Okay, it’s been ugly. There’s no ignoring that. The summer Raptors have yet to come within single figures of any opponent at the Las Vegas showcase and the basketball has been borderline unwatchable at times, but such is life at summer league—the games don’t really matter. What Raptors fans should be paying attention to is the growth of the young guys the front office has invested in, no matter how sparse it’s been.
Before getting started, a general rule of thumb to focus on when evaluating at summer league is to put far more stock into player’s struggles than their successes. Any fringe-NBA chucker with a few go-to moves can get 20 at summer league, but if a player can’t create space, defend, or score against the much weaker competition, it’s trouble.
OG Anunoby – 13.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1 apg, 2.3 TOpg, -38; Grade: B
Coming into summer league, fans were chomping at the bit to finally see Anunoby in a feature role for the first time in his young and promising career, but so far it seems as though the decision by the coaching staff to limit his perimeter creation this season was justified. In the first 1.5 games Anunoby played primarily at the three (although positions are arbitrary at SL) and he was noticeably out of his comfort zone as he shot around 20% from the field with five turnovers. His handle looked shaky, he struggled in the poorly spaced isolation opportunities given to him, and it was clear his feel in the pick-and-roll is still in its infancy (understandable as he ran almost none in college and only 17 last season where he was 4th percentile in efficiency, per Synergy Sports).
However, in addition to his usual rebounding, solid defense regardless of position, and above-average three-point spacing, Anunoby did show some great flashes playing out of mid-post and scoring versus larger players. These flashes were enough for Raptors coach Nick Nurse to switch Anunoby to the 4 almost full-time for the next six quarters (burying Alfonzo McKinnie on the bench to do so) and it paid off. Anunoby responded with a noticeable uptick in production scoring more than triple the points (32) on far superior efficiency (42%) with only two turnovers. Onlookers could see that Anunoby’s had refined instincts in the more natural role.
While Anunoby’s struggles on the perimeter aren’t an end-all-be-all on any future feature role by any stretch, it does show that his forthcoming evolution will likely be more in a secondary scorer role (attacking off the catch once the defense has shifted, etc), and that the young Kawhi Leonard, fetish-like, comparisons need to be tempered for the time being. However, his impressive play at the 4 is very encouraging for Raptors fans as it opens up an endless array of shooting-heavy and switchable small ball lineups. This past season Anunoby only played 24% of his minutes at the four (per Basketball Reference), but I’d be surprised if that didn’t change as Nurse is known for his innovative nature and likely isn’t afraid to experiment to find Anunoby’s best role rather than putting him in the 3 and D box. It hasn’t been exactly what fans wanted but OG has grown in Vegas. Don’t expect that to stop.
Malachi Richardson – 13.7 ppg, 1.3 apg, 1.3 rpg, 1.3 TOpg, 43% 3FG, -31; Grade: C+
I wrote last month about how this summer league is life-or-death for the former first-round pick Richardson, and so far he has managed to stay alive. Through three games he is shooting 43% from three on a relatively difficult shot selection and has shown flashes of improvement on in individual defense. However, those flashes have been a little too rare for a third-year player in this environment as Richardson has consistently got beat on closeouts, struggled in pick and roll coverages, and lost his man off the ball in a habit of lackluster team defence. Additionally, his production has been relatively limited in all areas outside of catching and shooting or pulling up going left. With the quantity of reps he’s had in the G-League to this point you’d like to see him more comfortable as a secondary ball handler given his mediocre size for a wing, but that hasn’t been the case thus far.
Richardson’s hot streak has managed to buy himself some more time on the better side of the NBA fringe for now, but considering he’s JR Smith streaky, then it’s reasonable to assume scouts aren’t much weight into this sample. Unless Richardson shows more in the next few games in the less visually appealing aspects of his game then this stretch may be the closest he sniffs to a redemption arc.
Alfonzo McKinnie – 5.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 14% 3FG, 25% FG, -28; Grade D
Unfortunately, what could have been his chance to finally prove himself as a no-doubt 15 man roster player has yet to go as planned for McKinnie. He’s had two 0-for games from 3 with plenty of troubling misses and hasn’t been able to assert himself on the defensive end (especially against bigger players) despite physically being one of the top wing prospects on that end in Vegas.
