The Raptors Gain a Unicorn: Getting Porzingis to Toronto

Pete Baxter


With the news breaking that Mark Cuban and company may be open to shopping “the Unicorn” himself, Kristaps Porzingis, the collective spidey-sense of the Toronto Raptors fanbase (and hopefully the front office) has been tingling like crazy.  The Raptors need a true center, and ideally one capable of bringing the true trifecta of stretch-5 play to the table:  rim protection, three point shooting, and rebounding.

We’ve heard the rumors about Andre Drummond, who is a top rebounder in the league, but a mediocre defender and horrible shooter.  We’ve heard the rumors about Myles Turner, but Indiana has expressed little interest in moving on from their young big-man.

Enter the Dallas Mavericks and 7’3” baby-faced-big-man Kristaps Porzingis, AKA KP6, AKA Unicorn, AKA Porzingod (or maybe Godzingis).  While the Mavs have played better as of late, 7-3 in their last ten games and now at .500 (at 16 and 16), they have been a disappointment this year.  Luka Doncic was expected by many to lead this team to a top spot in the West and to be a front-runner for MVP honors.  In reality, the Mavs are currently in ninth in the West and Marc Cuban seems poised to make a move to bring Luka a stronger supporting cast.

Toronto (or at least temporarily, Tampa) just happens to be in an almost identical boat.  The Raptors also find themselves at a disappointing .500 (at 17-17) but playing better as of late at 6-4 in their last 10 games.  The Raptors are also rumored to be open to potential trades as the deadline approaches.  Kyle Lowry is on an expiring contract, and Toronto already has his replacement and point guard of the future in-house in Fred VanVleet.  Norm Powell, who has been playing like an All Star in recent weeks and is putting up almost 18.0 per game on the season, has long been involved in potential trade ideas as well. 

Oh, and by the way, what is the glaring hole in the Raptors lineup?   Center.  Offseason addition Aron Baynes has been a major disappointment as the heir apparent to Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.  Chris Boucher has emerged this year, but is extremely frail and undersized when matched up against the Joel Embiids and Rudy Goberts of the world.  Their other offseason addition, Alex Len, has already been cut and is now an Atlanta Hawk.

So the Raptors need a big man, ideally one who can protect the rim, crash the boards, and fit into the fast paced-three point shooting offense.  The Mavericks need deeper talent and aggressive play to support Luka.  Sounds like a match made in heaven!

The Proposal:

The Raptors get:

Kristaps Porzingis, Trey Burke

The Mavericks get:

Kyle Lowry, Matt Thomas, Aron Baynes, 2021 First Round Pick

The Raptors get their big man of the future, who still has 3.5 years left on his deal.  Porzingis is a outstanding offensive option, averaging 20+ points per game for his third straight year, while shooting 35% from three and 85% from the free throw line.  He is a decent rebounder, with 8.0 boards per game so far this season, a drop from the 9.5 he brought down last year.  While he isn’t quite a top tier defender, he is a capable rim protector who averages 2.0 blocks per game for his 5 year career.

In fact, not only do the Raptors get a top-flight starting center in Kristaps Porzingis, but they retain Chris Boucher, who, depending on matchups, could easily start in the post for several teams in this league based on his performance this season (13.0 points. 6.5 boards, and 2.0 blocks per game in just 23 minutes).  Along with borderline All Star Pascal Siakam at power forward, the Raptors suddenly have a top frontcourt in the East.

The Thomas/Burke swap could be considered a lateral move.  Burke is a more established player and a solid role player, while Thomas has potential to be one of the great shooters in the league but has miles to go on the defensive end. He has fallen in and out of Nick Nurse’s current rotation.  Mark Cuban loves a European League hero, though, so I’m sure he has heard about Thomas’ 50% three point shooting heroics prior to arriving in the NBA.

So, clearly, KP is a upgrade, but at what cost?  Firstly, the Raptors lose arguably their GOAT in Kyle Lowry.  Secondly, they lose their first-round pick for next year.  

