Jeff Dowtin Jr. outshines Scoot Henderson’s star power in 905 win

The Raptors 905 show their mettle against the intriguing ignite.

Arguably the biggest regular season game of the 905’s season, the G-League Ignite came to Sauga for some hoops. Not biggest in terms of importance by the way, biggest in terms of spectacle. Masai Ujiri was in attendance, Leonard Miller — who continues to intrigue prospective NBA teams — was playing his first G-League game in Canada, drawing a lot of attention from media and fans alike.

Most notable of all the players, though? Scoot Henderson. Henderson, who was reportedly unavailable because he ran into some sort of hang up at the border, arrived a bit later and suited up off the bench. In a lot of other years, he would be looked at as the consensus #1 pick, but Victor Wembanyama is the apple of the NBA draft’s eye. Henderson is a one-of-one mix of power, speed, and explosion. When he walks the court, he has an aura. I posted a picture of him, just a picture of him, and it went viral on basketball twitter because he is built like a 28 year old linebacker, only he’s 19 years old.

All this preamble about the exciting Ignite team, and who handled business? The Raptors 905. The team, not with soon-to-be NBA talent, but… current NBA talent. This isn’t to say that teams will start falling over themselves to add Jeff Dowtin Jr. instead of Henderson, for example, but Dowtin Jr. was the best player on the court. Second was Sterling Brown, and third was probably between Christian Koloko and the aforementioned Henderson.

Dowtin Jr. was masterful on the offensive side of the floor, scoring 25 points on 10-13 shooting from the field. Coach Khoury would yell “seventy-seven!” from the sideline, and Dowtin Jr. would find a route to success in the staggered set that followed. Khoury yells “angle punch!” and Dowtin Jr. runs a decoy pick n’ roll with Koloko, where the dive to the rim is only a dive into post position. Then the ball hits the wing, and the post-entry pass comes, you guessed it, at an angle. The double comes for Koloko, Morsell makes a 45-cut, and they’ve got a bucket. In the free wheeling possessions he would shoo away screeners, confident that he could beat his man and get to his spot. He was right every time. Pull-up threes, contested layups, fall-away push shots, he did it all.

And despite all of his prowess on offense, his defense might have been the best part of his game. Many people are aware of how well he’s done at the NBA level, but 3 blocks and 3 steals in this one might even be selling him short. He pushed guys up-court when defending screening actions, and if he ever got stuck his hands and tenacity allowed him to bother entry passes to the bigs, or strip them as they tried to go up. Imagine Fred VanVleet’s defensive prime. Now imagine he’s actually a big guard for his league, like Dowtin Jr. is for the G-League, and you’ll start to get the idea. Keep him out of the plays on defense, so your offense can stay alive. Brown, who put up a triple-double, was similarly impressive on the defensive end, and Koloko’s length had a lasting effect across the whole game – culminating in a showstopping block at the rim in the 4th quarter.

“It’s great to have Jeff tonight, with Scoot in and all the rest of their guys.” Coach Eric Khoury told me before the game. “They do a great job attacking the paint. Scoot, Sissoko, Miller, all the draft guys, they’re unbelievable finding a way to get to the paint. So, being able to wall that off and keep guys in front of you, it’s gonna be huge, and Jeff is just about as good as anybody in the organization at doing that.”

The fourth quarter was where the 905 really pulled away, and perhaps to the detriment of the game. Henderson started slow and passive last night. Understandable, given the disruption to his usual rhythm and process for gamedays. But, in the third quarter he led a significant charge for the Ignite as they erased a 16-point lead and stormed back out in front. A cold-blooded pull-up triple from Dowtin Jr. kept them at bay towards the end of the third quarter, but the Ignite were firmly in the thick of it. They fell firmly out of contention though, when Henderson and Dowtin Jr. got a bit chippy (more on the former than the latter if I remember correctly) and then Henderson and Koloko got a bit chippy before they were assessed a technical foul each. Unfortunately, for those who came to see a close game and a decent level of hoops down the stretch, Henderson was ejected. Complaints to a ref earlier in the game earned him his first. He did, however, sign an autograph on the way out. Nice touch.

Lacking punch in offensive initiation, the 905’s aggressive defense created a lot of disruption and turnovers, creating a lot of run-out opportunities. Triples began falling as well. The 905 actually won the 3-point battle by an absurd 30 points (45-15), something I dream of seeing with the big club. All in all, a pretty good night of hoops.

A bit of scouting:

So, with Henderson I have talked to scouts that worried a little bit about him not really fitting the point guard mold. His lack of control over the offense in the first part of the game might lead you to believe in more of a combo guard future for him. On the one hand, it’s easy to bet against guys becoming good point guards, because it’s such a nuanced position. On the other, I don’t see much of a reason to bet against Henderson pulling it off. A lot of explosive guards start off creating advantages with athleticism and shot-making, and slowly start to supplement that with guile and decision-making that we typically see from the best at the position. Henderson is extremely special. He will create advantages at the next level, he’ll hit shots, and he’s going to overwhelm hundreds of players over the course of his career. I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.

With Leonard Miller, it’s really easy to see what works. Motor and length are the motivators of success in his game right now. He’s ironing out the finesse and feel for the game. It’s notable, that during a so-so game for him, he found his way to 16 points and 8 boards (4 offensive) on the night. He’s currently at his best when his teammates are missing and he can track the ball down better than the rest of the guys on the floor. But, he had a couple really nice cuts into tight spaces — which are typically the most difficult to judge and convert on — to punish 905 defenders failing to pay proper attention to him. These things don’t drive his ceiling, but the floor of his game. When it comes to his handle, interesting driving game, and some of the shot-making, we didn’t really see it in this one. Teams are seeing some of it over the course of the season, though. I really hope he puts the full package together.

Last note? Dowtin Jr. is an NBA caliber player. He’s proven it at the NBA level, and continues to dominate at the G-League level as well. Call him back up, Raptors.

Have a blessed day.

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