Raptors Lead

Realistic Expectations for Every New Toronto Raptor

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For the first time in the Masai Ujiri era, the Toronto Raptors are beginning a season with more questions than answers. With the woefully painful departure of Kawhi Leonard earlier this month, the Raptors are in a state of transition, a new, yet oddly exciting time. Gone are the days of flipping through veterans to make a small impact alongside bonafide superstars. The organization is in a position to focus on the future, rather than the now.

These facts made the post-Kawhi portion of the offseason an intriguing one for Toronto. They were in the unenviable position of being short on talent after many players had already signed. With the marquee free agents all gone, the Raptors had to get creative. They had to field a competitive team this year, while finding future building blocks. They had to find an identity, when their whole identity took his game to sunny Los Angeles.

The Raptors based their signings on projected potential, with a twist. Most of the players they took a chance on have shown at least one strength at a high level up to this point. Banking on players who have at least one element of their game figured out means that they can stay in the thick of things this year, while hoping the rest of their games catch up. All in all, the Raptors added nine new players to their 20-man preseason roster. While only 15 will make the final cut, they all have skills that could help improve the roster.

Guaranteed Deals

Stanley Johnson

The highest paid free agent the Raptors signed this offseason, Johnson failed to live up to his 8th overall selection in the 2015 Draft over his rookie contract. In time split between the Pistons and Pelicans, the 23-year-old shot 29.3% from deep. For an NBA wing, shooting under 30% from behind the arc is far from a recipe for success. Coming out of the University of Arizona, the hope was Johnson would become a prototypical 3-and-D wing. However, without the 3, he has yet to find success in his four NBA seasons. More than just a poor shooter, Johnson has been an overall negative offensively. He’s posted a negative Offensive Box Plus-Minus and Offensive Win Shares along with a sub 50% effective shooting percentage.

However, there is obviously a reason why Toronto took a risk on Johnson. While posting negative offensive statistics, Johnson posted positive numbers for Defensive Box Plus-Minus and Defensive Win Shares. At a long 6’7 and ripped 245-pound frame, he fits the bill of the player you want guarding the opposition’s best scorer. Plus, after just turning 23 years old, a relatively inexpensive flier makes sense.

If Johnson can simply boost his corner three-point shooting to the league average (~35%), and he develops a slight offensive game off the dribble, Johnson’s game opens up. If he can become an average offensive player, you can keep him on the floor defensively. As referenced in the open, Johnson already has an NBA strength in his game. If his offense can catch up, the Raptors snagged a strong, powerful 3-and-D wing for extremely cheap. Given the options available, the Raptors couldn’t do a whole lot better.

https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1153689539103338496

Signing Grade: A-

2019-2020 projected stats: 11 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 34% 3FG

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

The second University of Arizona star of this free agency class (Stanley Johnson) also fits the bill of a second contract reclamation project. However, unlike Johnson, Hollis-Jefferson has had the benefit of a full season of solid play. After his 3rd year in the NBA in 2017-2018, many thought Hollis-Jefferson was a major part of the Brooklyn Nets’ future. After all, in almost 30 minutes a game he averaged almost 14 points and 7 rebounds while shooting 47% and guarding multiple positions on the floor. He was their second leading scorer, and his quickness and size at 6’7 with mega long arms made him the perfect small-ball power forward.

However, his 2018-2019 season was a letdown to say the least. Throughout the 25 basic per game statistics shown on Basketball Reference, his numbers declined in every single one. He went from an average offensive player to a guy who shot 18.4% from three on 49 attempts. Despite whatever length and athletic advantages he possessed, his shooting was too poor for him to be on the floor. With his play diminishing, his minutes did as well. After starting 19 games early in the season, he only started two in the new year.

Hollis-Jefferson’s time with the Raptors represents a fresh start for a guy who really needed one. If he can regain his 2017-2018 form and be a switchable, slashing combo forward, he can be a valuable piece for Toronto this season. In addition, despite signing a one-year deal, he still holds plenty of potential at 24 years of age. Similarly to Johnson, Hollis-Jefferson holds the tools to make a positive impact on the Raptors, yet needs his offensive contributions to be substantial enough to warrant playing time.

