For those of you who, like me, are going through basketball withdrawals, I have the antidote…
Summer League basketball is here!
Okay, so it may not be the same as Kawhi Leonard hitting daggers in the playoffs, but at this point beggars can’t be choosers. I’m very excited to be covering the Summer League for the entire two weeks and will be writing plenty of articles on the games, player features, and will keep tabs on other Canadians in the tournament. Feel free to follow me on Twitter for all of the updates.
The Summer League roster is as follows:
There has been an update on the Raptors’ schedule. Toronto were originally slated to face Milwaukee in their second game, however it has now been changed to San Antonio.
- Sat, July 6 – 12am ET vs. Golden State (ESPN)
- Mon, July 8 – 7pm ET vs. San Antonio (ESPNU)
- Tue, July 9 – 9:30pm ET vs. New York (NBA TV)
- Thu, July 11 – 6pm ET vs. Indiana (NBA TV)
John Goodwillie: I originally had Jama Mahlalela slated to occupy coaching duties, however the Raptors decided to spread the wealth to another Canadian coach in Goodwillie. Mahlalela has had several cracks at the Summer League so there is logic behind giving others in the coaching staff some experience. Goodwillie has been a part of the Raptors organization for over a decade, working his way up the ranks to become the lead video coordinator for Toronto.
Chris Boucher: The summer is Slimm Duck season, and the forecast predicts that it will be raining plenty of threes. Some of my fondest regular season memories from last year’s regular season was Boucher jacking up shots from deep without a moment’s pause in garbage time. The centre has a deft touch from deep and at the rim, but he also uses every inch of his 7’4” wingspan on the defensive end. Boucher was a human eraser last season, averaging a ridiculous 4.1 blocks per game for the Raptors 905. Boucher’s $1.6 million deal won’t become guaranteed until the first day of the season so the Raptors have a lot more flexibility in deciding his future with the team than Malcolm Miller. However, Boucher’s meteoric rise (winning G-League MVP and Defensive Player of the Year) since joining Toronto last season should point towards him likely being a part of the roster moving forward.
What to look for: Efficiency! We know that last year’s G League MVP can dominate at this level, but he does need to produce offensively (especially as a shooter) at an efficient level if he hopes to stick with the big club. Boucher’s anticipatory defensive instincts resulted in highlight-reel moments yet he still relies on this skill and his athleticism to protect the rim rather than being in correct initial position. His defensive ability in the pick-and-roll is something that must also be improved.
Malcolm Miller: Miller is the darling of Raptors’ Twitter. He possesses the requisite length, athleticism, and outside shooting to earn a smattering of rotational minutes as a 3-and-D wing with Toronto next season. In fact, given the Raptors hefty tax bill, they are likely banking on Miller and Boucher to emerge as legitimate rotational options. Miller doesn’t have much time to instill faith: his $1.6 million contract with the Raptors becomes fully guaranteed on July 24. It will be interesting to see how prominently Miller and Boucher feature this summer; the former had a torrid Summer League outing last year, shooting 16.7 per cent from three before having his tournament cut short due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder. The Raptors have had Miller in their fold for such a time that hopefully another poor Summer League shooting display is a small enough sample size that wouldn’t necessarily spell immediate doom on his future with the team.
What to look for: If Miller hopes to get a foothold onto the Raptors’ rotation this fall, he must show decisiveness offensively when the ball is swung his way and prove that he is not just a quality defender, but a lock-down perimeter guy at the lower level. Miller has shown enough consistent development amidst a bevy of unfortunate injuries that the Raptors have kept him on board for the past two seasons. It would be an unexpected turn of events if they gave up on him at this point.
Jordan Loyd: The only two-way player for the Raptors, Loyd has one more year on his deal and will return to Summer League in a larger role than last season. The guard was a revelation for the 905 this past year, earning First Team All G League honours. (he arguably could have won the MVP award ahead of Boucher). Loyd entered last year with the scoring chops of a combo guard, but developed the desired calmness of a lead ball handler after being fed plenty of minutes as the point guard for the 905. Positional flexibility is always an added bonus, but the Raptors coaching staff seemingly envision him as a point guard. Although the Raptors won’t make sweeping decisions based on Summer League performances, this is Loyd’s first opportunity to prove that he is worthy of a full NBA contract.
What to look for: Given that Toronto will be deep into the luxury tax, there should be several roster spots open for a veteran minimum – especially in the third guard role behind Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet. As such, Loyd needs to continue to improve upon his playmaking as a passer as well as his ability to defend smaller point guards. His current two-way deal offers the team flexibility of having an inexpensive yet capable player, however Loyd’s play may demand a greater look at the NBA level.
