Immanuel Quickley and Scottie Barnes trying to find right mix with Raptors

TORONTO — When the Toronto Raptors made their trade with the New York Knicks, Immanuel Quickley was supposed to solve a long-standing issue for the team. The Raptors had obtained a guard with some legitimate athletic dynamism.

More importantly, his shooting was supposed to be a key part in allowing Scottie Barnes to handle the ball more often in the middle of the floor. This was supposed to be a foundational duo for the Raptors.

“At the very beginning for where we want to end up with those guys in the chemistry that they need to have,” Raptors head coach Darko Rajaković said when asked about the two building a relationship before his team beat the Brooklyn Nets 121-93. “This is literally just the beginning of it.”

Barnes and Quickley excelled against the Nets, with 42 combined points on 15-for-29 shooting. As in many of the games, it felt like that damage was done beside each other instead of in concert with one another. It is good that both can succeed while not using the other, but it is a bit bizarre that the Raptors haven’t found more opportunities for the two to work together nearly two months into their partnership.

Before Thursday’s game, the Raptors had been outscored by 3.2 points per 100 possessions, worse on offence than defence, when Barnes and Quickley have shared the floor. Considering the pair is supposed to be at the heart of what the Raptors do in the future, it is a concern, even while acknowledging the massive amount of change that has happened since Quickley and RJ Barrett came to Toronto.

There just isn’t much natural chemistry that has developed. Pairing a dynamic guard on the perimeter with a gifted playmaker in the paint sounds like a great idea. Wednesday, Quickley said he could feel the extra attention being paid to him by defences since the trade, with him in a more prominent role in Toronto than in New York. His shooting from inside the arc has taken a big hit as a Raptor. It makes sense, with better defenders on and around him.

“The coaching staff was telling me to shoot a lot more,” Quickley told reporters Wednesday. “They think I’m passing up a lot of shots. (I am) still learning when to be ultra-aggressive and when to get my teammates involved, the balance of it, how to find guys where they want the ball and things like that — flow of the game, rhythm of the game, all while still playing defence at a high level. It’s a lot, but I’m having fun learning all of it because this is what I wanted. I wanted to be challenged. This is what I wanted.”

It is a massive change, and should not be underestimated. Playing mainly against starters is way different than playing against hybrid lineups. The Nets are almost an entire team made out of a hybrid unit, and Quickley had success pushing the pace. The suddenness with which Quickley can pull up from deep is refreshing after watching a year of plodding half-court decisions.

There are two natural impediments to Barnes and Quickley working together more often. First, one is often sitting when the other is on the court, as they are generally among the top options in carrying the Raptors’ own hybrid lineups. As Rajaković mentioned before the All-Star break, Barnes is essentially the backup point guard now in addition to being the co-pilot in the starting group, so it makes sense that the two spell each other.

Additionally, with Jakob Poeltl in the starting group, it is hard to get the spacing correct if the paint-eating centre isn’t the one setting screens. Necessarily, that means one of them will be away from the primary action.

There are ways to get around that, including with double screens. There are also other ways than just the pick-and-roll for the players to gain reps together. The Raptors want to use Barnes more often in the post, and Quickley’s off-ball movement in the half court can improve to confuse the help defenders that should cause in time.

“I think it just makes the game easier for me. I don’t have to go against full-court pressure the whole game,” Quickley said of playing with Barnes. “I can tell Scottie to go get it and I can play off the ball and be aggressive in that way. Just trying to use everybody’s strengths together to help each other.”

For now, the pair cannot be only in synchronicity in transition. They should not merely be literal running mates.


• With the win, the Raptors are now 1-11 against Atlantic Division opponents. Huzzah. The Raptors join the Detroit Pistons, Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs as teams with just one win against their four divisional opponents. That is a group of teams.

• As mentioned previously, Rajaković seems particularly suited to be coaching a rebuilding team. The coach spoke about the Raptors developing a defensive movement program. I’m not sure how that isn’t players just doing 100 lateral slides a day, but it’s interesting. So was his description of how he will be monitoring his players over the last part of the season.

“With each player we have a series of goals. Over the next seven days, we’re going to sit down with each player and tell them what the plan is, where we want to see improvement,” Rajaković said. “We have drills (tailored to each player) in the plan. We see a process in the plan. We have a comparison with players in the league at their positions, what they need to achieve and really dive into our player development.”

Short of giving the media the metrics he is using for each player, which will never happen in today’s landscape, that is fairly revelatory.

• Barrett made two killer decisions in transition on successive possessions in the first quarter. I do not think he is ever going to be a dissector in the half court, and with Barnes and Quickley, he doesn’t have to be. So long as he can make the right decisions while the defence is scrambling, that could be a really strong secondary skill for him. He had seven assists. Rajaković said he brought up Manu Ginobili as a player for Barrett to emulate, and apparently Barrett was already a fan. Lefties stick together.

Barrett said he was a big LeBron James fan when he was a kid and did not appreciate Ginobili’s dunking on Chris Bosh in the NBA Finals.

• Dennis Schröder got a thank-you image, but not a thank-you video upon returning to Toronto for the first time since he was traded at the deadline. It makes you think: What would the Raptors have done if they had traded Bruce Brown before the deadline? If only the Utah Jazz had another trip to Toronto this year, we could find out how they would honour Kira Lewis Jr., who played two minutes for the Raptors.

• Gradey Dick not hesitating to shoot is great. Gradey Dick not hesitating to shoot a contested 3 with six seconds left in the quarter and the shot clock off is not as great.

• New 10-day contract signee D.J. Carton is on the board. Congratulations.

• As noted by my colleague Aaron Rose, Gary Trent Jr. shot his fifth and sixth free throws of 2024 after being fouled on a midrange jumper. That’s over 589 minutes in 22 games. Hard to do. Trent shot the heck out of the ball against the Nets, finishing with a game-high 25 points.

(Photo of Immanuel Quickley striking a pose after scoring against the Nets: Dan Hamilton / USA Today)


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