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905ers on NBA Radar

Which 905er will be the next NBA superstar?

The 905 aren’t just competing for a championship. It’s perhaps more important for the parent club Raptors to develop the players into NBA-ready talents. This has been successful in the past; after spending varying amounts of time with the 905 last year, the bench kiddos of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, and Jakob Poeltl have broken into NBA playing time with gusto. Siakam, perhaps more than any other Raptor, used his G-League Finals MVP as a stepping stone to NBA success.

This year, 905 players have a more difficult road to NBA success. None of the 905ers on the roster were drafted by the Toronto Raptors, which was the case with every player listed above. (O.G. Anunoby easily could have followed Siakam’s road of G-League success in his rookie year, but he has proven to be too good, too fast).

However, there are 905ers with legitimate cases at NBA careers, particularly if they contribute to a second 905 championship, while already down 0-1 in a best-of-3 finals. Let’s walk through the players, their NBA-ready skills, and the season-long development of weaknesses that players have needed to improve in order to crack NBA rosters.

It’s not clear that any of these guys will hit on a roster; stories like Jonathan Simmons are exceptions, not rules. However, here are four 905ers who’ve worked hard to improve their NBA viability, and who could end up with long-term NBA contracts in the years to come.

Malcolm Miller

The NBA is hungry for 3-and-D wings, and Malcolm Miller already fits that label. His stroke is compact and lightning-fast, and he’s boasted a solid 37.9% from distance on 5.7 attempts per game. While Miller can be wild on contested attempts, he knocks down open shots with the consistency of the best shooters in the NBA.

Miller is defensively versatile, able to guard both wing positions as well as many G-League forwards. He’s a little slim to handle stronger NBA bigs, but he would likely to be able to tussle with many of the smaller, skill-oriented power forwards of the NBA, such as the Tobias Harrises and Jay Crowders of the world. “I like to look at [playing that position] as being a guard at the 4-spot,” explained Miller, unwilling to adopt the label of a ‘wing’ or ‘big’.

Miller’s playmaking has improved somewhat throughout the season, but Coach Stackhouse is still unwilling to trust him with much responsibility creating plays with the ball, either off the bounce or in the pick and roll. He has shown some creativity, though Miller is prone to turning over the ball with ill-timed passes through thickets of arms. Those skills are certainly not NBA-ready.

Miller is already equipped to succeed on an NBA roster. His shooting percentages have dipped in the playoffs for the 905, but that shouldn’t hurt his stock or reputation. He has shot at a high level for as long as data exists on him. He is a capable, NBA-level defender. Those two skills alone should allow the 25-year-old to crack an NBA roster soon enough.

Lorenzo Brown

The NBA is less hungry for ball-dominant guards without a consistent 3-point stroke. Lorenzo Brown undoubtedly has several above-average NBA skills. He is an above-average defender, and all Raptors fans should remember him giving Goran Dragic the business earlier this year. Despite Brown’s low minutes on the season, the Raptors have been better on defence with Brown all the court; he defends like a slightly-less-long (but perhaps more consistent) Delon Wright.

At the G-League level, there are few guards whom Brown can’t bottle up. He will regularly snatch the ball from opposing guards, offering a Kawhi Leonard-level gimme that mean streak on defence. Lorenzo Brown has NBA-ready passing skills. He has advanced vision out of the pick and roll, and he is terrific at manipulating the defence out of position in order to create open shooters. All of this is why Brown was named G League MVP on Tuesday – he’s unrivaled at the G League level.

Much of his success in the G-League stems from Brown being an unstoppable scorer, but this would not be the case in the NBA. He has trouble finishing over NBA length (a rarity in the G-League), and the core of his scoring is in the midrange. Point guards don’t need to be efficient scorers in order to manipulate defences, but Brown likely wouldn’t be respected as a scorer in the NBA. His passing could thus be minimized. Furthermore, NBA rosters need to actually extend his leash and allow him valuable shot clock time to probe defences and create offence. The Raptors haven’t given Brown that freedom, and as a result he has looked tentative on offence. He needs to be a primary creator to offer his maximum amount of value.

Most importantly, Brown is not yet a consistent 3-point shooter. Shooting 35% from deep in the playoffs and 33% in the regular season, Brown prefers to shoot from a few steps inside the line. This skill more than any other is something Brown has needed to solidify for his NBA résumé.

There are certain situations in which Lorenzo Brown can succeed. Given an NBA squad that requires a guard who can dominate the ball and create semi-efficient offence in the half-court, Brown could stick on a roster. He’s played for a variety of teams in the NBA during his career, but he’s never lasted because he’s never found the right situation. Brown is better now than he’s ever been, but he still requires the right landing spot. Teams like Brooklyn, Miami, or Philadelphia (ironic, as he’s played there in the past) could feasibly be fertile pastures for Lorenzo Brown.

Brown is already 27, although he’s still improving as a player. He’s the 905’s leader on the court, and they fight to survive minutes when Brown is on the bench. The offence looks lost. A player like that should be able to find an NBA job.

Alfonzo McKinnie

While McKinnie’s stock was firmly on the rise at the beginning of the NBA season, his game seems to have plateaued. McKinnie has never been a dominant scorer, even at the G-League level. Teammates like Brown, Miller, and even Kennedy Meeks are higher on the 905 scoring totem pole. Instead, McKinnie’s value derives from the in-between game. He is a terrific rebounder, a heady cutter, an athletic and tenacious defender, and a theoretical shooter.

McKinnie is a Raptor whose been assigned to the 905 throughout much of the season, and he’s had important developmental goals in Mississauga. First and foremost, the Raptors wanted McKinnie to develop his corner shooting. That hasn’t happened, as McKinnie has remained a sub-35% 3-point shooter. His stroke looks better than it did in previous years, though that hasn’t translated to results, yet.

Furthermore, McKinnie hasn’t added tangibly to his game. He hasn’t developed any off-the-bounce juice, and his creation for others remains spotty at best. McKinnie is on an NBA contract, but he will need to add more to his game to remain.

Shevon Thompson

Shevon Thompson is an incredible rebounder at the G-League and one of the league’s best on the offensive end. He uses his length incredibly well at tipping balls to himself in order to keep possessions alive without fouling.

On defence, Thompson swats shots with a vengeance, and players in the G-League can finish over / through him as capably as sixth-graders can cook a three-course meal.

NBA players are used to playing against seven-footers with length, even though he is likely already a replacement-level NBA defender. His offensive skills include finishing when directly under the rim and offensive rebounding. He needs to add more. This is good! A few months ago, Shevon Thompson wasn’t playing on any professional basketball team at all, and the 905 signed him when Kennedy Meeks was away with Team USA at FIBAs. Props to the guy for even putting himself on the radar.

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