The Toronto Raptors are signing Kyle Wiltjer to a training camp deal, a one-year pact at the league minimum with no guarantee. Oliver Maroney and Robby Kalland of Uproxx first reported the news Tuesday (a commenter in the forums here also had it – shouts to that person). The Raptors have since confirmed the deal.
“I’m just really excited to be back in Toronto and Canada,” Wiltjer told Uproxx.
Wiltjer spent last season with the Houston Rockets, appearing in 14 games and averaging 0.9 points and 0.7 rebounds in 3.1 minutes. Around those spot appearances, he saw heavy run in the G-League, where he proved one of the more difficult threats in the entire league as a member of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Wiltjer averaged 20.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in 22 regular season games there,s hooting 37.9 percent on nearly 10 3-point attempts per-game. In the postseason, Raptors 905 had to tweak their defensive gameplan to account for him, as he averaged 21.2 points on 40.8 percent on nearly 11 threes per-game. The 905 eventually adjusted and slowed him down some, but his performance as a pick-and-pop weapon from the power forward position was instrumental in RGV’s success.
Prior to landing with the Rockets, Wiltjer spent two seasons at Kentucky and two more at Gonzaga after a transfer year, winning a National Championship in 2012 and earning Second-Team All-American in 2015 and Honorable Mention All-American in 2016. He subsequently went undrafted – the Raptors brought him in for a pre-draft workout – played in Summer League with the Rockets, and signed there before camp.
The Rockets dealt Witljer to the Los Angeles Clippers as salary ballast in the Chris Paul trade in late June, and the Clippers subsequently waived him in July before his 2017-18 salary became guaranteed. He played in Summer League with the Clippers prior to being waived, scoring 23 points in 43 minutes.
The Raptors swooping in to bring Wiltjer into camp makes sense given their lack of shooting and thin depth chart at the four. At 6-foot-10 and 243 pounds, Wiltjer could probably even play some small-ball center if needed, though that skill is more relevant if he’s waived and his rights are acquired by the 905. As a power forward, Wiltjer is a solid rebounder and a serious outside threat with a notable face-up game, though he comes with some defensive limitations due to below-average athleticism for the position. He can keep he ball moving on the offensive end, and his quick release and lack of conscience from outside are such that defenses will have to pay him close attention, even if he’s playing as a lower-usage option. That gravity could be useful on an NBA bench, even in somewhat of a specialist role (to start, anyway – he’s still just 24).
In terms of 14th or 15th men, the Raptors could certainly do worse in terms of plug-and-play offensive pieces at a thin position. Whether Wiltjer ends up on the roster could depend on a number of factors, like the progress of Pascal Siakam and Bruno Caboclo, the recovery timeline of OG Anunoby, and how combo-forwards like Alfonzo McKinnie and Malcolm Miller (when healthy) look. The Raptors currently have 13 players under guaranteed contract, two on two-way deals, McKinnie with a small guarantee, and two players (Wiltjer and Kennedy Meeks) on some form of camp deal. The issue will be that keeping two more players on NBA contracts would push them a little above the luxury tax, and so they may deem a 15th man superfluous. That could make training camp a battle for the 14th roster spot, though they could always keep 15 and waive one of the non-guaranteed players before the Jan. 10 guarantee date. (They could also keep 15 and pay the tax, though the “real” cost of the 15th man then shoots into the millions when tax disbursements are considered.)
Should Wiltjer be waived after camp, the 905 would not need to acquire his rights from Rio Grande, as Wiltjer has technically never entered the G-League player pool except as an assignment player. That means the Raptors could make him a G-League Affiliate Player if he’s cut in camp, should he be open to it and go unclaimed on waivers. (This is likely the plan, but they’ll give Wiltjer the chance to impress in camp, and they’re built such that plans can change.)
Born in Portland, Oregon, Wiltjer has consistently suited up for the Canada Basketball program and becomes the lone Canadian on the Raptors’ training camp roster so far.
Here’s how the roster looks at present:
PG: Lowry, Wright, VanVleet, Brown (two-way)
SG: DeRozan, Powell
SF: Miles, Caboclo, Anunoby (injured), McKinnie (small guarantee)
PF: Ibaka, Siakam, Miller (two-way), Wiltjer (non-guaranteed)
C: Valanciunas, Poeltl, Nogueira, Meeks (Exhibit 10)
Training camp begins on Sept. 26 in Victoria.