Amidst the daily rumour mill churning out increasingly nonsensical stories, cameras snapping shots of Kawhi Leonard doing the most mundane errands, and eventually helicopters tracking SUVs Cops-style, KawhiWatch superseded sports and evolved into a full-blown reality television program. It consumed our worlds for seven painstakingly long days.
Now that is all over.
Call me old fashioned, but the constant speculation isn’t why I love basketball. I love the game because of what happens on the floor. Maybe I’m just an elderly man trapped in a millennial’s body. The best way for me to move past the Leonard news is to dive back into the game as soon as possible.
If anyone shares this sentiment with me, well I have good news: something real, yes basketball related, is happening. We are in the thick of player review season and Summer League is upon us! With the Toronto Raptors summer season tipping off yesterday, now seems a more apt time than any to review the seasons of some of the returning faces that took the floor on Saturday night.
One such player is Jordan Loyd, currently the sole Raptor on a two-way contract. Loyd spent last season bouncing between the G League and the NBA, earning All-First Team honours in the former and suiting up 12 times for the Raptors in the latter. Although he was not on Toronto’s active roster during the playoffs, Loyd did have the important task of emulating the Raptor’s toughest matchups on the scout team.
Loyd may have pretended to be some of the NBA’s deadliest scorers, but in the G League there was no acting involved. The guard tore through the competition, posting a gaudy 22.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, and six assists per game. He may very well have been the G League MVP if it wasn’t for his teammate, Chris Boucher, snatching away those honours.
It wasn’t just the hefty numbers that led Loyd to impress. Head coach Jama Mahlalela moved Loyd into full-time point guard duties and the University of Indianapolis product grew into the role as the season progressed. Loyd, who had been a scoring combo guard for a large portion of his career, quickly became a different player once given lead ball-handling duties. His play-making steadily improved to the point that he averaged a season-high 7.2 assists per game throughout March and capped the regular season off with a career-high 14 dimes in a single game.
Loyd also demonstrated an innate ability to control the tempo of the 905 offence. He was a terror at corralling opponent’s missed shots and flying down the court to keep the defence backpedaling, a frenetic pace that is common in G League track meets. The 905 defence was immense at forcing turnovers and Loyd thrived in transition as a scorer and a passer.
As efficient as Loyd was in these full-court scenarios, his value as a point guard began to shine in the half-court; his shot-making ability and improved court sense in the pick-and-roll generated easy looks for the team as the game slowed down. Loyd applied pressure well against retreating big men by getting downhill and finishing at the rim effectively. He also changes speed deceptively and is very physical, which keeps his primary defender stuck in jail.
In his sparing opportunities with the Raptors, Loyd was not given as much leash to initiate the offence. The likes of Delon Wright, Lorenzo Brown, and then Jeremy Lin took over point guard duties during garbage time while Loyd was often forced to operate as an off-ball shooter. He is a capable, but not dead-eye, shooter off of the catch and was most comfortable launching from above the break, shooting 83 per cent of his triples from that range. This is an essential ingredient to have in the Raptors system as Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry are constantly relocating into above the break triples at the guard position. However, unlike the diminutive Raptors stars, Loyd only stands as a 36 per cent shooter from deep which isn’t quite good enough.
It is hard to glean too much from Loyd’s NBA performances. One part that was a little concerning was the fact that his navigation skills in the pick-and-roll weren’t as precise against far more athletic NBA bigs that refused to concede space by dropping back to the rim. Loyd is more savvy than explosive when he needles his way to the rim, but at times he was flummoxed by the added pressure. In the clip below, the sudden trap from Cristiano Felicio forced Loyd away from the hoop and to pick up his dribble instantaneously. (although Greg Monroe set a feathery soft screen that did not help Loyd whatsoever).
These troubles could be part adjusting to the increased athleticism and subsequently smaller windows, and part a lack of familiarity with his two-man game partner. Plus, garbage time isn’t the greatest source for scouting. Once Loyd built chemistry with his roller in the G League, he knifed to the lane at will and began to find his shooters once defenders compressed to account for his scoring ability.
Loyd also emerged as a plus defender in the G League. His large 210 lb frame and quick hands make him a capable defender on the perimeter, nabbing 1.8 steals per game last year. Loyd will by no means be a lock-down defender in the NBA, but he does have the tools and headiness to profile as average at worst. Although Loyd was excelled as a point guard for the 905, he often starred in backcourt lineups with Kay Felder and Wade Baldwin IV, two guards who loved to have the ball in their own hands. As such, if Loyd does return to the 905 to earn his rightful G League MVP title it’d be prudent to feed him an even higher usage rate next to a more deferential running mate.
Given the significant contributions from Raptors 905 alumni Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet during the Raptors recent championship run, the organization is well aware of the value that players among their development team can provide. Loyd may very well be the next in line to join the higher ranks.