Duane Notice: Some more Canadian blood in the mix! The Toronto native emerged as a key cog in the 905 outfit last season following a brief and unfortunate stint in Poland. He flies in transition which fits perfectly with the team’s insistence on playing at a breakneck pace and proved to be a legitimate shooting threat, averaging 38.5 per cent from three. Notice represented Canada during the World Cup qualifiers in December and has a legitimate shot at earning a training camp invite or a two-way deal with an NBA team.
What to look for: Notice is built like a fire hydrant — a compact, muscular missile that flies across the court on both ends of the floor. His offensive ceiling is likely limited to being a competent catch and shoot option as well as someone that can take smaller opponents to the hole, but he will grab the attention of NBA scouts if he shows up defensively. Notice personified the South Carolina Gamecock’s hard-nosed defence his four years there, and has now trimmed down in order to deal with the quickness of lead guards at the higher level.
DRAFT PICKS & SIGNINGS
Dewan Hernandez: As the Raptors’ sole draft pick in 2019, Hernandez is positioned to be one of the more interesting performers to track over the next two weeks. He is certainly one of the prime candidates for the Raptors’ final two-way opening. Hernandez has had an unconventional path to the league following his suspension for the entirety of the 2017-18 collegiate season amidst the corruption scandal surrounding the University of Miami. Like every late-round pick, Hernandez has definitive flaws, especially on the defensive end. Still, he possesses the athleticism and energy in transition that the Raptors have valued in their draft picks over the past five years.
What to look for: Hernandez was an unpolished offensive product at Miami. With a year behind closed doors, it will be very encouraging if he displays a new repertoire of scoring moves and an extended shooting range in Vegas. I am not bullish on his defence yet, but the hope is his positioning can improve under the Raptors coaching staff.
Sagaba Konate: At 6’8″, 260 pounds, and arms bigger than my head, Konate resembles a defensive tackle rather than a defensive rim protector. The junior out of West Virginia was projected on the peripheries of the second round in this year’s draft and was quickly snatched up by the Raptors to an Exhibit 10 contract after not being selected. Konate’s 2018-19 season was cut short following a knee injury but in that time he began to show glimpses of an outside jumpshot; nearly all of his nine three-pointers were from the top of the key. He matches the profile of a Raptors 905 project: a newcomer to the game with great length, versatility, athleticism, and an unpolished offensive skillset.
What to look for: Konate possesses incredible timing and speed as a help side shot-blocker which will make for a devastating combination if paired next to Boucher. His offensive game is currently limited to putback dunks and threes, but there is plenty of room for growth for a man who has only played basketball for five years. It will be interesting to see if he can be consistent as both a roller and popping out as shooting threat in the pick-and-roll. Given the details of his Exhibit 10 deal, if Konate brings his trademark energy in Summer League games that are at times void of competitiveness, he will make a strong case to be a core piece of the 905 squad next year.
UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS
Jessie Govan: I’m sensing a trend here… the Raptors have brought in another versatile player with shooting range. Hey, it will make for some fun games these next two weeks! At 6’10” with a 7’4″ wingspan, the senior out of Georgetown spent his last two seasons under the tutelage of Hall of Fame centre Patrick Ewing. Govan is a smoother offensive player than some of the other bigs on this roster, however he has been criticized for his defensive inconsistencies and passivity amidst Georgetown’s recent underwhelming season.
What to look for: There is plenty of talent on display at the Summer League, and Govan is no different. The big was a finalist this year for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Centre of the Year award. (an award won by Jakob Poeltl in 2016). However, players on the bubble looking to stick to an NBA team need to display concentration on smaller details of the game and intensity, especially on the defensive of the floor. Govan gets knocked out of position in the post and occasionally looks uninspired when guarding his opponents.
Matt Morgan: On a roster obsessed with shooting, this guy might be the best of the lot. Morgan lit it up from deep in his senior year at Cornell, averaging 43.1 per cent on 7.7 shots from three per game. He wasn’t just a shooter either, Morgan carried an ungodly amount of the offensive burden on his Ivy League team. He’s a bit of an undersized combo guard that is primarily a scorer, an even smaller version of Jordan Loyd when he first emerged in Summer League a few seasons ago.
What to look for: Buckets. Morgan profiles as a heat check guy in whatever league he ends up playing in, being able to shoot off the dribble, at the rim, and in catch-and-shoot scenarios. Morgan may possess the size of a point guard but he certainly is not a playmaker for others, he will likely be used as an off-ball threat in the tournament. Expect other teams to attack him defensively; Morgan has a skinny frame and only stands at 6’2″.
Jordon Varnado: Varnado projects as one of the few true wings on the team. The 6’7″ forward entered Troy as an athletic marvel paired with a high basketball IQ hindered by a clanky jumpshot, but now leaves four years later as a 40 per cent three-point shooter. Unfortunately, Varnado’s last two seasons have been cut short by injury.
