Raptors Lead

Preseason Grades for Every Raptor So Far

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The Toronto Raptors recently concluded a week-long, two game trip to Tokyo, Japan to kick-off their preseason. Playing both games against the Houston Rockets, Toronto split the series one game a piece. For those willing to start their days at 6 AM to catch the action such as myself, we were treated to back and forth basketball, some down to the wire games, and a whole, whole lot of 3-pointers from Houston.

While perhaps the biggest story NBA-wise was the chemistry of the Rockets’ backcourt of James Harden and newly acquired Russell Westbrook, the Raptors had many players, both new and old who were looking to make an impact. Even though it’s just two games in the preseason, some players made some early impressions, good and bad. As the Raptors make the trip home from Japan, we take a look at how they all fared while overseas.

 

Projected Starters

Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry made some news this week, but none of it was from his play. He sat out both games against Houston to continue rehabbing his ailing thumb. However, he signed a one-year contract extension to remain with Toronto through next season. This means a lot for the future of the Raptors, and makes it unlikely that Lowry is on the move this season. The news that he was going to hold out if he didn’t receive a contract extension is disheartening, though fair. Regardless, an icon of the Franchise stays put. Hopefully he is able to see some action this preseason and gain some reps after an offseason largely away from the game.

Preseason Stats: N/A

Current Grade: N/A

Norman Powell

While many would like to see Fred VanVleet start next to Lowry in a dual point guard lineup, Norman Powell’s performance up to this point has made him hard to ignore. With so much scoring being lost in the offseason, Powell seems ready to take a leap. He was 7/10 from deep in the two games and seemed very sure with the ball in his hands. With Powell, a big problem has always been his decision making and sure handedness. If he’s able to cut back on his mistakes and remain effective, it’s a major bonus for Toronto.

Powell’s biggest flaw early on is his lack of impact on the floor other than scoring. Despite averaging 18 a game in Tokyo, he rarely contributed to any other statistical category. While he is improving on his own shot making, he could start to think about how his threat on the floor could assist others. If defenders take his improved 3 point shot seriously, it opens up tons of space. Regardless, Powell sliding into the 2nd or 3rd leading scorer role for the Raptors would be tremendous for a defence-first roster. If this week was any indication, he has the ability to get there.

Preseason Stats: 18 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 0.5 APG, 12/20 FG, 7/10 3PT, 1 STL, 19.5 MPG

Current Grade: A

OG Anunoby

Coming into the season, OG Anunoby is the leading candidate to a Pascal Siakam-sized leap. The early indications say that it may be a lot to expect out of him. Anunoby is a player who fills a supporting role, yet has continually struggled to soar beyond it. His biggest issue is his overwhelmingly weak handle. It seems like most times he drives into the lane, the ball gets poked away. Whether it is a lack of assertiveness or simply a lack of skill, it remains very difficult for Anunoby to get from point A to point B in the half court.

All things considered, in a lineup with 4 scorers, Anunoby could be extremely valuable this season. He guarded a multitude of players over the 2 games, including both Harden and Westbrook, both with great success. He continuously seemed like the best defender on either side. Finishing the series with 4 steals and countless deflections, Anunoby is a set it and forget it option against the opposition’s premier scorer. All the the Raptors need from Anunoby is order to be an elite 3-D role player this season is of course, the 3. If he can have a solid season at around 35% from behind the arc, Toronto should be more than pleased.

Preseason Stats: 4.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, 4/10 FG, 1/3 3PT, 4 STL, 20.5 MPG

Current Grade: B

 

Pascal Siakam

If Anunoby was looking to take a Siakam-like jump, the Pascal Siakam is looking to take a just to superstardom. Being second fiddle next to Kawhi last season teased the enormous potential that Siakam holds. However, showing promise as a second option and being a leader on a playoff team are vastly different. Defences will have Siakam on the top of their scouting report game in and game out. The Japan trip was Siakam’s first go at leader and he produced mixed results. He did take his shots, leading the Raptors in attempts for both games, and was relatively efficient. However, he seemed to be developing Karl-Anthony Towns syndrome.

Siakam did work tons in the offseason on his jump shot arsenal. With that being said, his overwhelming strength is slicing and dicing to the hoop using his array of crafty moves. The occasional 3 pointer to stretch the defence out is nice, but being overly dependent on the jumper is of no benefit to him or the Raptors. Siakam took 11 3’s over the course of the series, along with many long twos. While some went in, most every contested or off-the-dribble jumper missed badly. While Siakam was fine leading the Raptors offence, his shot selection could be a little crisper. The stats are nice, but he could have been more effective.