Perhaps the most discouraging part of his overall performance thus far is his shot selection as McKinnie has repeatedly killed the Raptors offensive flow by forcing up tough contested three’s in mid-early shot clock situations. Additionally, despite his tantalizing physical tools, McKinnie has struggled to get to the rim with consistency. His inability to use his NBA-level frame to get deep enough for high percentage finishes has forced him to settle for difficult floaters that are outside of his skill set. These floaters were oft chosen over kicking out to open shooters as he fails to see the floor once he puts his head down.
This poor play caused Nurse to reduce his role drastically as he registered only 9 minutes in Monday’s game despite coming into Vegas as only one of three players with a real roster spot last season (Blake noted that he’s dealing with an ankle sprain). If McKinnie doesn’t put together a more fundamentally sound effort and rediscover his 3 and D potential in the next few games he will likely find himself outside the NBA bubble come July 20, when his contract can become guaranteed.
Malcolm Miller – 4.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 26.7% FG, 16.7% 3FG, -24; Grade: D
Similarly to McKinnie, this was possibly the final step in Miller’s long-awaited journey to the NBA. I wrote earlier this month about Miller’s prototypical 3 and D potential coming into summer league, but unfortunately, the most important part of that formula, the three, has been uncharacteristically poor. Miller’s shot has looked flat and he has failed to register much offensive creation besides his usual unselfish activity cutting and crashing the glass. Additionally, despite performing well (but not well enough to make an impression) on the defensive end against frontcourt players and from a scheme perspective, Miller has struggled in switches against quick guards like Frank Jackson and Phil Pressey.
The disheartening part is that Miller left Monday’s game with a dislocated shoulder so, unlike his running mate McKinnie, he won’t get a chance to leave a positive lasting impression in Vegas. Based on his positive signs with the main club this year Miller will almost certainly covet a training camp invite from some team, but unfortunately, his stock likely plummeted during his time in Vegas.
Rawle Alkins – 7ppg, 4 rpg, 1.67 apg, 1 TOpg, 37.5% 3FG, +16; Grade: B
Overall, Alkins has arguably been the Raptors effective player outside of Anunoby as his minutes have generally mirrored the summer Raptors best stretches in Vegas. Defensively, Alkins is as good as advertised, as his stocky frame and surprising athleticism allow him to switch (and confidently defend) essentially anyone 1 through 4. Although he has looked lost at times in terms of team defense– and had multiple three’s banged in his eye because of it– Alkins is still only a rookie so he gets slightly more leash on that end of the floor for now. The main thing is that he continues to show progress thinking the game on that end of the floor as his tools are quite promising.
Offensively, Alkins has shot the three well (which is vital when projecting his NBA role) but you can only put so much stock into a single digit sample size. Outside of that, he has failed to show much of an in-between game or elite-level handle, but there have been flashes where Alkins used his strong frame to power his way to good finishing angles at the rim (although he’s blown a few too many of them). Additionally, he had the Raptors best (and arguably only) real highlight of summer league. He’s no Fred VanVleet, but the Raptors have a player with this UDFA pickup.
Shevon Thompson, Grade: C+ – To a select few Raptors’ junkies Thompson is one of the main young prospects, and for stretches this weekend he’s looked the part. Unfortunately, there have also been plenty of stretches where he looked like Javale McGee in Roy Hibbert’s body as his patented glass hands betrayed him constantly on offense, and defensively, he struggled against switches and fouled on a concerning percentage of post ups and rebound battles. Still, Thompson is a solid pick and roll threat, and his wingspan has forced a lot of guards to toss grenades around the rim. It’s possible that he plays his way into a two-way and fills the third centre role in spurts next season.
Codi Miller-McIntyre, Grade: B- –Despite being a relative non-shooter, and looking reckless at times (2 TO per game), there have been more than a few stretches in Vegas where Miller-McIntyre has looked like the best Raptor on the court. His first step has generated much of the Raptors, otherwise dreadful, offense as his first step allows him into the paint regularly to finish, pull-up, or dump off. Additionally, at almost 3 steals a game he has been the Raptors best perimeter defender outside of Anunoby, although he needs to learn to pick his spots better when he gambles. After two years of floating around Europe, the Wake Forest product looks more composed and ready for the heightened level of play than ever has (despite being not quite ready yet). If this play continues he could be a sneaky-good Lorenzo Brown replacement on the 905– so long as this three game stretch isn’t an aberration.