What to look for: Varnado has a tidy post-game with his back to the basket, but in all likelihood he won’t be presented with many of these opportunities. He isn’t the most explosive athlete, therefore his future in the NBA will hinge upon his jumpshot and positional sense defensively.
Lindell Wigginton: The last of our Canadian trio representing the Raptors in Las Vegas. The guard from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia was the second undrafted rookie snapped up by the Raptors immediately after Konate. Not only does Wigginton possess great shooting range, his jumpshot and release is buttery smooth to watch. It was a tough sophomore season at Iowa State for Wigginton as he battled a foot sprain early in the season which hindered much progression from his outstanding freshman year. Still, his catch and shoot ability, fast-twitch athleticism, and Canadian roots put Wigginton in good stead to scoop up a Raptors 905 spot.
What to look for: I fear I’m repeating myself too often, but again Wigginton’s biggest strength that he brings to the NBA is his soft shooting touch and textbook mechanics. He is also a quality finisher inside, averaging 63.3 per cent at the rim last season, per Barttovik. However, his efficiency cratered elsewhere inside the arc, plummeting to 24.1 per cent from two-point range. Wigginton had an issue coughing up turnovers as a ball handler and was more off an off-ball shooter, a role he will likely slot into in Vegas. His defensive upside may be limited by his 6’2″ frame, however Wigginton definitely shows the necessary mongrel on that end of the floor to hold up. For a deeper insight into Wigginton’s game, I highly recommend this detailed breakdown of his collegiate career.
OTHER FREE AGENTS
Jamaal Franklin: One of the few players with NBA games under his belt, Franklin is an old head amongst an otherwise young and inexperienced group. The 27-year-old is returning from a long stint in China where he put up Jimmer Fredette-esque numbers during his time there. More important than any of this is that Blake Murphy pointed out Franklin was Kawhi Leonard’s college teammate at San Diego State. Hmm…
What to look for: Franklin’s size and athleticism overwhelmed opponents in the Chinese league. It will be interesting to see if this can translate against far more physically equal opposition.
Richard Solomon: As is the case for most of these free agents, Solomon has bounced around between the G League and Europe for the past few years. Solomon did spend some brief moments on the Oklahoma City roster last season, although he never got on the floor for them. The rim-running centre is a massive physical presence and can get out and go in transition. Don’t expect Solomon to be going into his bag of post moves, he is a north-south kind of guy that will be primarily setting screens and catching lobs.
What to look for: Despite being a one-dimensional offensive threat, Solomon does have very tantalizing upside defensively. His sheer size alone makes for a good rim deterrent, however he also possesses the sneaky quick hands from a centre that intrudes passing lanes; a skill that is taught at Marc Gasol’s school of savvy big man play.
Adonis Thomas: Konate may have the body of a greek god, but Adonis Thomas has the name of one. The 2013 second-round draft pick bounced around several NBA teams before plying his trade in Europe for the past three seasons. Thomas has the physical tools to be an NBA player, but lacks the scoring efficiency and outside shot necessary. He will likely be placed into the Raptors’ wing rotation considering their dearth of depth in that area.
What to look for: Thomas has never been an offensive plus dating back to his Memphis days, therefore he will have to garner attention as a perimeter defender.
Darius Thompson: Thompson is an interesting prospect. Although he is not a rookie, Thompson is still a relative youngster at 24 and had an incredibly successful first season as a professional, winning the MVP of the Dutch League at ZZ Leiden. With season averages of 22.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3.7 assists, the guard can do a little bit of everything offensively. Thompson shot the three in a multitude of ways at a decent clip and knifed into the lane at ease in the DBL, although the latter’s sustainability will be a big question at this level. He also looks very uncomfortable using his left hand on driving situations.
What to look for: Summer League is a competitive environment in which players often prioritize showcasing their individual skill over winning the game. This can make for some ugly, selfish basketball. Although Thompson can fill up the stat sheet, his most interesting skill will be his strong court vision and passing as well as his size that allows him to defend multiple positions. Let’s hope he showcases those traits!
Cory Walden: Like Thompson, Walden spent last season putting up eye-popping numbers enroute to earning MVP honours in the Israeli League. Walden poured in 17.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 4.8 assists, while shooting the three-ball a hair under 40 per cent. The point guard loves to attack the rim early in transition and can get downhill in a hurry. He is a blur with the ball in his hands and can find the seam within a defence with ease.
What to look for: Walden will undoubtedly thrive in the full court as the game begins to open up, however more important will be his composure in the half-court setting. He ran a lot of high pick-and-rolls for Hapoel Hanon and could score effectively off of the dribble. We will see if he can exploit big men on switches or make the second and third reads as a passer in those scenarios. I’m excited to watch what Walden can do when given the lead guard reigns from Loyd.