Wright and Powell shine as Raptors win Summer League opener

The Raptors are now the Linear Summer League Champions.

The Toronto Raptors are the Linear Summer League Champions.

Raptors 702, as I’ll call them, opened their Las Vegas Summer League slate on Friday by topping the defending champion Sacramento Kings 90-68 in a game that wasn’t particularly close at any point in time. That should have been the expectation considering the Raptors were playing four potential roster players for next season, though the Kings had a lottery pick in Willie Cauley-Stein and a handful of potential end-of-roster bodies.

In any case, game results don’t matter all that much, beyond getting you additional games with which to develop your players. The 10-day tournament is all about development and evaluation, seeing how youngsters stack up in their first game action since the season (or college) and how fringe-NBA players look against tougher competition. At the player level, I’ve always maintained that playing well isn’t nearly as good a sign as playing poorly is a bad one – the expectation for any NBA player here is to impress, and struggles should concern.

There was little struggle for the could-be Raptors on Friday.

The four players likely to be on the Raptors’ opening day roster (three, if you’re not convinced Norman Powell is making it, which…just wait) largely dominated, particularly Powell and Delon Wright. And that’s great! The game was a ton of fun and a great way to carry over the momentum of a fairly positive free agent period. Rather than a proper game recap, here’s an annotated look at each Raptor, save for Bruno Caboclo, whom I covered in great detail on Friday.

Norman Powell is your new favorite Raptor

I feel it’s necessary to admit that I was already a big Norman Powell guy before tonight, so I may have been looking for the positives. I’m a UCLA fan, and while I wasn’t certain he’d get drafted, I pulled more tape post-draft and have become convinced he’s an NBA player. On defense alone, the No. 46 overall pick has a chance – he can lock down shooting guards, should be long enough for small forwards (he’s 6-foot-4 but has a 6-foot-11 wingspan and is quite solid), and may be quick enough to help on bigger point guards. He’s also a great athlete, the typical “hustle/motor” kind of guy Dwane Casey would probably love, and he can really score around the basket. He isn’t much of a jump-shooter and his range is limited, and his straight-line drives may not be effective against smarter, handsier NBA defenders, but I strongly feel this is an NBA player the Raptors found in the middle of the second round.

No exaggeration, I got two text messages, a Snapchat, and a DM from people during the game raving about Powell on Friday. He was dominant, scoring a game-high 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting and playing strong, active defense. His ball-handling was steady – he initiated the offense more than I expected, especially in the first half – and he made aggressive, decisive, in-control drives, scoring inside and initiating plenty of contact.

A 22-year-old who is as physically developed as Powell should perform well in this setting, especially when they have a clear idea of what their game is.

None of this it to say Powell should be a starter or even break camp in the rotation. He’s a rookie, and even “NBA-ready” rookies struggle. But it’s not just me seeing this, with multiple national draft writers echoing the feelings of me and several anonymous friends.

Delon Wright is a man among boys

Speaking of “NBA-ready” talk, I may be guilty of using that line too often with Delon Wright since the draft. As a 23-year-old senior familiar with the NBA lifestyle thanks to brother Dorell, the proper thing to say about Delon is that he’s probably more NBA-ready than most. Which is to say, there’s still a good reason he’s not second on the depth chart at any position to enter the season.

And like Powell, Wright was expected to play very well at Summer League. He’s older than a lot of the youngsters and more talented than a lot of the journeymen. But he was good. Nine points don’t jump off the page, but he dished nine dimes in 22 minutes and the Raptors were +23 in that stretch. He ran the offense surgically, especially in the second half when he got more decisive navigating the pick-and-roll, and his composure in the oft-disorganized Summer League environment was a stark change of pace if you’ve been watching the Orlando and Utah tournaments.

“It was like watching a 15-year veteran playing in a scrimmage,” friend of the site Zach Harper messaged me from inside the arena. Even Steve Kerr was impressed.

