For the second year straight, Toronto remained undefeated heading into the tournament. Jama Mahlalela and Jerry Sackhouse split head coaching duties, with Stackhouse manning the sideline during Saturday’s game. Despite the result, it was a wild finish with Toronto leading by six with under three minutes to play, then Minnesota raring back to take a three-point lead before Powell tied the game with a 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds to go. With everyone in the arena assuming overtime was a lock, the foul call came as a surprise, but Jones calmly sank both free throws to close out the victory and help the 24-seeded Timberwolves get the 81-79 upset victory.
With the team going its separate ways following Vegas, the work continues. Rookies Siakam and Poeltl will get their first taste of Vancouver to work with Raptors director of sports science Alex McKechnie. Most of the young Raptors players will also end up spending time training in Los Angeles, getting in daily basketball runs with assistant coaches and veterans like DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross.
The biggest goal of summer league, despite the competition of players and coaching staff, isn’t to win the championship. That would have be nice, surely, but the aim of two weeks together in Vegas is to evaluate, educate, and introduce players into the Raptors system while showing them organization’s identity.
With general manager Masai Ujiri, head coach Dwane Casey and nearly the entire coaching, scouting and front office staff on hand to observe the action, the opportunity is there to make an impression. Most crucially, players wearing a Raptors uniform in Vegas come away with a good taste of what it is that the Raptors are building in Toronto and why it has fans and players so excited.
The Raptors won’t have that problem with Jakob Poeltl and Delon Wright whenever they start to share the floor (both must fight their way up the depth chart), as Poeltl will have something of a safety blanket on hand in Wright, his teammate while at University of Utah.
“I think the biggest benefit is probably going to be in Jakob’s case to have Delon just helping him get through it, holding him accountable on the court,” Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak told the Toronto Sun in a recent one-on-one interview after a Raptors Summer League contest.
“I don’t know that you always have that relationship on the court and so when you’ve got a point guard that’s going to help a big guy, and I know Jakob trusts Delon, so I think those two in particular are going to be able to grow a little faster maybe than two other typical players.”
“It’s just easier to play with a guy that you’ve already played with for a whole season, I think it’s a good situation for me,” Poeltl said.
“He listens to me and we feed off each other well,” Wright said, adding he likes the screens the big man sets and how hard he rolls to the rim, opening up space for Wright to penetrate by forcing the opposing centre to stay with Poeltl.
“I think I can help make this transition easier for him.”
His Summer League shooting stats were in line with what he did in the D-League (40.3% FG, 33.5% 3FG), but continuous improvement is the order of the day and it’s hard to say Caboclo has made the kind of leap hoped for two years ago.
His rebounding still leaves a lot to be desired as well. Caboclo averaged 3 rebounds per game in 2014, 4.2 in 2015 and 4.0 in 2016. A 6’9 combo forward should be able to do more against Summer League competition. With the Raptors 905, he was grabbing 6.5 boards a game last season and he should have found it easier in the summer.
“You have that length and talent and you look like Kevin Durant, but you just haven’t had that same reps, that same coaching and the same anything growing up,” Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys told Pro Bball Report in an exclusive one-on-one behind the scenes interview during the season. “(Caboclo) needs playing experience, he needs minutes and he needs us as a coaching staff to help him every single day and be able to live with some mistakes and growing pains and I thought we’ve done that so far and as long as he just trusts us and is patient with the process everybody just needs to slow down and just let this thing happen and when he’s ready, if he does it the right way and doesn’t try and rush it, he’ll be ready.”
There was an opportunity for Caboclo to impress at Summer League this year as the Raptors really don’t have much depth at small forward currently. However, the big kid from Brazil still doesn’t look ready to take on much of a role at the NBA level, at least not on a team hoping to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The draft day mantra of “two years away from being two years away” is getting closer to becoming reality, but there are signs Caboclo’s game is improving in certain areas. All that may be required is another large dose of patience.
He has a good chance of being the starting power forward alongside Valanciunas as Poeltl won’t be implemented as the starter right away, and Patterson has only started 11 games for the Raptors in three seasons. Easing Poeltl into the NBA and having Patterson continue his better suited bench role, Sullinger is looking like a better addition by Toronto every day.
While Valanciunas does most of his work in the paint – 85.5 percent of shots come from inside 10 feet – Sullinger has a chance to be a solid pick-and-pop player with Lowry. Despite only shooting 35.1 percent from 10-to-16 feet out last season, Sullinger has shown he can be a solid mid-range shooter in the past, but consistency has always been the problem.
However, him and Valanciunas should fit very well together and help cover up each other’s flaws. Valanciunas has averaged at least 1.2 blocks per game in three of his four NBA seasons, while Sullinger is not a rim protector by any means.
It’ll also give the Raptors a chance to see how Poeltl and Valanciunas work together as both players like to play in the paint. While adding depth to their front court was a priority for Toronto, Poeltl didn’t seem like the best fit next to their franchise center. Having Sullinger being a consistent contributor on offense, and a decent defender, will help their new look front court a lot.