Preseason Stats: 20 PPG, 9 RPG, 4 APG, 13/27 FG, 4/11 3PT, 8 TO, 24.5 MPG

Current Grade: B+

Serge Ibaka

Amongst established rotation players, it could be argued that Serge Ibaka had the best showing in Tokyo. He showed the efficiency and steady hand that catapulted him to a career season last year. It seems like everything Ibaka built on last year showed up, almost like last season didn’t end. For a veteran presence like Ibaka, the preseason is just a tune up for October 22nd.

It doesn’t seem like Ibaka added much to his arsenal, but a lineup change may switch things up for the bigs. Reportedly, Nick Nurse will attempt to play Ibaka and Marc Gasol together more than last season. Moving Ibaka to the 4 pushes him further away from the hoop. He showed to be effective there during the Playoffs, despite a small sample size. How he adjusts to that potential change will be a question mark heading into the season for him.

Preseason Stats: 15 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1 APG, 13/19 FG, 1/2 3PT, 20 MPG

Current Grade: A

 

Potential Rotation Pieces

Fred VanVleet

With Lowry out due to injury, Fred VanVleet ran the show at Point Guard for the Raptors. Many are pushing for VanVleet to start alongside him, but due to a lack of point guard depth, I’d argue he’s better off as the team’s 6th man. VanVleet had a solid showing, but showed two separate roles in each game. In Game 1, he was aggressive getting to the basket and showed off an array of new finishes at the rim. In Game 2, his shot wasn’t falling, but showed his playmaking ability to the tune of double-digit assists.

While major improvement from VanVleet would be nice, it seems unlikely that he will take a huge leap. Despite this, the man known as Steady Freddy seems to be steady as usual. He remains one of the better backup guards in the league, and is someone that could challenge for 6th man of the year this season, should the Raptors stay healthy and he stays on the pine.

Preseason Stats: 13 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 5 APG, 7/17 FG, 3/12 3PT, 5 STL, 25 MPG

Current Grade: B

 

Marc Gasol

Marc Gasol sat out Game 1 as he’s still recovering from a crazy year of basketball. Between getting traded, winning a championship and winning Gold in the FIBA World Cup, Gasol has kept busy. In Game 2, Gasol was largely silent, however it was very promising how he tried to get the young guys off of the bench going with his passes from the high post. Especially if he largely plays with the subs, his ability to get them good looks is a huge boost to the bench.

Preseason Stats: 6 PTS, 6 RBS, 1 AST, 1/4 FG, 0/2 3PT, 3 STL, 18 MIN

Current Grade: Incomplete

Patrick McCaw

A midseason acquisition that never really got accustomed to the Raptors, Patrick McCaw has an opportunity to carve out a role on a bench with lots of question marks. Coach Nurse has been hyping McCaw up as a potential Point Guard option and he seems to have had a good training camp. Regardless, that improvement was not visible in Japan. In Game 1 he was a non-factor offensively, taking 0 shots in his 21 minutes on the floor. Game 2 he at least put up 5 shots, but only made a single one.

McCaw had a strong rookie season but every year since has been a struggle for him, especially offensively. He’s very slight and arguably too small to play on the wing. On the same accord, he’s not skilled enough with the ball and doesn’t have enough range to be an effective guard. While McCaw is quick and shifty defensively, the fact that he doesn’t have much to offer on offence is a concern. Hopefully he has more to offer on the end, or a spot in the rotation seems unlikely.

Preseason Stats: 3.5 PPG, 3 RPG, 2 APG, 1/5 FG, 0/2 3PT, 3 STL, 19 MPG

Current Grade: C-

 

Terence Davis

Terence Davis’s ascension to rotation hopeful was documented in a recent article of mine. The hype was certainly real heading into the preseason, where many wondered how Davis would fare amongst legitimate NBA competition.  While there were a list of positives, his stint so far has been a mixed bag. There are some plusses, such as his poster dunk on Jaron Blossomgame, and his general activity on the floor. On the other hand, he’s been relatively out of control when on the court, and his outside shot was not falling for the most part.