Losing Lowry, while a potential heartbreaker for Raptors fans, actually makes quite a bit of sense (hence why he just conspicuously sold his Toronto home).  The Raptors have an outstanding starting backcourt even without Lowry, as Fred VanVleet and sixth man/part-time starter Norm Powell have both played borderline All Star basketball this year.  Moving on from Lowry gives first round pick Malachi Flynn a chance to move into the rotation as the top back-up at point guard.  Swapping Baynes for Porzingis at the 5 is a no-brainer and a serious win in this rotation.  So, let’s take a look at where this trade leaves a potential Raptors 8-man lineup come playoff time:

PG:  Fred VanVleet

SG:  Norm Powell

SF:  OG Anunoby

PF:  Pascal Siakam

C:  Kristaps Porzingis

Sixth Man:  Chris Boucher

Back up PG:  Malachi Flynn/Tre Burke

8th man:  Deandre Bembry/Terence Davis/Stanley Johnson   (all provide situational value)

This is a top-flight lineup in the East.  KP is probably the lowest level defender in that starting line up, but the addition of his size and shot blocking is enough of a positive to fit in nicely with a lineup made up of aggressive defenders.  This team could challenge any team in the Eastern conference and is made up of young players who are primarily locked in for multiple seasons.   The only real need in the offseason will be to re-sign Norman Powell, which should be doable. 

Having this line up locked in for the foreseeable future eases the pain of losing a first round pick next year.  The one and only risk, and it is a notable one, is Kristaps Porzingis’ injury history.  He has only played 18 games this year, 57 games the year prior, missed the entire 2018-19 season, played 48 games three years ago, and averaged 69 games through his first two seasons in New York.  So he is clearly injury prone, and will never be an 82 game-per-season player.  Best case scenario, you can hope to have KP 60 games a season.  This is where it becomes a major judgement call for the Raptors front office, but one that I personally go for.

The Mavericks get one of the top guards in the league, a hard-nosed defender, outstanding shooter, and true leader to pair up with Luka Doncic and this young core.  They also get a project player and former European league star, who if developed properly, could become a top-flight sharp shooter in the league.  While they lose KP, they are losing a guy who, due to missed time, hasn’t been a consistent member of the rotation anyway, and hasn’t necessarily been an ideal fit in the Mavericks system when he has been present.  The first-round pick that they receive from Toronto provides a great opportunity to reset their front court through the draft.  Marc Cuban and his player-friendly franchise should have a great chance to convince Lowry to re-sign for the last couple years of his productive prime, giving Lowry time to help build the same outstanding, team-first culture he helped build in Toronto.  Let’s take a look at where this trade puts the potential Mavericks playoff line up:

PG:  Luka Doncic

SG:  Kyle Lowry

SF:  Tim Hardaway Jr.

PF:  Maxi Kleber

C:  Willie Cauley-Stein

Sixth Man:  Josh Richardson

Back-up PG:  Jalen Brunson

8th Man:  Dorian Finney Smith/Matt Thomas/James Johnson based on match ups

Luca now has a top-flight play maker as a backcourt partner, taking a ton of pressure off of the young triple-double machine.  Lowry also takes the pressure off the young star as a leader, and helps build a strong, winning culture in Dallas.  Luka is generally surrounded by shooters, with the exception of the center position.  Honestly, as a part two of this move, I would highly recommend that the Dallas front office explore the buy-out market to bolster their frontcourt.  Demarcus Cousins could actually be a great option to fill out this lineup, as he brings size, toughness, and improved shooting.  Swap out Cauley-Stein with Boogie Cousins in this lineup and I honestly believe this team could make a run in the West despite their slow start.  Plus, as noted, they bring in a first round pick in next year’s draft to rebuild their frontcourt depth.

In Conclusion:

Let’s make it happen.  Both teams are underachieving and hovering around .500.  The Raptors have the advantage of playing in the East, where .500 will still get them into the playoffs.  For the Mavs, however, they need to improve quickly to have a shot at the postseason.  For both teams, this shakes up their current lineup and addresses their primary needs.

Agree? Disagree? Couldn’t care less? Let me know, and as always, thanks for checking out the blog!!!

Published by Pete of the North

Avid sports fan and obsessed statistician. Binge drinker turned writer. Toronto Raptors fan since the O.G. Zan Tabak. Based out of Albany, NY. Cheers!

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