Wow. That wasn’t the smoothest game by any stretch but of the seven Toronto Raptors available, this truly was a community effort. Once again without the core rotation, the younger Raptors stepped in and made their cases to become regular rotation pieces next year. At this point, Nick Nurse is just experimenting with different lineups and it’s evident considering he started Freddie Gillespie along with Khem Birch, which isn’t something any one has come to expect. Nonetheless, both big men played 36 minutes, and despite being down 19 points early in the third quarter, this was a very entertaining game.
The greatest storyline for the game, however, has to be both Raptors rookies setting career-highs in points as Dallas native Jalen Harris scored 31 points and Malachi Flynn contributed 26. Without the opportunity for these guys to play, this wouldn’t even be a conversation and even though Toronto isn’t contending, and has definitely foregone any intent to win these last games, the young guys are still grinding and hustling. It shows a lot of character and with the no-nonsense culture that Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster, and Nick Nurse have adopted, there are a few players making legitimate noise and could make the decision to round-out the roster next year really hard.
Despite the loss, the Raptors played hard and given where we are at this point in the season, nobody should have any problems with that.
For a rookie drafted second-to-last in last years draft, Jalen Harris is pulling everything out of his bag:
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 15, 2021
This play on MVP candidate Luka Doncic was a perfect example of control and quickness. Harris was like this throughout the night, on his way to five three-pointers, and he’s really making an impression on all the right people. Against the Memphis Grizzlies, Nick Nurse thought Harris “played well, he got to the rim. He’s bouncy, quick and can jump. He’s played confidently and taken the right shots, haven’t seen him forcing much.” And that’s exactly the case.
Harris, similar to Flynn in a lot of ways, is showing a maturity you don’t expect to see so early on in a rookie. The biggest question mark surrounding Harris is whether he’ll be given a bigger role next year. Toronto is already guard-heavy and although next season is months away, if he’s still a Raptor by the time training camp roles around, he’s going to make it incredibly tough for Nick Nurse to cut him out of the rotation. He went on to say that teams will regret not drafting him and while it’s still too early to tell whether that could be true, he should have the opportunity to back up his claim next season.
But beyond what he’s proven as a scorer, it makes you wonder how affective he’d be on defense. In fact, since his stellar all-around performance in Memphis last week, he’s averaging just over a steal per game and while he won’t be trusted to play 36 minutes for a contender right now, it stands to reason that he could get there, especially when considering the developmental system that Toronto already has in place.
Look, I’m not going to tell you that Harris is going to be a big-time stopper or overanalyze how he’s played in the last four games (even though that’s kind of what I do) but I will say that his game is enticing and intriguing and he definitely deserves a longer, extensive look. He shot the ball efficiently (57 per cent) and hit his threes at a pretty good rate (41 per cent), so the coaching staff, front office, and the Raptors faithful should be pleased with how Harris has come in aggressive. Should Kyle Lowry leave in the Summer, Toronto’s top three guards will be Fred VanVleet, Flynn, and Harris.
Career-highs (as previously mentioned) were a regular theme for the Raptors tonight. Flynn scored 26, to go along with six boards, and five assists. He’s a competitor and wants to win.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 15, 2021
I’ve already written about how Flynn is going to be a very important piece for Toronto next season and that’s why it’s important for him to have confidence going into the off-season. But more than that, he’s showing leadership qualities that we’re accustomed to seeing in VanVleet and Lowry.
It’s a welcome sign, especially when he’s displaying offensive versatility after being highly-touted for his defense in college. What stands out the most is Flynn taking it Doncic in the clips above. He knows his own strengths with his quickness and speed, outmatching Doncic in both those areas, and takes advantage of it by driving on him. Flynn shows fearlessness and a will to win.
Overall, what an amazing night for the Raptors rookie backcourt. Starting together for the second time and rallying the rest of the group to within three points in the fourth quarter after being down by nearly 20 to begin the second half.
Stanley Johnson, fresh off a 35-point eruption against the Bulls on Thursday night, attempted 16 fields goals and connected only five of them. But I’m just happy that Stanimal is enjoying himself. He’s never showcased much offense and as a result, people just wrote him off as not being much of a factor in that respect.
De’Andre Bembry also played a solid all-around game although I’m not sure where he’ll be next season or if he fits into Toronto’s long-term plans. I think his hustle (disruption on defense, active hands, etc.) is amazing but with the potential addition of another big man in the off-season and based on the emergence of Harris and Flynn this year, he might become the odd man out.
Speaking of big men, Birch, Gillespie, and Aron Baynes all had solid games. I don’t expect Baynes to be back with Toronto next year. The fit just isn’t there and I don’t know where he might go or how the Raptors may choose to deal him. Birch is still figuring out himself on the offensive end and Gillespie, as great as his energy has been, needs to have better ball security.
The overlying tone of the game was basically to look forward. It’s been said one million times that this season was the toughest in history and it’s true. No excuses necessary, but this is going to be an important off-season for Toronto – one that could possibly set the culture for the next 3 years.
Just one more game to go.