Ladies and gentlemen, Toronto Raptors basketball is back.
The Las Vegas Summer League is underway, and Toronto will open its tournament against the New York Knicks (4:30 PM EST). A new era of Raptors basketball is here, and even though most of the players on the roster won’t be on the team come October, there will be much to learn from this group over the coming weeks.
The 2020-21 season came to an end less than three months ago. Yet as the NBA world descends on Las Vegas for summer league, a fair share of names suiting up for the Raptors had gotten an extended look in the team’s final five games when Toronto went into tank mode. Yet it’s the result of that tanking — fourth overall pick Scottie Barnes — that everyone is most excited for. Malachi Flynn, Yuta Watanabe, and Freddie Gillespie are joining him, who were all passengers on the tank at the end of the year.
Below, we will group the roster into three sections: Main Attractions, 905ers, and Others. The “Main Attractions” are the players to watch closely as they will be counted upon to play a role in the team’s rotation this upcoming season. The “905ers” feature the members who are most likely to spend most of the year in the NBA G League, potentially as part of the Raptors 905 if Toronto wishes to keep them around. The “Others” consist of those who are likely not in the franchise’s plans and may not see consistent action in Las Vegas unless players need to be rested or some of the upper-tier pieces are held out by the team. Of course, the line between “905ers” and “Others” is blurry, with players likely playing their way between groups as Summer League progresses.
- Scottie Barnes – #4 / Rookie / Florida State
Scottie Barnes is the headliner of this event. He joins the team as a 6’9” ball of clay for the team to mold. He will likely see time as a point guard, a center, and everything in between during these games.
Barnes has experience playing every spot on the floor, but doing it against NBA-level athletes is an entirely different story. So there’s no better way for Toronto to figure out just how far his versatility stretches than putting his feet to the fire in Vegas. When OG Anunoby was in the Summer League for Toronto, he initiated a higher rate of offensive sets and pick and rolls than he has since, including his breakout 2020-21 season. Expect to see a similar sort of usage from Barnes.
The thing to focus on will be his jump shot. Barnes has never been thought of as a knockdown shooter; while he’s not as hesitant from the perimeter as Ben Simmons, he has tended to turn down open looks in the hope of getting to the rim or creating a better look for a teammate. In the NBA — and Nick Nurse’s system specifically — he will be asked to take those shots more frequently.
At Florida State, he shot 27.5 percent on three-pointers (40 attempts) and 62.1 percent from the free-throw line (66 attempts). Neither numbers are great, but throughout the pre-draft circuit, there were clips released showcasing a re-worked shooting form from Barnes.
While his release point remains low for someone with his size and length, and he could stand to use his legs more, the overall change suggests that Barnes could develop into a better shooter. However, Las Vegas is his first chance to show whether or not the work he’s put in to date has made a difference.
- Malachi Flynn – #22 / Second Year / Raptors
Malachi Flynn was the Raptors’ first-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. At the time, the belief was that he was selected as insurance if either Toronto or Kyle Lowry opted to move on. With Lowry in Miami, it’s time to see if the insurance coverage is premium or basic.
Flynn was solid as a rookie. He played in 47 games and averaged 19.7 minutes per game. His final stats (7.5 points per game, 2.9 assists per game, and 2.5 rebounds per game on 37.4 FG% / 32.1 3P% / 80.1 FT% shooting splits) might not have been enough to garner any All-Rookie votes, but there was a noticeable growth in his game, particularly towards the end of the season.
The guard from San Diego State was a bright spot that the team would like to put behind them during a year. Instead, Flynn went back and forth between the bubble with the Raptors 905 and the big club. He got much-needed game repetitions at both levels and showed that he could hold his own as a professional.
He culminated his rookie year by scoring a team-high 27 points in the season finale versus the Indiana Pacers. He has a quick-trigger jumper, can create for himself in the midrange, and is already a plus passer even for a point guard.
It seems like Goran Dragic is staying in Toronto — for now — so Flynn likely won’t be asked to replace Lowry on his own. Still, these games in Vegas offer him an early shot at building camaraderie and cohesion with other members of the new second unit. Of all the players on this roster, I expect Flynn to play the least amount. He’s more proven at the NBA level than most players in the Summer League, so his minutes could go to those with more question marks attached to his game.
- Yuta Watanabe – #18 / Third Year / Raptors
After bouncing between Memphis and the G League his first two years, Yuta Watanabe has found a home with the Raptors. He is another player who took advantage of the team’s unexpected down year and proved his worth. He played a combined 33 games for the Grizzlies; last year, he played 50 for the Raptors.
In those games, we saw that his defining skill was simple: effort. Sure Anthony Edwards baptized him on what may have been the dunk of the year, but the fact that he ran across the court in an attempt to make the proper rotation is something few others would have done — especially with an athlete like Edwards on the prowl.
