The need for two-way players has grown in recent years. The talent level of the league has risen over the years and uber-talented players can fall through the cracks, season themselves in the G-League, and emerge as All-Stars or championship level rotation players. Additionally, there’s a lot of injuries, some load management, and a larger need for depth leaguewide. They’re super important, and the Raptors know better than most, what good can come of hitting on two-way deals.
Two-Ways have been expanded, now with each team having 3 of them, and the Raptors signed the remaining two of them yesterday: Javon Freeman- Liberty, and Ron Harper Jr., who joined Markquis Nowell (signed shortly after the draft).
Let’s talk about the guys!
Nowell’s claim to fame was his sterling performances en route to Kansas State’s Elite 8 appearance (and near victory), where he averaged 23.5 points across the four tournament games, and over 13 assists per game — including a record setting 19 assist game — as he continued to make his case for best player in the tournament. He chose the Raptors, and Raptors 905 as the first step in his NBA career. He is, without a doubt, one of the most creative passers in the world. It’ll be an uphill battle for him to impact NBA games, but he’s going to be impressive with the 905, and maybe the Raptors.
Speaking of Summer League, Nowell was the Raptors most impactful player across their time in Vegas. Most of the offense was attached to his ability to create and he continued to do so for a Raptors roster that was very limited offensively. He delivered dime after dime to a collection of fairly limited bigs, and cold shooters. Still, he provided nearly 7 assists per game and continued to churn out opportunities for his teammates.
For his own offense, he really struggled against the length of the opposing teams and the Raptors cramped spacing that had him working out of a closet. He averaged 12 points per game, but shot 34-percent from the field, struggling to get to the rim or hit his jumpers. It was his first taste of the challenges he’ll face at the next level, but the creation had enough pop that everyone should be excited to see if Nowell figures out how to navigate those challenges.
He’s a scrappy on-ball defender and can pressure the dribble of a lot of players, but overall his size limited his point of attack defense and significantly lowered his off-ball effectiveness – even though his timing on digs was pretty good.
Let’s hope for the best next season.
The first thing a lot of Raptors fans might have seen of Freeman-Liberty was his barking match with Nowell in the Raptors first summer league game. Prior to that though, he was one of college basketball and the G-League’s best scoring guards. His ability to get paint touches off the bounce is uber-impressive and fueled by a rapid first step. He’s slowly added a jumper, both off the pull and off the catch. In the G, he took almost 5 threes per game, hitting 39-percent of them; at summer league he took just over 5 a game and hit 46-percent of them. His pull-ups don’t really come while working downhill, but rather when he’s working himself into a between the legs gather (think James Harden) or a snatch back.
Only 7 players averaged more points than Freeman-Liberty at Summer League this year, two of which are lottery selections from 2022, and five of which are first round selections. When he played the Raptors we saw a lot of drives that became free throws, a little pull-up jumper, and some open-floor dominance. All that in addition to some drive-and-kick playmaking, that is part and parcel of his driving game.
He’s a really compelling scoring guard. Should be fun to keep tabs on.
Ron Harper Jr.
The player Raptors fans will be most familiar with. A scoring guard out of Rutgers who was one of the Raptors two-way players last season. He spent most of his time in the G-League getting used to that level of play, rather than dominating and making his case for the big club. Over the course of the season he played the exact equivalent of a full game (48 minutes) with the Raptors, with all of it coming in garbage time. He went 3-9 from three, 5-7 from inside the arc and had 4 assists to 0 turnovers. None of that is particularly meaningful, and summer league wasn’t his best showing either.
Harper’s best games with the 905 typically combine a healthy mix of spot-up threes, some second-side creation, and a decent job of attacking closeouts. Nearly 17-5-4 on 50/36/77 splits, Harper Jr. did well at the G-League level and impressed more and more as the season went on. He’s a leader in the 905 locker room, a really hard worker, and a very loud voice on the defensive end of things. The 905 love him and what he brings to the organization.
He’s still trying to figure out his ideal playing weight, still working on beating rotations to the glass in advantaged positions, and he needs his 3-point shot to be a little bit more proficient, but Harper Jr. has size, shooting ability, and is extremely well liked. He’s going to be extremely important for the 905 as he continues to develop and make his case as an NBA player.
Have a blessed day.