The one area Wright showed weakness was with some trepidation when opponents went under screens, as he hesitated early in the game with the shoot-drive-pass decision. Shooting is probably the biggest weakness on his resume and he needs to get his pull-up jumper off quicker. Even then, teams going under the screen gives Wright small windows of space, and he was terrific at creating and exploiting those pockets at Utah with his unorthodox attacks. He’s very herky-jerky, and it’s tough to tell what he’s doing until his action is complete, making him a really tough check on the move.

Few players can change direction and tempo as smoothly as he does, and he flashed a really nice floater.

Bigger Bebe, better Bebe

Lucas Nogueira showed up in Vegas looking like he’s been hitting the all-you-can-eat buffets. He’s certainly not chubby by any means, but he’s taken the edict to put on size seriously. He looks like a grown ass man now, a scary proposition when your a 7-footer, and an 8-footer with hair included.

He also looked much better than I remember seeing him during the season. While he gets lumped in with Caboclo often, Nogueira is 22 and spent time in the Spanish ACB league, the world’s second-best competitive environment. He’s around the point on his development curve where some NBA time should be expected, and while he’ll spend time in the D-League this year, the team appears set to enter the season with him as the third-string center. Which, hey, why not give it a shot?

With a 7-foot-6 wingspan and 9-foot-6 standing reach, defense needs to be Nogueira’s calling card. He handled his pick-and-roll coverages well for the most part after losing Willie Cauley-Stein a couple of times early on, and he showed a nice second-bounce when working on the glass. And again, he’s huge, so things like this happen:

Nogeuira looked more comfortable with the ball in his hands than he did during the season, confidently shooting mid-range jumpers and even putting the ball on the floor.  And just look at this!

It’s awareness that needs to develop next for Nogueira, who finished with 10 points, five rebounds, and two blocks but had his night cut short by left hamstring fatigue. For the most part, Nogueira is size and instinct rather than skill and feel, but that should come with more experience, and he’s doing a few things he probably wouldn’t have been able to pull off – or thought to – last summer. The clip above shows some heady transition play, and I was most impressed by this first-quarter play below, where he corralled an errant pass and made a nice dish to Ronald Roberts for an easy bucket as a double-team came his way.

A few quick notes and Can Con

  • I know this is mostly positive reporting, but it’s Summer League, we’re looking for signs of development, and the Raptors were really good Friday.
  • Notable by his absence for the most part in this write-up is Bruno Caboclo. I did a full, Bruno-specific analysis last night that you can read here.
  • Sim Bhullar is hilarious. Not in a mean way, though his conditioning is an NBA 2K glitch, but in a highly entertaining, I’ll go out of my way to watch him way. His development over the next few years should be really interesting, though he’s nowhere near an NBA-caliber player right now.
  • Apologies for not focusing on the non-Raptors much, but let’s be realistic about why we’re watching Summer League. Roberts is an awesome athlete, though, and Gary Talton’s hair is terrific.
  • DeAndre Daniels won’t be participating in Summer League, unfortunately. He’s suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot and is out indefinitely. Read more here.
  • The Canadian content was low enough Friday that the CRTC probably won’t allow the game to be replayed. Former Arizona State shot-blocker Jordan Bachynski had six points, five rebounds, and one block in 18 minutes, and brother Dallin Bachynski got a DNP-CND (see what I did there?). The 7-foot-2 Jordan averaged four blocks as a senior in 2013-14 and 2.2 in 19 D-League minutes last year, but he probably doesn’t have much of an NBA future.
  • Philip Scrubb, the Carleton University stand-out, did not play due to Orlando Summer League commitments. Scrubb flew out of Orlando Friday night, per friend of the site coach Doug Eberhardt, and should be available from here. It seems crazy for a CIS player and he struggled in Orlando, but as some Canadian content for Raptors 905, he could be a fun pick-up. He was the CIS Athlete of the Year and is one of the most decorated players in Canadian university history.
  • The Raptors’ next game goes Sunday against the Chicago Bulls at 6 p.m. EST.

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