It was his defense that really stood out. He wasn’t a lockdown defender, but he understood what Nurse wanted and executed the scheme to the best of his abilities. His closeouts were works of art. With OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Barnes being elite defenders, having someone willing to do the dirty work only makes them better as a unit.
However, another 40 percent three-point average next season would go a long way towards securing his standing as a core piece of this new era. Three-and-D wings are among the most sought-after players in the league today. So the fact that Toronto might have found a gem in Watanabe can go a long way.
Watanabe will be coming to Summer League right from the Olympics. Having played for the Japan National Team this summer, he’ll hit the ground running in Vegas, and he’ll be well-conditioned.
- Freddie Gillespie – #55 / Second Year / Raptors 905
Freddie Gillespie is another player who came in last season and made the most of his shot with the franchise. Following consecutive 10-day deals, Gillespie became a Raptor full-time at the end of April. Nurse gave him an extended look over the team’s final 10 games.
One of the reasons the Raptors slid down the Eastern Conference standings last year was that they could not find consistent production from the center position. Aron Baynes was brought in as a free agent, but the fit was never right. Chris Boucher was called upon much earlier than expected, but he works better as a change of pace big off the bench. The trade for Khem Birch — and re-signing him this offseason — seemed to shore up that spot for Toronto.
With Baynes gone, Gillespie is now locked in as the team’s third center. Most nights that means he won’t ever take off his warmups, but in the event of another injury-riddled season, the Raptors can feel confident that Gillespie will bring what is needed during his time on the floor.
Hustle is his calling card, and despite being only 6’9”, he has an endless wingspan and plays much bigger on the floor. It’s his ability to win in the margins that’ll make or break him as an NBA talent. If he can consistently clear out space for defensive rebounds and finish when others create for him, that would be a big step forward. Combine that with his willingness to play defense and shot-blocking acumen, and he’d be an NBA-caliber player. Summer League provides Gillespie the chance to show that he can continue developing the areas that need work.
- Dalano Banton – #45 / Rookie / Nebraska
Dalano Banton will forever be entrenched in Toronto Raptors history; when the team selected him with the 46th overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, he became the first Canadian to be drafted by the franchise — write that down, it’ll likely win you a trivia game in the future.
Banton was a surprise early-entrant to this year’s draft. Many expected him to return to Nebraska for his redshirt Junior season and try to make his way to a first-round grade, but Banton bet on himself. He’s very versatile on offense and defense. However, there are some real weaknesses on both ends too. Offensively, he’s not a great shooter, and defensively he isn’t the most fleet of foot either.
He’s a 6’9” guard who’s at his best facilitating for others. He also answers with volume what seems to be the most important question for the Raptors front office, “Got Length?” Between him and Barnes, Toronto surely got a lot bigger in the backcourt through this draft. So expect Banton to get handed the baton whenever the team shuts Flynn down.
- David Johnson #13 / Rookie / Louisville
The Raptors had back-to-back picks in the second round, and Toronto took David Johnson with the latter. Though not as big as Banton or Barnes, he has experience playing both on and off the ball at Louisville. Many expected him to explode in his sophomore season after showing flashes of brilliance as a freshman. Yet some roster changes by the Cardinals kept that from happening.
Johnson excelled in the pick and roll. At 6’5” and 203 lbs, he knew how to use his size to best maneuver through defensive coverages. He also showed the propensity to score at all three levels — with perimeter shooting being the least consistent of the three.
Given the make-up of this roster, it’s unlikely that Johnson will spend the bulk of his time operating with the ball in his hands. However, his performance here will help foreshadow what’s to come when he’s with the 905. In today’s game, having virtually everyone capable of initiating and finishing plays is the key to a good offense, and the Raptors will give the combination of Banton and Johnson a chance to show that they can operate off of each other.
- Ishmail Wainwright #12 / Rookie / SIG Strasbourg
Ishmail Wainwright is the most recent addition to the roster. Like Gillespie, he cut his teeth under Scott Drew’s watchful eyes at Baylor. He will definitely be a plus defensively for this group.
Wainwright is a name that’s been on Toronto’s radar for a while, and his path to finally joining the team wasn’t a straight line. Following college, he spent a season in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills. He then spent three seasons in the Bundesliga and was with SIG Strasbourg of the France LNB Pro A. The pads might be hung up for good, but the physicality remains.
Listed at 6’5”, 235 lbs, and possessing a 7’1” wingspan, he seems to have been built in a lab operated by Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster. Vegas provides him the chance to show just how versatile a defensive presence he can be, and he’ll likely be called upon to be the 905s lockdown defender in the G-League if he passes this first test.
- Ashton Hagans #0 / Second Year / Iowa Wolves
If defense is what you’re looking for, then Ashton Hagans is the man for you. Hagans is well-known for the two years he spent as a terror defensively with the Kentucky Wildcats. He routinely was matched up with the opposing team’s best player, and most nights, he held up his end of the bargain.