Ideally, someone as raw as Davis would spend a full year developing with the Raptors 905. However, I’m not too sure the Raptors have many guard options outside of VanVleet off of the bench to start off the season. Despite his raw game so far, he’s been somewhat effective every time he’s stepped on the floor, which not ever Raptor can claim up to this point. Due to this, I picture Davis as a fringe 10th man to begin the season for Toronto.

Preseason Stats: 7.5 PPG, 5 RPG, 3 APG, 6/19 FG, 1/7 3PT, 3 STL, 16.5 MPG

Current Grade: B+

 

Matt Thomas

I wrote in my aforementioned article about Raptors new signees something that holds true to Matt Thomas. “Thomas is going to have to consistently shoot the lights out to get minutes”. Well, Thomas certainly did not shoot the lights out in Japan. In fact, Thomas seemed so overmatched athletically that he rarely even had good looks to get off. He really seemed to struggle to get open, and when he got open, he left a few bunnies on the board.

This is without mentioning his defence. No one expected Thomas to be a great defender, but his competency right now is quite low. Perhaps he improves as the season goes on, but watching him on James Harden for a possession or two was not pretty. Thomas’ game all boils down to how his shot is falling, and when it isn’t there is very little use to him on the court. That’s going to be tough for bench continuity, but in the same vein as CJ Miles over the past few years, if it ‘ain’t falling, he just isn’t an NBA rotation player.

Preseason Stats: 6 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1 APG, 4/12 FG, 2/7 3PT, 2 STL, 12 MPG

Current Grade: D

 

Chris Boucher

There’s no doubt in my mind that Chris Boucher improved his game this summer but man, does he still look painfully skinny. Jokes aside, Boucher had a largely effective run in Tokyo. Game one was a shining moment, putting up 12 points on only 5 shots in 18 minutes. He’s just a really weird fit in the NBA. He’s a Center’s length with a Power Forward’s game and Point Guard weight.

There are some rumblings that Boucher may get some time at the 3 with Siakam and one of the bigs. Personally, I would love to see that combination trotted out in the preseason. I’m not convinced it works out, but I’m certainly intrigued. Boucher’s spot on the team this year is cloudy, but at some point, such remarkable G-League production has to translate into something, right? Nurse should at least trot him out there for a handful of real minutes early on in the season considering the limited pressure the Raptors face this season.

Preseason Stats: 6 PPG, 5 RPG, 1 APG, 7/11 FG, 0/2 3PT, 3 BLK, 13.5 MPG

Current Grade: A-

 

Stanley Johnson

Lots of players had their share of ups and downs in Japan, but with Stanley Johnson, it was almost fully downs. He didn’t get more than 9 minutes in either game, and failed to convert on a Field Goal during the series. He seemed very hesitant offensively, and was fairly unwilling to get creative. There were many videos of him training his handle and jumper this offseason, yet none of that was evident. He really seemed like a deer in headlights for most of his time on the floor.

To me, Johnson’s confidence seems very low. It’s a part of the game that isn’t always mentioned, but is super important. Bruno Caboclo’s failed attempt in Toronto was in large part due to unrealistic expectations by the fan base that he couldn’t meet. It seems like Johnson’s stint in Detroit was a similar experience. Hopefully as the season progresses, Johnson finds his game off of the bench hidden away in Canada. I was much higher on him heading into the season, and while his performance so far blows some steam off of his prospects, I’m still holding out some hope.

Preseason Stats: 1 PPG, 2 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0/5 FG, 0/0 3PT, 1 STL, 8 MPG

Current Grade: D

 

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

A fair amount of people were encouraged by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s first two games for the Raptors. I’ve been a skeptic since the signing, and that holds true for now. He wasn’t ineffective during his short run on the floor, but nothing really stood out either. One thing is for sure, he’s one of the better hustle players on the roster. Hollis-Jefferson frequently came up with loose balls and created extra possessions for his team. That is surely the greatest quality he brings on the offensive end.

Hollis-Jefferson’s bench outlook is what concerns me. I understand that today’s game is position-less and size is less important. However, I struggle to see much value in a 6’7, 217 LBS 4-man with absolutely no outside shot. Defensively he can guard multiple positions, but given his immense struggles guarding James Harden, he can really only check Forwards. With all of these things considered, his fit is still quite unclear. On the bright side, he does offer more production historically in his career than most other bench options the Raptors currently have.

