)





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