His time in the pros hasn’t seen the same return, though. He went undrafted in the 2020 NBA Draft but was able to sign with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The plan was to spend time with the Iowa Wolves’ G-League team, but the team released him after violating COVID-19 protocols.
Now, he’s hoping to find his way back to an NBA franchise through the Summer League. Of course, it’ll be hard for him to get many chances with the dearth of backcourt options on this roster, yet if any team will appreciate the defensive fortitude, he possesses it is the Raptors.
- Justin Champagnie #11 / Rookie / Pittsburgh
Justin Champagnie is another player that went undrafted, which was a surprise given that he was runner-up for ACC Player of the Year and a near-unanimous choice for first-team All-ACC. Given the pedigree that conference holds, it’s rare that someone that accomplished would not find a taker in the NBA draft.
Champagnie is an undersized power forward, but he definitely brings the power. He moves opposing players around easily in the paint and is agile and bouncy enough to convert around the rim or pull down contested rebounds.
With Toronto, Champagnie will be asked to do much of the same. If he remains as efficient around the rim as Pittsburgh, he will be a nice piece for the 905 — think Alize Johnson. Champagnie is searching for an opportunity to prove he belongs alongside the best of the best. He will have other suitors, more so than any other player on this list.
- Rayshaun Hammonds #17 / Rookie / Fort Wayne Mad Ants
Rayshaun Hammonds also went undrafted (in 2020) before choosing to sign with the Indians Pacers. Yet, the team released him in mid-December. His next stop was with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the G League.
At Georgia, he could stretch the floor, but during his time in the G-League bubble, he only converted on 22.2 percent of his three-point shots while only attempting 0.8 per game. If he’s going to stick, he’s going to need to prove that his outside shot was no fluke in college.
Like a few other names on this list, Hammonds possess a good combination of size and length — it feels like Toronto and Orlando have cornered this specific market. If he can show that he can guard multiple positions, he becomes an interesting flier for the 905. However, it remains to be seen whether or not he’ll get the opportunity needed to prove that he’s capable.
- Jalen Adams #8 / Rookie / Erie BayHawks
Jalen Adams is a former UCONN guard. However, he is on the smaller side and operates more as a scorer than a facilitator. Given that Fred VanVleet, Flynn, Dragic, Banton, and Johnson are assured spots on either the Raptors or Raptors 905, with plenty of competition at guard for other 905 roster spots, it’s hard to see how he sticks with the franchise past the summer barring an explosive performance.
- Zaccheus Darko-Kelly #21 / Rookie / Providence (MO)
A player from off the beaten path, Zaccheus Darko-Kelly parlayed a late growth spurt and a few seasons of college development into a shot at making an NBA roster. He can do a little bit of everything on the court, but there isn’t one skill he has that stands out above the rest. The two-time Frontier Player of the Year stood out like a sore thumb amongst his NAIA peers, but Summer League will be a big step up in competition for Darko-Kelly.
- Anas Mahmoud #14 / Rookie / Louisville
Anas Mahmoud brings size to the floor and some flashes of athleticism for someone with his incredible size. Yet there isn’t yet much to his game outside of being seven feet tall. As a former teammate of Johnson, there’s a chance their previous chemistry shines through on this stage, but don’t expect this to become a situation like the Miami Heat had with Omer Yurtseven.
- Isiaha Mike #15 / Rookie / SMU
Isiaha Mike is the second Canadian on the Raptors’ Summer League roster. He spent the past two years with the SMU Mustangs and started every game over that stretch. However, what really stands out for the 6’8” wing was his three-point shooting. He ranked 12th (36.8 percent) and 8th (37.7 percent) from deep in the American Athletic Conference each of the previous two years. If the stroke is still there, he has an outside chance of sneaking onto the 905’s radar.
- Matt Morgan #20 / Rookie / Cornell
Matt Morgan has been a member of Raptors 905 since 2019. The Cornell graduate has been solid but not spectacular during his stint in the G League. The main reason he isn’t among the “905ers” section is that, like Adams above, Toronto’s off-season moves could leave him without a spot to return to. If he is going to remain a 905er, he’ll have to earn his roster spot over again.
Find how, when, and where to watch this team in action in the table below.
|Sunday, 8/8/21, 4:30 PM ET||Toronto Raptors vs. New York Knicks||ESPN2, SportsNet1|
|Wednesday, 8/11/21, 08:00 PM ET||Toronto Raptors vs. Golden State Warriors||ESPN2, TSN 1/4 (494/497)|
|Thursday, 8/12/21, 08:00 PM ET||Toronto Raptors vs. Houston Rockets||NBA TV, TSN 4 (497)|
|Saturday, 8/14/21, 07:00 PM ET||Toronto Raptors vs. Charlotte Hornets||NBA TV, TSN 2 (495)|
|Tuesday, 8/17/21, 5:30 PM ET||Toronto Raptors vs. Brooklyn Nets||NBA TV|