Three needs Raptors could address at NBA trade deadline

NBA insider Alvin Williams joins Lead Off to discuss his playoff expectations for the Raptors this season without a "superstar" player, and whether Pascal Siakam might one day fill that role.

The NBA’s Feb. 6 trade deadline is creeping closer and the discourse around what the Toronto Raptors should do remains as fluid as ever.

Just last week there were good arguments for how the Raptors needed to add to a player, but now, with the team nearing a return to full health, those opinions, perhaps, carry a little less weight.

This will be the cat-and-mouse, will-they-won’t-they game we play all the way up to deadline. It’s fun, but can be exhausting to think about all the time.

Therefore, instead of focusing on something that could be in flux, let’s try to project the Raptors’ deadline plans in a more definitive fashion.

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Here’s a look at some of the Raptors’ roster needs as the trade deadline approaches.

Rebounding

The Raptors own just the No. 18-ranked rebound percentage in the league, only rebounding at a 49.5 per cent rate. By comparison, the league-leading Miami Heat boast a 52.5 per cent rate.

In other words, Toronto could use some serious help on the glass, particularly on the defensive end as it has the dubious distinction of owning the fifth-worst defensive rebounding percentage in the NBA this season.

The Raptors have a very versatile roster, and they’ve proven their particular formula of success is a good one so far. However, come the post-season, their weakness on the boards could come back to the bite them as the top three teams in rebounding percentage are all likely Eastern Conference rivals in the Heat, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks.

Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol are a pretty good rebounders, and so too can Pascal Siakam be. After that, however, things get dicey, as a guy like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a little undersized to fight with and box out bigs, while Chris Boucher might lack the strength to get position on his man underneath the basket.

This is why it might be worth it for the Raptors to look into another big to help with these rebounding issues and why a name like Andre Drummond gets pops up in connection with the Raptors.

Should Toronto look for a way to shore up this weakness, however, it’ll have to be very careful not to lose too much of what the team does well already in its frontcourt: strong, versatile defence and three-point shooting.

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Playmaking off the bench

Another area of concern for the Raptors has been their secondary and tertiary playmaking – or lack thereof.

This was most glaring recently with the injuries the Raptors sustained to the likes of Marc Gasol, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet as it looked like the only guy capable of getting the Raptors into their offence properly was Kyle Lowry.

Lowry leads the league in minutes per game partially because of this need for him to unlock Toronto’s attack, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

VanVleet is a guy who’s more than capable of running the show for Toronto’s second unit, but it appears Raptors coach Nick Nurse prefers to use him as a starter, and he’s still injured now, anyway.

To help alleviate some of these playmaking duties, Nurse was turning to Siakam and Gasol to help bring the ball up (in Siakam’s case) or to act as a trigger man (in Gasol’s case) to get the Raptors into their offence, something that Toronto thankfully has back now but was sorely missed during the pair’s near-four week absence.

During that span, the Raptors tried Patrick McCaw and Terence Davis as backup point guards to Lowry with middling results, putting into clear focus how reliant the Raptors are to have any of their regular starters on the floor at any given time.

A trade for a secondary ball-handler or decision-maker could go a long way to help the Raptors in this regards because, even with the team getting back to full strength, the fact remains they need better playmaking off the bench from their backcourt. Lowry needs more time for a breather, after all, and so too will VanVleet when he comes back.

Unfortunately for the Raptors, McCaw and Davis don’t look like they’re the solution yet.

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More wing shooting

On the surface, it might look like outside shooting is of minimal concern for the Raptors. After all, this is a club that ranks third in the league in three-point percentage, making a whopping 37.1 per cent of their seventh-best 36.0 attempts per game from deep.

But as good as those numbers look, there’s always room for improvement, especially among the Raptors’ wing players.

In general, with players like Norman Powell (40.8 per cent), Terence Davis (38.6 per cent) and OG Anunoby (38.1 per cent) all stroking it with a touch of flame in their fingertips this season, this may not seem like an issue, but consider for a moment McCaw and his 34 per cent mark on a measly 2.5 attempts per game or Hollis-Jefferson only attempting 13 threes all season long and hitting on just two of them.

Both McCaw and Hollis-Jefferson play in excess of 20 minutes per game and are very much part of Nurse’s usual rotation, yet, when they’re on the floor, versatile defenders they may be, they handicap the Raptors offensively as they’re much less of a three-point shooting threat, a major concern for an offence that’s built largely around hunting open triples.

“But what about Matt Thomas? He’s a good outside shooter,” we hear you asking.

This is true. Thomas has come pretty much exactly as advertised as he’s converting on his outside looks 46.5 per cent of the time, and both making and attempting more threes than two-point looks this season.

The problem with Thomas, however, is that he’s still trying to find his sea legs after being out for about six weeks and Nurse seems only to like to use him for specific matchups.

Thomas is only averaging 12 minutes per game and while that can increase, the question of if it’ll increase remains.

So, like virtually every other team that thinks it has a shot in the league, the Raptors could stand to improve by making a trade (or even going bargain-bin hunting in the buyout market after the deadline) for a three-point shooting wing player like a Robert Covington, Evan Fournier or Bogdan Bogdanovic.

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