The inaugural Raptors 905 ended on the weekend, and it ended with the 905 on a three-game winning streak, pushing their record for the year to 23-27. That is, to be frank, remarkable, considering they were an expansion team that cycled through 23 different players, lost their best player to injury at mid-season, lost two others to NBA call-ups, and saw assignments from the parent club Toronto Raptors slow later in the year.
A more broad, serious look at the success of the team’s first season will probably come later, but it’s mostly covered here. Today,w e just assign player grades for a very high-level look at how everyone did. And if you noticed the deliberate use of “high-level,” you’ve been following along all year.
(Keep in mind that a lot of these grades are relative to expectations and to the D-League. The context each player existed within is important.)
General Manager Dan Tolzman – A
The 905 wound up getting almost nothing from the draft, but Tolzman quickly changed gears and leveraged that experience. The 905 acquired a cache of picks by dealing the Returning Rights to players they picked up in the expansion draft, then turned that excess of picks into useful roster pieces. Helping graduate players to the NBA is a great look for the program, as is identifying a talent like Axel Toupane who emerged as an NBA piece. His deadline acquisitions immediately made a big impact and fit seamlessly, too.
Head Coach Jesse Mermuys – A
He’s to be measured almost exclusively by the development of the players, and as you’ll see, that was a major success. From a more measurable standpoint, the team went 18-9 from Jan. 16 onward, which is pretty astounding given the heavy roster turnover late in the year and the loss of several key pieces. They also ranked sixth in the league in defense.
Norman Powell – A+
What’s left to say at this point? He fought his way from reserve to starter to star at UCLA and leveraged the 905 opportunity to begin the same process in the NBA. He wasn’t thrilled with the idea of the D-League initially but worked tirelessly and made the most of it, improving a great deal as a playmaker and adding secondary pitches to complement his straightline fastball drives. And now he might start in the playoffs.
Ronald Roberts – Incomplete
Unquestionably the best player on the 905, Roberts was limited to 24 games due to injury, preventing him from a long overdue NBA call-up. Whether he stays within the organization for Summer League is unclear, but I’m pretty confident you won’t see him back in the D-League. He’s got nothing left to prove, and if an NBA opportunity isn’t there, it’s tough to see him forgoing an overseas paycheck for a third year in a row.
Scott Suggs – B+
In retrospect, it’s pretty surprising he never got an NBA call. He’s not a star and is only a decent defender, but there are few scorers as steady and as within themselves at this level. The 26-year-old was the guy the 905 turned to whenever they needed a key bucket, or when the point guard play was skittish and they needed a wing to settle things down. He averaged 18 points and knocked down 41.9 percent of his threes, including 50 percent from the corners.
Davion Berry – A
Talk about making an impact immediately. Acquired at the deadline, nobody seemed to know what to expect from Berry down the stretch. He appeared in 10 games, averaging 17.9 points on 55.7 percent shooting while dishing 3.7 assists and working as a late-game ball-handler. He’s a tough, multi-position defender who can play at either guard spot on the other end, and he shot 42.7 percent on threes across his two teams. The Raptors organization may have found their Toupane for 2016-17, in terms of unearthing a gem they feel they can polish.
Delon Wright – A-
His pick-and-roll defense left something to be desired when he was down, but guarding off the ball or as a one-on-one check were strengths, and he did his usual good job of cracking back to help the bigs on the defensive glass. Offensively, he was just way too advanced for the D-League, carving up opposing defenses with his amoebic drives and whipping degree-of-difficulty passes around the court. He even looked more confident shooting over screens, knocking down 36 percent of his threes.
E.J. Singler – A
For as good an addition as Berry was, Singler, acquired the same day, may have somehow been even more impressive. A ridiculous shooting stretch – 29-of-61 from long-range over 10 games – helped some, but he was also just more or less terrific, and it’s not as if the former D-League 3-Point Shootout champion hasn’t shot 47.5 percent over a D-League season before. Singler had a lot put on his shoulders quickly, helping run some wing pick-and-rolls and guarding across three, sometimes even four positions. The 905 are hopeful they can convince him to come back next year, but with how he played, it may take a training camp invite to keep him from cashing in overseas.
Bruno Caboclo – B
It sure would have been nice to have this setup in place for his rookie season. His sophomore campaign didn’t go perfectly, but the difference between Caboclo now and Caboclo in October is stark, and that’s the measuring stick here. He now looks one year away, which, you’ll remember, means he’s one year closer than anticipated. There’s still a ton of growing to do, but Caboclo’s 3-point stroke, attacking off the catch, defensive awareness, and comfort at both the three and four all took major strides. More on him in the coming weeks.
