OG Anunoby of the Toronto Raptors looks on in the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 22, 2023. /CFP

OG Anunoby of the Toronto Raptors looks on in the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 22, 2023. /CFP

The New York Knicks have traded RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, and a 2024 NBA Draft second-round pick via the Detroit Pistons to the Toronto Raptors for OH Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa, and Malachi Flynn, the two teams announced on Saturday.

It’s the biggest trade in the middle of the 2023-24 NBA regular season because it involves Anunoby, the best 3D (3-point-shooting and defensive) player in many people’s eyes in today’s league. He had been linked to various trade rumors with different teams in the past two years. The Raptors’ president of basketball operations, Masai Ujiri, even asked for three first-rounders in negotiations over the 26-year-old forward.

Having begun his seventh season in the NBA, Anunoby averaged 16.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 2.3 triples at 38.1 percent per game since the 2020-21 campaign. He could guard all five positions on the court and stretch the floor well for ball-handlers. He even played center in small-ball squads on some occasions since last season.

OG Anunoby (#3) of the Toronto Raptors shoots in the game against the Washington Wizards at the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., December 27, 2023. /CFP

OG Anunoby (#3) of the Toronto Raptors shoots in the game against the Washington Wizards at the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., December 27, 2023. /CFP

OG Anunoby (#3) of the Toronto Raptors shoots in the game against the Washington Wizards at the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., December 27, 2023. /CFP

Teams targeting the title or the playoffs all have reason to want Anunoby – but at a reasonable price. Three first-rounders are good enough to make a package with other assets to trade for a second-in-command. Despite the Raptors trying to help him develop better attacking skills off the dribble, Anunoby has shown no hope of playing a more significant role than a 3D player.

Besides, when Anunoby has a player option in his four-year, $72 million contract with the Raptors for the 2024-25 season, he will very likely exercise it. When he does, he will be an unrestricted free agent. If Ujiri’s extension negotiation with him had gone well, they would never have to trade him to the Knicks.

Compared with Toronto, New York City, the biggest market in the NBA, is much more attractive to most players than becoming a free agent or extending their contracts. Moreover, Anunoby, who has played well for years in the Raptors’ aggressive defensive system of double-teaming the opponents’ ace at all costs, should fit coach Tom Thibodeau’s team.

RJ Barrett (L) of the New York Knicks guards Scottie Barnes of the Toronto Raptors in the game at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Canada, January 22, 2023. /CFP

RJ Barrett (L) of the New York Knicks guards Scottie Barnes of the Toronto Raptors in the game at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Canada, January 22, 2023. /CFP

RJ Barrett (L) of the New York Knicks guards Scottie Barnes of the Toronto Raptors in the game at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Canada, January 22, 2023. /CFP

The Knicks took a series of hits in their center positions this season. Their most important defensive big man, Mitchell Robinson, underwent season-ending surgery to fix his ankle. Then his replacement, Jericho Sims, missed five straight games due to an ankle sprain. That meant bad news for the Knicks but probably good news for Achiuwa, who will be able to play more.

The Raptors’ decision to give up Anunoby for players who can immediately contribute to the scoreboard instead of future draft picks means they will not go for a complete rebuild. They have never done so in the past 10 years. RJ Barrett grew as a ball-handler in the Knicks in the past two seasons, though his shooting range and offensive efficiency have always been problematic. Quickley is an okay bench scorer who can also do some playmaking work, as his performance in the Knicks proves.

Furthermore, compared with 26-year-old Anunoby, both Barrett, 23, and Quickley, 24, fit the career track of 22-year-old Scottie Barnes better. Barnes is the only player the Raptors won’t trade on their roster.

Paskal Siakam (#43) of the Toronto Raptors dribbles in the game against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan, December 30, 2023. /CFP

Paskal Siakam (#43) of the Toronto Raptors dribbles in the game against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan, December 30, 2023. /CFP

Paskal Siakam (#43) of the Toronto Raptors dribbles in the game against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan, December 30, 2023. /CFP

According to ESPN, Ujiri will continue to explore trading Pascal Siakam after sending Anunoby away, and the team has good reason to do so. First, Siakam, 29, has been the team’s leader since Kawhi Leonard in summer 2019. His performance and the Raptors’ records since then both prove that he is not the one who can lead them to success. Also, Siakam is still highly valued by some teams willing to trade some good assets for him.

Second, the Raptors are motivated to limit their regular season record below a certain level to retain their 2024 first-rounder, who they gave to the San Antonio Spurs to acquire Jakob Poeltl in February. That pick is top-six-protected for 2024. The Raptors’ current 12-20 record is not bad enough for them to have the best chance to keep the pick.

However, removing a two-time All-Star forward, who still averages 21.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game, from the rotations will make it easier for the team to lose more games.

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