On December 30, the Knicks surprised everyone when they traded former first-round pick RJ Barrett to the Toronto Raptors for OG Anunoby. Even more surprising was New York also including popular guard Immanuel Quickley and not getting much draft capital back.
Well, the players had their first games with their new teams on Monday, and results were as expected. The deal seems to have worked out for everyone as intended.
Let’s start with the Knicks’ side and OG Anunoby. He’s very much a three-and-D while Barrett tries to be more of a scoring wing. Sure enough, in the Knicks’ win over Minnesota, the former Hoosier finished with 17 points and six rebounds. Anunoby also added a pair of steals and three triples, plus some impressive dunks before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
Best of all, the Knicks didn’t collapse after losing him. Julius Randle simply took over and finished with 39 points. The Knicks won 112-106 and Anunoby was a +19 for the game.
Up in Toronto, RJ Barrett’s debut for his hometown team was a dream come true. His 19 points were third on the team, but Barrett also finished with nine rebounds. He also looked cool and confident in his role, sticking to his strengths in the paint. His clutch free throws in the final seconds sealed the Raptors’ 124-121 win over Cleveland.
“I’m back home, baby,” Barrett told media after the game. “I’m back home. Keep supporting the Raptors.”
Sounds like someone who just wanted to go home anyway, doesn’t it?
It’s only been a game, but the tape doesn’t lie. This deal has already benefitted both teams, even as Quickley adjusts to being a starting point guard. Toronto gets his deadly range to fill the void left by Fred VanVleet, who signed with Houston last summer. In turn, Barrett’s handle and ability to get to the basket makes him a great third option alongside Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes.
And on the Knicks’ side, it was surprising at how well the the team kept its flow against the Timberwolves. OG Anunoby let his game come to him while Brunson and Randle led on the court. He didn’t try to do too much and wasn’t a sieve on defense. His job was simple: make Brunson and Randle’s jobs easier and score on an as-needed basis.
Sure enough, the Knicks beat Minnesota, the top team in the Western Conference, all while Brunson was an awful 5 of 23 from the floor.
Granted, that doesn’t mean the trade is still stinging some fans. RJ Barrett was drafted as a cornerstone of the Knicks’ rebuild and quickly endeared himself to fans. His work ethic and commitment to growing as a player almost excused his streaky shooting. Until it didn’t.
No disrespect to RJ Barrett, but he was starting to look like he had peaked with the Knicks. And at just 23 years old! His defense had become nonexistent and he was trying too hard to be a star alongside Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson.
As luck would have it, the Raptors needed a third option and the Knicks needed a two-way wing. In a way, Anunoby is almost like Quentin Grimes but with more scoring prowess.
Again, everyone wins this trade. The Knicks shored up their lineup and also got some size in Precious Achiuwa. Maybe Malachi Flynn can blossom into a deadly shooter once he’s back from a sprained ankle.
RJ Barrett, meanwhile, gets to go home and play for the team he supported in his youth. Quickley gets to prove he can run an offense before hitting free agency in July.
Needless to say, it’ll be an interesting scene when Toronto visits Madison Square Garden later this month.