Axel Toupane – A+
He went from a $25,000 training camp guarantee to a two-year deal with the Denver Nuggets. He set the mold for what the organization wants in a defensive prospect. He improved a great deal offensively. Now he’s averaging 15 minutes in the NBA and looking like a legitimate find by the Raptors organization. It sucks to see him thrive with another team, sure, but he’s a shining example, next to Powell, of how the D-League setup works.
Greg Smith – B
Spent 17 games with the team, played well during a sustained stretch of winning, then got scooped up by the Timberwolves for the season. It’s a good look for the 905 to be able to successfully give a veteran talent an NBA audition like that,one that should ingratiate them to players and agents moving forward.
Lucas Nogueira – C+
Nogueira was always great for a laugh when with the 905, and a center nearly putting up a triple-double at any level is impressive. But Nogueira never really found a groove with his up-and-down, didn’t fit alongside Sim Bhullar, and doesn’t really have much to show in the D-League, anyway.
Sim Bhullar – B+
The 350-pounder took major strides in his conditioning program, to the point that the 905 were playing him 40 minutes on some nights toward the end of the year. He regressed a bit down the stretch, but overall, the season was encouraging for his chances of finding sustainable long-term improvement. I think he’d be doing himself a disservice if an NBA team came calling, but that’s certainly a possibility given his size. What the 905 are doing with him is working, and he needs to stick with that a while longer to realize his full potential.
Melvin Johnson III – C-
The draft pick that lasted the longest, Johnson never really carved out a role beyond hitting corner threes. He was lethal in that role, but the 905 flipped him at the deadline in favor of more versatile pieces.
Anthony Bennett – F
Couldn’t make the most of the opportunity to get additional work and didn’t look particularly good while down there. Really thought he’d be well-served by finishing out the season with the 905.
Shannon Scott – C+
He’s a really good defensive point guard but doesn’t have the size to guard many twos, and he’s a bit too limited offensively to play him without a wing who can run the offense. He still averaged 5.7 assists, but his 9.2 points came on sub-40-percent shooting and teams more or less ignored him spotting up around the arc. The defense gives him a solid floor, at least.
Jay Harris – D+
He was pretty erratic, which is to be expected for a young, somewhat inexperienced microwave man off the bench. Some believe he could work his way into being an NBA talent long-term, because his off-dribble offense has that much potential, but the fact that the 905 just straight-up released him mid-season certainly calls that into question. He caught on with Delaware and played poorly down the stretch. I think if he stays stateside, he could be a Most Improved candidate in the D-League next year.
Nick Wiggins – F
Played sparingly, played poorly, requested and received his release after 100 minutes of action.
John Jordan – C+
He came in, played two games, won the D-League Dunk Contest, and then fought through a minor knee injury over the last few weeks of the season, limiting the look we got at him. When he did get to play, he looked like a more polished version of Harris with a little more toughness at the defensive end, even undersized.
Michale Kyser – B
Those who saw Kyser in camp with the Raptors may have been surprised at his relatively small role, but the former college center is a long-term project. With plenty of length, athleticism, and motor, he could be a guy who can defend all three frontcourt positions in time. His offense still needs to come along, as he’s mostly rim-runs and put-backs right now, but his play in the season’s final month was really encouraging.
DeAndre Daniels – Incomplete
After more than a year on the shelf due to injury, Daniels was able to get 109 minutes in over eight appearances. What he did in those minutes – grab a few rebounds, miss a few shots, hustle on defense – is completely secondary to him just getting comfortable on his foot. He’ll be with the team at Summer League.
Keanau Post and Ashton Smith – B
These are Canadian guys who would come in to the ACC and help guys workout during the offseason, or help workout prospects, then decided to attend open tryouts. They both made it to training camp, then onto the roster (Smith was briefly cut and re-signed). That alone – turning local talent the organization is familiar with into roster pieces – is really cool, but Post and Smith also worked well as defense-first tone-setters deep in the rotation. When the defense got shaky or communication waned, Mermuys had these two at the ready to help re-calibrate the regulars.
Walter Pitchford – F
Played in five games and unexpectedly retired.
Mike Anderson – F
The team’s first ever draft pick was cut after playing five minutes in one game. Nice to see the team overcome the ominous start.