The Toronto Raptors will play to the final buzzer no matter the setting. They are an organization that prides itself on playing extremely hard and doing things differently than the other 29 teams in the NBA, and while that style of play can be demanding and tiring for the players, it can also yield impressive results.
Sure, summer league results don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but the Raptors should be extremely happy with their 80-79 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night, their third win of the summer league and an important one if they have any chance of making the final. Honestly, it was the best win the Raptors have had in a while. And while it’s unlikely that they will advance, as only the top two teams make the final this year, the Raptors have a chance after ending the group stage with a 3-1 record and point differential of +21.
Despite finding themselves down 66-77 with just over five minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Raptors went on a 14-2 run to end it, ultimately winning the quarter 29-15. They did it on the back of Scottie Barnes, whose defense, playmaking, and shotmaking enabled the Raptors to finish the unlikely comeback.
Barnes was everywhere in his fourth summer league game. He allowed the game to come to him like he usually does, but perhaps after seeing his passes go through the hands of his teammates one time too many, Barnes shifted his mindset and began to be more aggressive in the fourth quarter. Instead of always making the “right” basketball play, he began to attack the rim and follow up his own misses with putbacks. He hit a fadeaway from the right baseline. He hit a pull-up three. He got numerous steals and blocks, turning them into fast-break opportunities for himself.
scottie barnes in the second half:
– baseline turnaround J
– fake handoff + reverse layup
– picks off pass 1 on 2, transition layup
– drive, gets own rebound, putback dunk
– blocks a 3, keeps possession
– hook shot out of a post up
— William Lou (@william_lou) August 15, 2021
Barnes finished with 23/5/4 on 10-18 shooting with two blocks and a steal. That type of aggression is going to be huge for Barnes. As David Thorpe mentioned on the Raptors Over Everything podcast, Barnes is wired to be a team player even when he is the best player on the floor. To reach his potential in the NBA, Barnes will need to be more aggressive and look for his own shots, especially when the rest of his teammates are struggling… like tonight.
The Raptors struggled to create efficient offense all night, and they knew they would have to win the game with their defense and transition offense. Barnes thrives in that type of setting, and he willed the Raptors to an impressive win by staying composed and slowly chipping away at the lead with his all-around play.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) August 15, 2021
Scottie Barnes gets his own miss, spins and hits the baseline fade. pic.twitter.com/cA5sMx67UT
— Aram Cannuscio (@AC__Hoops) August 15, 2021
Barnes has shown flashes that few 20 year olds are capable of, and with his size and fluidity, it’s only a matter of time before he puts it together on the offensive end. Plus, he should look better playing around NBA talent, as he consistently makes the right read so quickly that his teammates are often not ready for his passes. He’s also a surprisingly good cutter and floor spacer, but his teammates often miss getting the ball to him in open space. He should look better as a 4th or 5th option alongside NBA talent.
Defensively, Barnes is NBA ready. He struggles with screen navigation and can be relatively slow moving laterally, but his positioning is really good and his ability to cover ground and time blocks and deflections is astounding. Even if a guard blows by him, he can recover at the rim. And if his teammates’ guy gets by him, Barnes can step into the pain and contest the shot. Plus, he is constantly helping his teammates with crisp rotations, impromptu switches, and by guarding multiple people at once, even gambling by going off the script for double-teams or steals, but he is very rarely burned for it (though that could change in the NBA).
Moreover, it’s encouraging to see Barnes improve and get more comfortable as summer league goes on. I was fortunate enough to cover the Raptors’ first and fourth games of summer league, which happened to be Barnes’ best two, but the way he recovered from a couple of disappointing offensive games in the middle and got more comfortable as the tournament has gone along is encouraging for his development. He’s not demanding more touches or jogging back when his teammates miss him for a wide open dunk. Instead, he is being a team player and doing everything he can to help them get the win. Sometimes that mindset can come back to bite players, especially in the summer league when players are often there to get their own shots. Tonight, it was the only way the Raptors could have got that win.
- Dalano Banton had one of his worse games of summer league, but I have generally been impressed with the guard from Rexdale. His length on defense allows him to poke the ball away from guards, getting 3 steals tonight, and his athleticism allows him to challenge players at the rim. Offensively, I think he will thrive with NBA spacing (assuming the Raptors provide that), as he can get to the rim in just a couple of steps and finish there from all sorts of angles. The high pick-and-roll should be a staple of Banton’s NBA offense, but he needs to find open shooters instead of always looking at the rim, because defenses will draw charges like they did today in back-to-back possessions against Banton.
- Precious Achiuwa has been extremely impressive through three summer league games. He was a team-high +14 tonight for the Raptors, scoring 18 points on 8-14 shooting. His athleticism and speed really stand out in the open court, and he is developing chemistry with Malachi Flynn in the pick-and-roll, as he generates a lot of gravity as a roller. Still, Achiuwa needs to work on his free-throw shooting, going 2-8 tonight from the line.
- Malachi Flynn has been a little too up-and-down for me in the summer league considering his experience relative to his peers. While he stuffed the stat sheet and did genuinely help the Raptors score in the half-court down the stretch, Flynn has been a bit too selfish in this tournament, looking for his own shot (often threes or long twos) instead of getting his teammates involves. To be fair, he is overextended as one of the only Raptors who can create his own shot in the half-court. And if he is going to be a pure spark plug in the NBA, that mindset is fine. But if he is going to be a backup point guard without much playmaking around him, that lack of playmaking instinct could be a big issue.
- Freddie Gillespie is down bad right now. The center had a good stretch with the Raptors last season, leading to excitement from Raptors’ faithful. But he has really struggled to score (catch) the ball in summer league and plays out of control at times. He does show flashes as a shot blocker and rebounder, but he is making too many mistakes considering his age, giving him an uphill climb to guaranteeing his roster spot.