Summer League

Reasons to Keep an Eye on Raptors Summer League

Summer league’s usually about taking a look at how your rookies and sophomores are doing, and see if you can round out your roster with some level of quality. Last year we missed out on Hassan Whiteside and instead picked Greg Steimsma, which was arguably Masai Ujiri’s worst decision in Toronto. That decision also speaks to just how well all his other moves have panned out if we’re left with a summer league cut to moan about.

This year it’s first and foremost about Delon Wright. No, not Bruno Caboclo, but Delon Wright. By all accounts and the D-League evidence available to us, Caboclo is still some ways away from finding his way into the rotation, and given his 19 years of age that’s where he should be. Wright is a different animal, because he was drafted with the intent of being a rotation player this season, and though Cory Joseph’s signing technically makes Wright third string, there’s no telling how Dwane Casey might end up using Wright who has enough size to play the two. I also firmly believe that Casey loses track of who he has on the floor and what exactly he’s matching up against, so I’m convinced that Wright just might see minutes based on error, which is great.

Wright shot 35.6% from three last season, which was a 13% increase over the previous year, and he was 50% overall, so this idea that he’s a terrible shooter is unfounded. What we’ll have to keep an eye on is how quickly he can get accustomed to NBA-range, and if he’s able to effectively create any space to get a jumper off, both items that incoming guards find challenging. Whereas shooting is easily able to be judged, defense is a difficult thing to evaluate in summer league. You can judge someone’s effort level and see if they play with a motor, but anything beyond that might be misleading based on the quality of the opposition. Then again, defense is one of those things that you either play or don’t, and Wright’s track record says he takes that end of the court seriously, unlike someone like Terrence Ross (BTW, shouldn’t he be on the summer league roster?).

Bruno Caboclo is going to be in the spotlight again, and we’ll get a sneak preview of his D-League future where he’ll be playing the role of saviour/mascot. What I’m keeping my eye on is shooting, pure and simple. His wingspan and height lends him such a huge advantage that his shot can be unblockable, kind of like Rashard Lewis. If Bruno is simply able to drain his threes and do nothing more, he can get himself some NBA playing time this season. Shooting is something, especially at his height and size, that can easily translate from the practice floor to the court because if he’s got his technique and release right, there’s very little chance a defender will be able to bother him and take away his spot-up shooting game.

In his D-League stint last year he was absolutely brutal on defense, over-committing on every possession, falling for every fake, and committing fouls out of pure inexperience. One thing to monitor might be how well he’s able to just read the offensive player and move his feet. Whether it’s going under/over a screen, rotating to the right person, moving his feet when he’s being attacked, and staying disciplined in foul-prone situations. We all acknowledge that it’s baby steps with him, but now he’s at the point where he’s a toddler who’s expected to take his first steps and not just sit around looking cuddly.

There’s also DeAndre Daniels who’s so-so year in Australia can be redeemed at the expense of Terrence Ross’s regression. The Raptors can use more three-point shooting and defense, and this is as good as an opportunity Daniels will get to make an impression. There are two spots available and assuming one of them goes to a big, he has to have his eyes set on the other one. Ujiri made an excellent decision sending him to Perth where he got minutes and exposure, but now it’s time to see if it translates to the NBA at even a bare-minimum level.

Lucas Noguiera is the guy that I expect to play a role with the big club this year because he’s the kind of player that Dwane Casey really values – he can cover ground, block shots, hedge and recover, set good screens, and clean up the glass. The problem is that Noguiera’s frame is a bit slight, and he just hasn’t had enough experience to develop. The D-League will help, but I get a feeling that he needs to be put to the test and work with Luis Scola on a more consistent basis to kick-start his game. On paper, this is the type of guy that every team these days wants, and the fact that Atlanta gave up on him so easily worries me to this day. I’m hoping that he shows me something which will rekindle my faith in him because right now it’s low  His D-League stint was impressive last year and all reports indicate that the trio of Noguiera, Caboclo and Daniels have been putting in the hours in the gym, so it’ll be interesting to see how they fare.

Norman Powell is out there as well, and I just feel the odds are stacked against him. The Raptors have Wright, Joseph, and Lowry already, and Casey prefers taller wings which means Powell’s calling card of defense won’t exactly be enough for him to make it, at least not this year.  He’s got some mid-range shot making but I find that’s not going to be as valuable to the Raptors, since if they needed that they would’ve at least tried to retain Lou Williams. Don’t get me wrong, he could have an NBA future as a tweener somewhere, just not on next year’s Raptors roster.

After that it’s about whether we can get another Canadian, Philip Scrubb, on the team. It’s highly unlikely given the guards we have and this is probably the Raptors doing him a favor and letting him showcase himself a little. The two Canadian centers, Dallin Bachynski and Jordan Bachynski, probably fall into that realm as well, though given that the Raptors could still be in the hunt for a big, they have an outside chance (but not really).

The knockout style tournament which follows the first three games lends itself to some excitement, and gives the team a more “team” feel since there’s something at the end of the line instead of just playing a string of games. Last but not least, there’s the coaching aspect to evaluate. I never paid much attention to Jesse Mermuys before but now that he’s coaching the D-League team which will have NBA hopefuls on it, we’ll keep an eye on his playbook and tendencies as well.

Enjoy the game tonight against the Kings (roster and schedule), and someone will have a report or something later.

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