The Raptors 905 rosters turnaround frequently. This is the first of a three-part series profiling players who are not assignees nor two-ways. The following is a guest post from Teru Ikeda.
Mississauga prides itself on developing NBA-level talent, but for those who aren’t two-ways or assignees, standing on an NBA hardwood is still a far-fetched hoop dream. They grind just as hard as those who get their shine, but without the rest of the squad’s contributions, the 905 wouldn’t be the stellar winning organization that it is.
In the following three-part series, I’ll be creating a snapshot of each of these unsung hoopers.
Hagans recently played in the two biggest games of his professional career. In the Eastern Conference Finals game against the Delaware Blue Coats, Hagans hit a triple from the top of the arc to help the 905 inch within eight points, right before halftime.
Even in big moments, he didn’t shy away from aggressively taking the ball inside, but this three-point shot was significant for two main reasons. First, the 905 trailed 39-32 in the first quarter and they needed that three to reduce the deficit to eight points. More importantly, Hagans, though established as a lock-down defender, has never had a reputation for shooting the ball behind the arc.
He shot 26.5% beyond the arc in his two seasons at Kentucky and 33.9% in his first regular G League season.
[Ashton Hagans’ Kentucky sophomore season heat map as per CBB Analytics]
But it takes courage to shoot the three in such a high-stakes game and indicates his confidence and growth as a pro. Back in January, Hagans hit a perfect 4-for-4 beyond the arc, finishing with 24 points, six rebounds and 11 assists against the Lakeland Magic .
“Me and my trainer been working on [shooting the ball] a lot, even when I got out here [in Mississauga],” he said in the post-game conference. Improvements may not be immediately apparent, but they are made incrementally and being best on the defensive side of the ball, improving his three-point shooting come more easily.
Through two playoff games, Hagans played over 41 minutes and had only one turnover. In the two games that mattered the most this season, he overcame his past habits of averaging 2.9 turnovers per game (and having a 23.4% turnover percentage) in the regular season.
Hagans won co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2019 and made the 2020 SEC All-Defensive Team while under John Calipari’s wing. While he’s established himself as a solid defender, learning to shoot the ball, even becoming a respectable spot-up three-point shooter, could force defenses to honestly play him and this would make him an even better playmaker. For Hagans, there would a significant difference between passing the ball to offset his subpar shooting ability versus intentionally finding the best scoring option each time, even if it means he pulls the trigger.
Expectations come with his last name. The youngest of four brothers and the only one without an NBA ring. Alex is, however, carving out his own lane. He only played 117 minutes through 15 games this season and hopefully, his enthusiasm has stayed the same since was featured in CityNews at the start of this season. His highlight came when he hit back-to-back threes enroute to season-high 13 point performance in Chicago while brothers Giannis and Thanasis watched from their courtside seats.
After losing to the Delaware Blue Coats in the Eastern Conference finals, Raptors 905 head coach Patrick Mutombo spoke to the media. “A lot of young men in there,” he said as he pointed his head to the locker room.“Some that have never won anything, that have never been part of a winning organization, some didn’t understand what it took to win.”
Mutombo paused to reflect. “Came up short, but part of the development is also these moments of understanding how we lost, why we lost, and your habits,” he said as he choked back tears.
Mutombo, having coached the best regular season G League team back-to-back, possesses an infectious desire to win, and though he didn’t mention names, I couldn’t help but think he was referring to players like Josh Hall.
After Hall’s decision to go directly to the NBA from Moravian Prep, he played for a 22-50 Oklahoma City Thunder team who finished 14th in the West last season.
Even as a sophomore pro, Hall still seemed very raw, though he showed flashes of potential, scoring 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting against the College Park Skyhawks last month. He had shown a similar flash last season when he scored 25 points on 11-for-21 shooting and grabbed 10 boards against the Los Angeles Clippers in last 2020-21 regular season game.
When Hall played, he played with a lot of bravado and swagger in spite of his glaring offensive inconsistencies. His confidence likely comes from being a former five-star recruit who just wants to prove he belongs on the big stage.
He got to the rim best when going downhill or was already in motion. If or when he got there, he threw it down with reckless abandon.
This off-season, he will need to get stronger. Against the Windy City Bulls, he struggled to get a decent shot off against a more muscular Daniel Oturu, banking a shot off the glass, with the shot nowhere to be found near the rim. Against the Lakeland Magic, Hall easily repelled off 7’1’’ Jon Teske as he tried to unsuccessfully drive against him. And against Delaware in the regular season, he somehow managed to shoot his shot over the backboard at home (thankfully, there was no crowd in attendance).
Hall is still 21 years old and hopefully, he’ll take the lessons from his time here and into his bright future. He seemed really mature at his end-of-season OKC press conference and his immersion with a winning organization this season should up his stock.