Signing Grade: B+

2019-2020 projected stats: 9 PPG, 6 RPG, 46% FG

Matt Thomas

The Raptors moved away from their theme of poor outside shooters in the biggest way for their third guaranteed contract. Matt Thomas may not have played an NBA game yet in his career, but his shooting resume was as good as it comes on the free agency market. After becoming the 3rd leading three point shooter in Iowa State history, Thomas failed to receive an NBA contract. He then headed to Spain for two years and scorched European baskets to the tune of 48.5% from deep. With those historic numbers across the pond, it’s no surprise Thomas received his first NBA chance.

Unlike Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson who possess large upside, with Thomas, what you see is what you get. In the mold of a JJ Redick or Kyle Korver, Thomas is a shooting specialist. At 6’5 with below-average athletic ability, Thomas isn’t going to wow people defensively. That hasn’t stopped the aforementioned shooters become great pros, but Thomas is going to have to consistently shoot the lights out to get minutes.

Thomas received a three-year contract, the longest one the Raptors gave out this offseason. That’s attributed to the fact that the Raptors trust the fact that his deadly three-point shooting will transfer over to the NBA. He is very low-risk, low-reward, and although rebuilding seems to always be about hitting home runs, Toronto hoping for three years of triples from Thomas is not a huge ask. Plus, an extra floor spacer for the defensive-minded Raptors squad can’t be a bad thing.

Signing Grade: B

2019-2020 projected stats: 7 PPG, 1 AST, 43% 3FG

Terence Davis

The last guaranteed contract the Raptors gave out this offseason went to Ole Miss guard Terence Davis. After flying under the radar in the SEC for four seasons, Davis was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the pre-draft process. He killed every combine he attended, and got himself an invitation to the NBA Combine. There, he proved he belonged and was consistently one of the best players in scrimmages. Still, Davis went undrafted. It may be due to a lack of signature skill that Davis has in his arsenal. He has decent size as a 6’4 guard. His athleticism is solid, but not off the charts. He is a proven shooter, but not elite. He can make plays, but has never successfully run a team.

These are all questions that surround Davis, yet one thing is for sure. He can really hoop. Despite already being 22 years old as a rookie, he also possesses a ton of untapped potential. Depending on how he develops this season, there are multiple ways his game can shift. He could improve his handle and become a wrecking ball playmaker heading downhill. He could improve his shot and become an off-ball shooter. Maybe his offensive game doesn’t grow, but he becomes a solid defender.

With Davis, you have a good player with good size who you can mold into any type of player that fits best. The possibilities of Davis’ future in the NBA are endless, and a Swiss Army knife like Davis is a great place to start a rebuild. Whether he contributes this season or not is yet to be determined, but his long-term outlook could be one of the more impactful of the entire free agency class.

https://twitter.com/TerenceDavisJr/status/1152673181557305345

Signing Grade: B+

2019-2020 projected stats: 5 PPG, 2 RPG, 2 AST

Non-Guaranteed/Two-Way/Exhibit-10 Deals

Cameron Payne

Four seasons and three teams since being a lottery pick in 2015, Cameron Payne has yet to make an impact in the NBA. Never short on ability, Payne was noticed out of small Murray State for his scoring prowess at all three levels. However, a lack of NBA athleticism at 6’3 has made it very tough for him to create his own shot. Add in that he only shot over 32% from deep once in his first four years, and it’s easy to see why he has bounced around the league so much.

With Payne, it’s tough to see where he improves from here. Sure, he’s talented, but what will he have gained over the offseason to make up for his lack of NBA size and athletic ability? It’s very hard to play as a slower point guard, and not being an elite three-point shooter makes it even harder. At this stage in the Raptors development, they need to focus on players that have potential, while also finding players with specific skills in place. Cameron Payne fails to capture either of the two requirements. He had some moments in this year’s Summer League, but you wonder how sustainable that is. My prediction for this season is that he doesn’t play well enough to make the team, and the Raptors either convert Jordan Loyd to a full-time roster spot, or they find a 3rd point guard on the waiver wire after roster cuts.

Signing Grade: C-

2019-2020 projected status: not on roster – cut

Dewan Hernandez

The Raptors only had one pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and at 59th overall they selected Dewan Hernandez out of Miami. A high-motor big man, Hernandez sat out all of last season due to NCAA eligibility issues. Playing for the Raptors Summer League team, Hernandez struggled out of the gate, and showed a lack of touch outside of the paint. However, his dribble drives from the top of the arc to the hoop at 6’11 were a very encouraging sign.

