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Oshae Brissett shining in first NBA opportunity

The Toronto Raptors seem to have a knack for finding unlikely players who can contribute at important times. First undrafted rookie Terence Davis clawed his way into the rotation, and he hasn’t left since. Then Rondae Hollis-Jefferson hustled his way into minutes with his defensive intensity and offensive rebounding, though his minutes have dwindled since Chris Boucher starting combining his incredible athletic ability with a smaller penchant for mistakes. Boucher, himself undrafted, has been something of a revelation as well. Led by Kyle Lowry, Toronto is a team of grinders, after all. Well, now you can add Mississauga’s Oshae Brissett to that list of unlikely contributors.

Nick Nurse has been trying to get Brissett a taste of an NBA game, non-garbage time edition, for some time now. His defense and rebounding are intriguing, and the Raptors have talked up his ability to contribute at the NBA level. Then against the Boston Celtics, Brissett finally found his opportunity. With one minute to go in the first half, Brissett entered the game and promptly threw in a put-back dunk. Nick Nurse has consistently said that for bench players, as long as they’re playing well, they’ll continue playing. It was clear that Brissett would have an opportunity in the second half.

Brissett entered the game with a few minutes left in the third quarter, and he didn’t leave it again. Nurse told it true; Brissett played well, so he didn’t stop playing. Brissett played phenomenal on-ball defense, even as he switched onto terrifying scorers like Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum. He rebounded the ball over larger players. It was a brilliant showing for the two-way product. He finished with four points, six rebounds, and two assists in the win.

“That’s kind of what we thought he was, was a really solid defender and a very good rebounder for his position,” said Nick Nurse of the performance. “He certainly showed that last night… It was a little bit of a wildcard move, and you know how that goes with us: If we throw the wild card in there and they play pretty good for three or four minutes, they may never come out, and that’s what happened to him last night, so that was excellent.”

With Brissett playing well against Boston, and Toronto winning a professional game over a good team, the odds were that Brissett would get another chance against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Brissett actually played more minutes against the Thunder than he did against Boston. He had earned himself a longer leash. And though the Raptors ended up losing, they outscored the Thunder in Brissett’s minutes on the floor. As always, he played solid defense and contributed around the margins. Aside from a thunderous dunk finishing an alley-oop pass from Terence Davis, Brissett’s contributions were quiet, impressive, and repeatable.

I feel like when I was out there, I was helping the team in the way that I could,” explained Brissett. “Like I said yesterday, they don’t want me to clear everyone out and call iso. I have just got to do whatever I can and help the guys get to where they want to be, dive for the ball, get rebounds, defend, those little things.”

Those little things earned more praise from Nurse after the Thunder loss.

“He’s got good feet, good anticipation … he moves over and gets his body in front of people,”said Nurse. “He’s done it against some really good players. Last night it was switching out onto Kemba Walker a little bit, [Jayson] Tatum, Jaylen Brown. Tonight it was Chris Paul, Shai [Gilgeous-Alexander]. He’s done a nice job for as little experience as he has. It’s good, we need another wing, three-four type guy to guard out there.”

Nurse isn’t treating Brissett with kid gloves because of his age or status as homegrown Toronto product. He’s a real NBA contributor playing real minutes. Nurse isn’t offering development minutes; that’s what the Raptors 905 is for. Brissett is on a two-way contract, so that’s where he gets the majority of his in-game minutes. Nurse isn’t offering Brissett empty compliments. Despite his age and experience level, he defends and rebounds at an NBA level, and he is able to make those strengths far more prominent than the aspects of his game that are less developed. There is no sense of wonder in Brissett’s contributions, at least not within the Raptors organization.

That doesn’t mean Brissett himself isn’t filled with a sense of wonder at the events underway.

I’m gonna go back home tonight and just reminisce, like, it’s crazy that I get to guard [Chris Paul] in an NBA game,” said Brissett after the loss to the Thunder.

Brissett has quietly traveled a long distance in his journey from Mississauga to Toronto. After two good games, it’s early to say that he’s now established in the NBA, but the signs are there that he could have a long career. It would surprise no one, least of all Nurse or Brissett himself. In fact, the most surprising aspect of Brissett’s path to relevancy is how commonplace it is that the Raptors just keep finding unheralded contributors.

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