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Toronto Raptors Finish Preseason With Some Third String Thrill

Last night was the Raptors' final game of the preseason, and, for some, a final opportunity to strut their stuff.

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Photo via Raptors Twitter

Making it in the NBA sometimes just comes down to the opportunity (un)seized.

Take Sam Dekker’s evening in Washington, for example.

Before tonight, he’d played a grand total of five minutes of the Toronto Raptor’s preseason. The former Houston Rocket, who’d been flamethrowing overseas for the last several years, had been invited to the Toronto Raptors training camp to take (and score) two measly shots in two games.

He was lagging behind a tight race for the final spots on the Toronto Raptors’ roster; the preseason had not helped his cause.

Twelve of the roster spots are spoken for. Yuta Watanabe’s in (unofficially speaking). Justin Champagnie and David Johnson are off to carry a hallowed tradition of undrafted success with the 905ers.

That left just two vacancies for the following dudes: Dekker, Freddy Gillespie, Isaac Bonga, Ish Wainright, and Reggie Perry.

Each, but Perry and Dekker, had stated their case.

Freddy we’d seen battle valiantly as a backup big last year. Bonga showed his ability to playmake and fit Nurse’s harass-and-sprint-your-ass-off system seamlessly early in preseason. Ish seems to just make sense with this team. He has the defensive grit Nurse prizes, can kinda shoot the three (31% on four attempts a game in Summer League), and carries a bum worthy of Kyle Lowry’s.

With 1/3 of the Toronto Raptors’ roster in street clothes, Sam’s opportunity was before him.

And he seized it. Quite emphatically, in fact.

In 16 minutes of play, Dekker scored 18 points and hit

1.

2.

3.

4.

of 5 three-point attempts.

If, before this game, Sam’s coffin was one nail away from being sealed, the hammer, at least for tonight, was set aside.

(If he doesn’t, make it, he can at least say that he made Davis Bertans $80 million contract look real, real, real bad in the process).

Sam also wasn’t the only guy with opportunity tonight.

That was what this game was all about, after all. Not winning or losing (as Malachi Flynn said in the post-game), but about players showcasing their stuff and taking advantage of the fact that 80% of the Toronto Raptors’ usage, roughly speaking, was up for grabs.

Some usual suspects did not shy away from the added possessions.

Goran Dragić

As the starting “point guard”, Dragić was more than happy to be aggressive early. Right away, he sniffed out an unsettled defence in transition and cooly finished a contested lay-up at the rim. He tried the same a few plays later and missed.

The game progressed and guys like Barnes and Flynn found their confidence. No problem for Goran. On a Bonga-led fastbreak, he faded to the corner for a trey-bomb; he then hit two more threes off subsequent Flynn and Barnes kicks.

This is Dragić’s value to the team in a nutshell. His humility and leadership give the Raptors offensive versatility. Dragić can slide back and forth between creator and off-ball release-valve. He displayed both tonight.

Starters, bench unit, beer-hawkers, floor polishers, you name it, and Dragić will do it – whether he wants to be there or not.

Gary Trent Jr.

Only Flynn (6/15) had more shot attempts than Gary (4/14) tonight. He also had three more assists than Gary’s ZERO. Flynn was playing to prove himself, Gary was just being Gary.

I get his role on this team. Gary has room to grow – and we’re going to live with the pains of that. I don’t regret trading Normy for him or re-signing him. I just want him to chill a bit. The Hero-or-Zero nature of Gary’s game is not what the Raptors need.

Gary will get a lot of open looks if he waits for them. OG, FVV, and Siakam will find him, and that’s when he can devastate recovering defences with open threes and slices to the rim.

He did a bit of both tonight. On two separate plays he relocated to the baseline for an open three and cut down the paint to bail out a pivoting Barnes for a lay-up.

But GTJ also did a lot of failed Lou William impressions along the way.

Twice he was blocked or stripped trying to get to the rim (good for him for not settling for the mid-range). Several more times (9 in fact) he missed a variety of pull-ups and jumpshots.

If he can strike a balance between his penchant for getting buckets – he did have two nice drives as well – and choosing his spots, Gary’s going to find a lot of long-term success on this team.

Scottie Barnes

I want more unleashed Scottie.

He was great again tonight. This time with more aggression and purpose on the offensive end.

Scottie looked to score where he could, experimenting with pull-ups and attacking the lane for open looks and passes.

In the second quarter, he really found his stride going 4/4 with two assists. Three of his four buckets were floaters or jumpshots, including this confident kitty:

I said in the Rap Up tonight, Scottie is going to be a joy to watch every damn night no matter what he does on the offensive end. Tonight, we saw, though, the playmaking potential that’ll continue to manifest as the season goes, and, quite possibly, turn him into an All-Star one day.

Malachi Flynn

You wana talk opportunity. Tonight was Malachi’s night.

As much as preseason lineup changes can cause controversy, Nick Nurse’s very obvious choice to go with Dalano Banton over Malachi the first couple of games was a little bit spicy.

We were all shocked to see Banton coming flying off the bench in that first game against Philadelphia like a bat out of a cave. When Flynn did get time, he looked stressed, like he had something to prove, and forced things.

It can look one of two ways. In some sense, Malachi is the odd man out in this revolutionized Raptors roster. He’s neither long nor strong. His game is not about scrambling, fast-paced havoc. Rather, he scores in a methodical deconstruction of lesser defenders caught in pick and rolls.

For a team that will really struggle to score in the half-court, Flynn’s style of play has real value. Which he fully demonstrated tonight. While Banton (0/5 in the 2nd half) was stymied by the concept of a half-court offensive set, Flynn flourished.

He went 5/11 with 17 points hitting three open threes, embarrassing Davis Bertans on a cruel cross over in transition, and then sealing the game with an and-one finish over Corey Kispert.

Toronto won the game – an impressive feat considering Washington fielded its starters for a good part of the game.

But this game wasn’t about winning or losing, it was about individual opportunities and what players made of them.

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