Toronto Raptors close out Summer League with an 86-72 win over the Brooklyn Nets

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Summer time means many things in the NBA. It of course refers to the 2014 championship San Antonio Spurs, whose precise offensive innovations in order to beat the Miami Heat still ripple through the league today. It is the offseason, vacation: fun trips and better clothes. It is free agency, the draft, and tampering. And far down at the bottom of the list quietly resides one of the best events of the NBA season: the Vegas Summer League.

The Toronto Raptors secured themselves a fifth-place finish in Vegas with their win over the Brooklyn Nets, finishing 4-1, behind only the four teams who entered Tuesday evening undefeated. Call it the return of never count out the heart of a champion. That the Raptors did it without Scottie Barnes, Malachi Flynn, or Precious Achiuwa made it all the more impressive.

Matt Morgan and Dalano Banton were the stars for the Summer Raps. Morgan was the lightning-rod scorer who hit everything he threw at the rim, from floaters to triples to everything in between. On an ugly offensive night for both teams, Morgan’s ability to turn trash into treasure was the single biggest reason why Toronto distanced itself from the Nets. He’s been under the Toronto umbrella for some time with the 905, but he’s never parlayed his improvements into a starting role for the G-League squad. This Summer League has been some of the best ball Morgan has played, as he was always a big plus upon entering the game. Look for his role with the 905 to expand this year if that’s where he ends up.

Banton continued to tantalize with his minutes in Summer League. He’s gigantic for a guard, has great tools and shifty horizontal athleticism, and he’s a ridiculous passer. His jumper needs to come along, as he finished Summer League without a single make, attempting 2.4 a game. His finishing needs to come along, as he often missed bunnies at the rim after million-dollar moves to get there. But process matters more than results, especially at Summer League, and Banton’s process was incredible. Any six-foot-nine guard who can do this will have a home in the NBA.

The real winner on the day was Toronto’s team-wide vision. Even without its only traditional point guard in Flynn, the Raptors managed to scrape together enough offense to win convincingly. Even without two of its best and longest players in Barnes and Achiuwa, the defense remained stout as a Guinness. Rayshaun Hammonds, Zaccheus Darko-Kelly, and Isiaha Mike toggled into larger wing roles, and they fit into the schemes seamlessly. All three are long and defended like hell.

All in all, another successful Summer League for the Raptors. The pipeline of young talent is real, even without Barnes, Flynn, or Achiuwa. Others distinguished themselves throughout the tournament, including Banton and new two-way Justin Champagnie, who looks like a solid offensive player and excellent defender. Almost every player on the roster had his 15 minutes of fame. They’ll take that momentum into their offseason schedules, and hopefully many of them will parlay it into camp invites.

But in the big picture, we know what the Raptors’ focus is this season. They’re not a championship contender, largely because of offensive shortcomings. But despite only one down season after an eon of success, they have a fully stocked cupboard of young talent. The Raptors will develop their youngsters, play some of the best defense in the league, and innovate how teams build rosters in the modern NBA. Toronto’s Summer League performance is an early but important step in that direction.

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