With a partially guaranteed three-year deal, the Raptors are giving Hernandez all the opportunity to grab their 15th roster spot. Should he fail to live up to expectations, they can move on with little cost. However, if the potential he showed at the end of Summer League stays true in the preseason, he’s an interesting prospect that the Raptors have multiple years of team control with.

Signing Grade: B

2019-2020 projected status: Contract converted into Two-Way deal

Sagaba Konate

Just like the aforementioned Hernandez, former West Virginia big man Sagaba Konate had essentially a lost season in 2018-2019. Two years ago, Konate was the most feared shot blocker in college, blocking 3.2 a game and was a borderline 1st round selection. However, he decided to bet on himself and return to school, and failed to jump off the page in eight games before shutting it down for the season due to injury. One of the more well-known names in NCAA hoops, his notoriety and previous shot blocking prowess failed to get him selected in the NBA Draft this past June.

Konate’s biggest flaw in his game is his lack of size. Despite a chiseled frame, he is 6’8 and is essentially locked in as a center for his career, unless he can improve his lateral quickness and develop a consistent three-point shot. He returned to school last year looking to prove himself as a shooter and was okay (9-23 – 39%) in a small sample size. Best case scenario, Konate develops into a pick and pop stretch 5. He simply doesn’t possess the length or agility to be a switchable defender in the NBA. His floor isn’t relatively high, but he could turn into a solid pro down the road.

Signing Grade: B-

2019-2020 projected status: G-League contract with Raptors 905 or elsewhere

Devin Robinson

Devin Robinson’s entire basketball career has been an enigma up to this point. A 175-pound Robinson was ranked as the 20th overall player in the 2014 recruiting class entering the University of Florida. Based off of potential alone, Robinson was considered a one and done by many. However, it took him three seasons to average even 10 points. After those three seasons, Robinson declared for the NBA draft, but no team was willing to take a chance him. The Washington Wizards signed him to a two-year, two-way contract, and last season he finally blossomed in the G-League to the tune of 19.9 points per game.

Robinson’s physical profile is second to none. At 6’8 with a 7’1 wingspan, along with the second best no step vertical in his draft class at 35.5 inches, he dunks anything, on anyone. However, the rest of his repertoire is quite weak. He has little to no jump shot, and rarely looked for his own shot outside of the paint. For a guy who should be playing as a forward due to his slim frame, that’s concerning.

Sure, he averaged almost 20 a night in the G-League, but most of those buckets were due to his obvious physical advantages. In the NBA, where everyone is bigger, stronger, and faster, those advantages may dissipate. Personally, I think Robinson can become a rotation player in the NBA given his improvements last season. However, due to the larger potential and younger age of Dewan Hernandez, I think he grabs the second two-way spot that the Raptors possess.

Signing Grade: B

2019-2020 projected status: Two-Way contract with another team

Oshae Brissett

A native of nearby Mississauga, Ontario, Oshae Brissett is the hometown kid looking to make an NBA roster. After a tremendous freshman season at Syracuse where he was named to the ACC All-Freshman team, Brissett took steps backwards last season. His points, rebounds, three-point percentage and free throw percentage all dipped significantly. For a player to show so much promise in year one and take a step back is a concern. Most importantly, his 33.1% from three and 79% from the line dipped to 27% and 66% respectively. It makes one wonder whether year one, or year two was a fluke.

Brissett can put the ball on the floor effectively for his size and rebounds quite well for a forward. His athleticism doesn’t jump off the page, but he can hold his own, and is likely strong enough to play the 4. Brissett seems to be the biggest longshot to make the Raptors roster at this point. However, they conceivably like his game, and playing for the Raptors 905 in his hometown of Mississauga is nice. Overall, Brissett isn’t a poor player by any stretch, however he didn’t show enough shooting consistency in college to stick on an NBA roster right now.

Signing Grade: C+

2019-2020 projected status: G-League deal with Raptors 905

Projected Roster

Given the potential moves I think the Raptors will make this preseason, here is a projected look at the 15-man roster with the two-way slots.

 

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Jordan Loyd (two-way), plus a waiver wire pick up if Payne is cut

SG: Norman Powell, Matt Thomas, Terence Davis

SF: OG Anunoby, Stanley Johnson, Patrick McCaw, Malcolm Miller

PF: Pascal Siakam, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris Boucher

C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Dewan Hernandez (two-way)

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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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