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Raptors 905 win preseason opener

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Raptors 905 83, Erie 72  | Box Score

E.J. Singler opened the 2016-17 Raptors 905 season by canning a three. It seems a pretty fitting way to start a year in which Singler and the other cuts from Toronto Raptors training camp will be leaned on heavily to carry the load with far fewer NBA assignments expected, and that group – Singler with Jarrod Uthoff, Yanick Moreira, the returning Axel Toupane, and reigning Slam Dunk Champion John Jordan – helped the 905 get out and ahead of the Erie Bayhawks early.

In a preseason opener with 17 players who have been together for just a week try to find a chemistry while also looking to earn a job, any momentum was going to be fleeting. That the 905 had to task wings with running the point for stretches in the second unit certainly didn’t help, either, and that early lead dissipated promptly. Mix-and-match bench groups lost the early lead, then as the primary players began staggering back in, the 905 pulled back ahead.

There’s really not much to say about the game flow beyond that – it was a D-League preseason opener, which promises a certain level of disarray, but the 905 employ some very talented players who can help make up for the fact that the roster’s been together for about as long as it takes to drive from the Air Canada Centre to the Hershey Centre. Singler and Toupane, in particular, are established high-end D-Leaguers with a comfort level in the system, and they combined for 18 points in just 19 minutes. Moreira, too, is a defensive problem and looked strong in the paint at the offensive end in this one, too, except for a tough spin move he refused to finished with his left. The 2015-16 and training camp holdovers ran some familiar sets, as well, though it didn’t preclude the team from making some of the expected preseason turnovers.

It’s fair to expect the offense to lag behind the defense given the circumstances, and the 905 did a good job of forcing Erie into mistakes and capitalizing on them back the other way. Uthoff closing the second quarter with a great block in the short corner to preserve the 44-41 lead provided a nice bookend to go with Singler’s opening salvo, and was a nice punctuation mark for a strong defensive showing for the undrafted free agent.

Coming out of the half, the 905 pushed the lead to 16 with some more coordinated execution. (Full disclosure: I missed the bulk of the third quarter to get to the ACC for Raptors-Kings, so I’m low on specifics for their big run outside of the box score.) Erie began pressuring to try to cut the lead, even forcing the ball out of Jordan’s hands in the backcourt with some full-court press and leaving the 905 scrambled and late starting their sets, but the defense held up its end as the offense waned.

The 905 moved away from their primary players down the stretch, a nice test for those trying out. It wasn’t an unqualified success – the turnovers skewed careless as time ticked away – but the defensive effort was exceptional. Antwaine Wiggins and Goodluck Okonoboh, in particular, stood out on that side of the ball, and it will be interesting to see if that’s what ultimately gets the nod over some of the more offense-oriented tryout players. They were able to hold on to the lead down the stretch, anyway, and Erie shot just 34 percent for the game. (More full disclosure: I also missed the final two minutes on account of Dwane Casey’s media availability.)

So, yeah. It was a D-League preseason game, and they looked good enough. If nothing else, the players the 905 are expecting to lean on heavily played the part well, and those competing for a spot did so to varying degrees of success. Head coach Jerry Stackhouse now has some film to use as teaching material, and based on the sample I witnessed Saturday and reports from the players, there’s a lot of very hard work still to come.

Notes

  • Brady Heslip sat with a minor shoulder injury. The team knows what he is at this point, and while they’re thin at the point without him, there’s little sense pushing the issue.
  • Zeke Marshall and J.T. Terrell also sat, and those absences are more notable. The team is really high on Marshall, who they found in open tryouts, but there are a lot of centers fighting for a roster spot. Terrell, a fourth-round pick, has earned positive reviews but is also fighting for a roster spot.
  • Will Sheehey looked really good, as he did in the open portion of practice I saw on Saturday. He does a great job creating space for himself to get his shot off.
  • This is really selfish because he’s an NBA-caliber player, but I’m so glad Axel Toupane is back with this team.
  • The second and final preseason game goes Wednesday. Cut day is Thursday, and from there the 905 will have more than a week of extended camp ahead of their Nov. 18 season opener.

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