4 Raptors players who need monster stretch runs to save their job

R.J. Barrett, Toronto Raptors
R.J. Barrett, Toronto Raptors / Mark Blinch/GettyImages
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No. 1: R.J. Barrett

Evaluations of the OG Anunoby trade that the Toronto Raptors made with the New York Knicks tended to agree on a few different things. They roundly approved of Anunoby as an excellent fit on the Knicks given his defense, size and shooting ability. They praised Immanuel Quickley has the kind of player who excelled in a small role and could blossom into something more with a larger oportunity.

Where they tended not to agree was on RJ Barrett. Was he a crafty two-way wing waiting to see his game fully unlocked? Was he an overpaid, inefficient floor-raiser? Was he the reason the Raptors won the trade, or did the Knicks pull a fast one getting out of his contract?

Those questions are still present, as Barrett is nothing if not an enigma when it comes to his NBA future. He has averaged a career-best 20.7 points per game since joining the Raptors, driven largely by hot shooting; he is hitting 40.9 percent of his 3-pointers on decreased volume, and more impressively shooting 60.3 percent from 2-point range.

The Raptors have also been outscored by 3.4 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court. When Scottie Barnes and Quickley share the court they are outscoring opponents; when Barrett plays with one or the other, the Raptors are being outscored. It's not a death sentence, but the early returns are that even with his hot shooting -- no lock to continue -- he is not making a significant positive impact.

Barrett has a shot to establish himself as a member of the core moving forward. He is a high-volume scorer, a solid passer and has the tools to be a solid defender. The pieces are all there. A poor closing stretch to the season doesn't mean he is being cut or even traded; he has a long NBA career ahead of him.

The question that needs to be answered, however, is whether Barrett is the answer or simply a placeholder on the wing. Do the Raptors look for players who can fit with Barrett, Barnes and Quickley? Or is that list narrowed to just two?

A strong second-half with Barnes out of the lineup would go a long ways toward securing his future. A poor finish, particularly if that shooting falls back to career norms, will continue to cast doubt on his impact on a good team. It's an important 22 games for Barrett.

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