Preseason Stats: 4.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, 3/6 FG, 0/1 3PT, 2 STL, 10.5 MPG

Current Grade: C

 

Roster Hopefulls

Malcolm Miller

Malcom Miller was my biggest surprise over the course of the two preseason games. Since he’s been in the organization for a few years, Miller seems to be a proven commodity amongst fans. A lengthy defender with a solid three-point shot. That has always been his intrigue in the league, and is why the Raptors have held onto him for so long. Despite this label, when few Raptors showed serious improvement in the half court, Miller popped.

His shot was falling in both games, and his only two-point attempt was a beautiful straight-line drive and-one finish. It was the single most encouraging play for the Raptors in my opinion. Miller is not a sure thing to remain on the roster. However, if his shot is falling like it currently is, and he’s getting more creative off of the dribble, the Raptors need to do everything they can to keep him on the roster. With so many candidates in the “who takes a step forward?” field, Miller is a dark horse who stands a chance.

Preseason Stats: 8.5 PPG, 0.5 RPG, 0 APG, 5/8 FG, 4/7 3PT, 2 STL, 13.5 MPG

Current Grade: A+

 

Dewan Hernandez

Among the seven players fighting for the final two roster spots, Dewan Hernandez seems like the best bet to grab one. After not playing in Game 1, Hernandez was largely impressive in his 12 minutes on the floor. He showed off impressive athletic ability for a guy his size, and although he made some mistakes, he is certainly a piece that with some development, could be a part of the organization moving forward.

Hernandez likely doesn’t see tremendous run with the big club this season. Still, the fact that he was effective in his preseason appearance is a step in the right direction. Developing a jumper is an asset, but the most important piece of his game that should grow this year is his feel. He often seemed a small step behind, and if he can get his brain working as quick as his body, I’m bullish on his future in Toronto.

Preseason Stats: 6 PTS, 2 RBS, 1 AST, 2/4 FG, 0/1 3PT, 2 BLK, 12 MIN

Current Grade: B+

 

Oshae Brissett

Oshae Brissett showed in Game 1 against Houston why he is reportedly a favourite to land one of the Raptors’ Two-Way slots this season. Game 2 was not as impressive, yet Brissett still shows an intruiging skill set. He’s a big forward at 6’8, 210 LBS who showed some real skill with the ball. His jump shot was really inconsistent at Syracuse and is probably the main thing he attempts to improve on while playing mostly in the G-League.

One of the more impressive plays of the series, Brissett’s put-back dunk was a glimpse on what his production could look like down the road. More than just a hometown story, the Raptors may have found something in the undrafted rookie. While the sample size is far too small to find out, the early signs are encouraging.

Preseason Stats: 3 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 0.5 APG, 1/7 FG, 0/2 3PT, 2 STL, 10 MPG

Current Grade: B+

 

Isaiah Taylor/Cameron Payne

I’m putting Isaiah Taylor and Cameron Payne in the same tier, as each one got a few minutes off the bench in one game. Game One saw Payne get 12 minutes of action where he was decent offensively and continued some of the momentum he showed in the Summer League for Dallas. In Game 2 for Taylor, he struggled with his shot, but was solid defensively.

Ultimately, I don’t project either to make the roster. Taylor may have had the upper hand, but Miller’s impressive preseason to this point puts a damper in things. There are still two games left for one of these guards to make an impact, but the odds are against them. It’s possible that Taylor ends up grabbing the second Two-Way slot with the 905, but both may end up empty-handed.

Payne Preseason Stats: 4 PTS, 1 RB, 1 AST, 1/2 FG, 12 MIN

Taylor Preseason Stats: 2 PTS, 1 RB, 1 AST, 1/5, 0/3 3PT, 9 MIN

Current Grades: Incomplete

 

Devin Robinson/Sagaba Konate

Neither Devin Robinson or Sagaba Konate played in the Japan trip. Both are extreme long shots to make the roster. Robinson is a classic case of too good for the G-League but not good enough for the NBA, but will likely play in the G-League somewhere. Konate is more of a prospect, and it’s probable the Raptors hold onto him and he plays for the 905 this season.

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About Matthew Winick

Matthew Winick is an avid basketball fan both from the NBA side, as well as NCAA hoops. A native of Toronto, Ontario, he is a lifetime Raptors fan and is just now reaping the benefits. He is currently studying Sport Media at Ryerson University in Toronto, and hopes to be talking sports with the best of them in his future. You can reach him on any social media @matthewwinick.

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