The Knicks will have their hands full when the Raptors come to town – and a good measuring stick for their ambitions.
When previewing the Toronto Raptors just one year ago, I discussed them being in “purgatory” in the Eastern Conference, looking at them as a litmus test of sorts for the Knicks. If last year was a chance to surpass the Raptors as an Eastern Conference contender, that most certainly did not come to fruition. Obviously, the Knicks underperformed compared to expectations, but arguably nobody overachieved in the East more than the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors’ pendulum swung back to where it had been for years, as a legitimate threat in the East. They finished the season 48-34, good enough for a fifth-place playoff berth and an unfortunate first-round exit against the Philadelphia 76ers after some untimely injuries.
The Raptors beat the Knicks handily last season, winning the first three matchups by an average of nine points before the Knicks finally got the upper hand in the regular season finale – which you may remember from the 76 combined points from Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley. The Raptors had a different leading scorer each game against the Knicks: OG Anunoby, Fred Van Vleet, Gary Trent Jr, and Chris Boucher.
Last year I wrote that Scottie Barnes would have a chance to prove why he was the number four pick, and that is exactly what he did. The 2021-2022 Rookie of the Year exceeded every expectation and showed an expansive offensive game that even the most devoted supporters would not have expected in season one. Scottie Barnes is on an absolutely rocket trajectory, and the ceiling projected on him as a 19-year-old, much like the limit, does not exist.
The Raptors’ core has been looking to find their superstar since Kawhi Leonard took them to the promised lands in 2019. Many thought it would Pascal Siakam that would ascend to that level, others thought it would be OG Anunoby who would take the leap; while neither of those quite came to pass, Barnes is the next up to take that mantle. Not only does the 6’8 forward have limitless potential, but he could not possibly be in a better situation. The Rookie Of The Year adds more length and defense to a team that has both of those things in abundance, while also adding much-needed playmaking along with the scoring chops that he flashed last year.
Scottie Barnes in his second NBA game
11-17 from the field
1-2 from downtown
He is Special
— 🦖 (@SC0OOT) August 21, 2022
The complementary pieces Toronto has are as good as any team in the NBA, with a handful of guys who could be the best player on any single night, almost all of whom defend at a high level. They are one of the deepest teams in the NBA, with an elite coach as the cherry on top. There is not a team that has a better synergy of couch and roster than Toronto with Nick Nurse. This equation will make for a tough matchup no matter the talent level, and if the young players keep improving, there is no reason to expect the Raptors will not be right around the top half of the East yet again.
Lengthy wings are the number one priority of nearly every NBA team in the modern NBA; the Raptors are so spoiled in that area that they can’t stop the trade rumors from running amok because they have too many wings. While rumors ran rampant this summer that Klutch Client OG Anunoby wanted a bigger role, the team opted for continuity this season. They did not trade him for the 7th pick, nor Rudy Gobert, or any other available player this summer. I do not expect them to trade him any time soon, but if they pull the trigger, the market will be plentiful for the young wing.
The matchup with the Knicks is an interesting one. Their length and defense on the wing can stifle New York as well as anyone in the league. This is a Knicks team that is built around guys that score on the interior, an extraordinarily tough task against this Raptors team. They are still looking for their center of the future, but Precious Achiuwa, whom Raptors fans see as a central piece, should be in line for an increased role and they took Arizona’s Christian Koloko in this year’s draft to help fill out the frontcourt. NBA champion Otto Porter should fit in perfectly with his sharp shooting and veteran leadership. This is not to mention the addition of Bo Cruz this off-season.
They will not be an easy matchup for the Knicks this year, but one that will be important to show they can compete. The Knicks made moves this summer to try to compete with the Jalen Brunson signing. The Raptors are young and only getting better, for the Knicks to have success in the Eastern conference now or in the future, they will have to go through the great North to do it.
The four matchups between the Knicks and the Raptors this season all take place between December 21st and January 22nd. These games will be interesting because the rosters should look the same throughout that month, so which coach can make adjustments in those four weeks will be interesting. Since the expectations are higher this year for both franchises, those matchups could be potentially important in seeding going into the end of the season.