Setting the stage for the Raptors’ ferocious training camp competition

It’s not every year that teams enter an NBA season with even one roster spot in flux, let alone multiple. For the Toronto Raptors, they could have a grand total of three roster spots up for grabs when training camp begins in Victoria on September 26. First, let’s break down the spots that aren’t for grabs. There’s plenty of certainty, to be sure, so let’s start there.

Locks

Guards: Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent jr., Malachi Flynn

Wings/Forwards: Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Otto Porter jr., Thad Young

Bigs: Precious Achiuwa, Chris Boucher, Khem Birch, Christian Koloko

The above list is fairly obvious. We’ve got the starters in VanVleet, Trent, Siakam, Anunoby, and Barnes, the signees in Porter, Young, and Boucher, the draftee in Koloko, and the non-minimum guaranteed contracts in Flynn and Achiuwa. Barring something exceptional happening, these 12 players will be on the roster the upcoming season.

Both two-way spots are also spoken for in the forms of Ron Harper jr. and Jeff Dowtin. Harper jr. was an undrafted signing immediately after the draft, while Dowtin won his position in Summer League. Both could compete for full roster spots in training camp, but it’s much more likely that the Raptors will happily take them into the season with their current contracts intact.

Which leaves three roster spots as the location of Toronto’s battle grounds, with several players dueling to make the roster. Each either has full or partial contract guarantees.

Contenders

By my math (and using Spotrac’s contract numbers), the Raptors have $141,413,605 in fully guaranteed contracts, plus an additional $875,000 in partial guarantees, via Blake Murphy. Even factoring in a (currently unsigned) contract for Christian Koloko, the Raptors could waive two contracts, while eating a full and partial guarantees, and enter the season below the luxury tax. Which is why you’ll find some names on here who technically have full contracts but are still “battling” to actually be on the roster.

I should say this right at the very tippity top: Outside of contract amounts, nothing in this piece is reported information. When I classify a player as “likely” or “unlikely” to be on Toronto’s roster, it’s (educated) speculation.

Guards: Dalano Banton, Svi Mykhailiuk, Gabe Brown

Wings/Forwards: Justin Champagnie, Juancho Hernangomez, DJ Wilson

Bigs: N/A

Banton (partial guarantee)

Banton is as likely to make the full roster as anyone on this contender list. He was a second-round draft pick of the team itself, which always counts for something — not even the best front office staff like to admit they were wrong by cutting bait on a player, so there’s a little bit of an incumbent advantage there. And Banton is Canadian — from Rexdale — which makes his status as the Hometown Kid another advantage heading into training camp.

Beyond the contextual advantages though, Banton’s game speaks for itself. He has plenty of advantages on the court that aren’t offered by end-of-bench players. He’s a juicy player in the halfcourt with plenty of verve and off-beat passing. He’s an impressive finisher, particularly for a guard. He’s an anticipatory defender, even he hasn’t entirely figured out that end of the floor. And he’s a terrific rebounder. His jumper is reputed to be significantly better entering the year, and aesthetically, it appears to be much better. He may not be ready for rotation minutes, but he’s 22 years old and could become a rotation player relatively soon. That’s not something you ordinarily expect from players fighting for the 13th roster spot.

Barring a shocking turn of events at training camp, expect Banton to be on the roster entering the season.

Champagnie (partial guarantee)

If Banton is close to certain to be on the roster, Champagnie is perhaps slightly below there — but certainly likely as well. He doesn’t have the contextual advantages, as he went undrafted and isn’t Canadian. But his skill on the court (which really is much more important, in the grand scheme of things) is arguably a bigger plus.

It’s almost completely the result of small-sample size fluke, but Champagnie had the best on/offs on the Raptors outside of garbage time. That came almost completely on the offensive end, where Toronto was more accurate, turned the ball over less, grabbed more offensive rebounds, and drew more free throws with Champagnie on the floor. Even if it is the result of small sample size, that doesn’t happen randomly to players who don’t at least help.

And like Banton, Champagnie helps in a number of ways. He’s a fantastic offensive rebounder — not for an undrafted project player, but for an NBA player full stop. He’s a smooth finisher and adaptable defender, able to defend anyone from guards to forwards. Like Banton, Champagnie isn’t a plus shooter, but he was a little more reliable than the Rexdale guard on that end last season. At the bare minimum, Champagnie can likely play a few hundred minutes next season and win them. That’s something you want on the end of your roster.

Hernangomez (full contract)

The latest addition to Toronto’s training camp roster, all external signs point to Bo Cruz making this team. Toronto gave Hernangomez a fully guaranteed contract, which brass would be unlikely to offer to a player they wouldn’t expect to make the roster — especially with the signing taking place so close to training camp itself. The Raptors also waived Armoni Brooks in order to offer Hernangomez the contract, and Brooks has already spent time as a useful player for the Raptors. The tea leaves point strongly in favour of Hernangomez.

But he’s a useful player in his own right. Almost 27 years old, he’s been in the NBA since 2016-17; veterans are more often in the right place than projects. He’s also a high-volume 3-point shooter, and he’s connected on a passable 35.1 percent during his career. He’s also 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot wingspan, so he can get his shot off with relative ease. He’s not a defender the caliber of he seemed to be in Hustle — with poor block and steal rates, and positive defensive on/offs every season of his career but one — but he’s big and mobile.

Hernangomez isn’t likely to play plenty of minutes if he makes the roster, but he’s a win-now vet who can hit open jumpers. Teams can do much worse with the 15th roster spot.

Wilson (partial guarantee)

The Raptors and Wilson have been circling one another for some time now. He played in four games with the Raptors last year before falling off the radar in favour of Armoni Brooks. On the plus side, Wilson collected an outrageous amount of steals: 3.3 per 36 minutes, He’s long and sparks transition attempts with the best of them.

Offensively, Wilson doesn’t offer nearly as much as Hernangomez. He isn’t as reliable a shooter, and he doesn’t make up for it with added reliability around the rim. Wilson has been in Toronto’s orbit for some time, so it’s clear the team sees a lot in him. He’s far from out of the running, and a huge training camp could vault him onto the roster. But he’s likely starting from behind.

Mykhailiuk (full contract)

Mykhailiuk is a shooter who hasn’t hit jumpers. He shot 30.6 percent from deep with Toronto last season, which brought his career average right in line to Hernangomez’s. He doesn’t offer enough on the defensive end to make up for his shooting drought. He didn’t have a ton of chances with the Raptors, but he likely had enough for Toronto to have him on the outside looking in. That the team can waive a fully guaranteed contract and remain below the luxury tax line is another mark against Mykhailiuk. Who knows, maybe he hits everything he throws up at the rim in training camp. My guess is he’d need to to make the roster.

Brown (likely Exhibit-10)

It hasn’t been reported, but it’s quite likely that Brown is in camp as an added financial bonus to lure him to the Raptors 905. He has an extremely steep hill to climb to make the roster. He is a shooter with size, so at least the Raptors need players who belong to the same archetype as Brown.

 

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