Javon Freeman-Liberty's introduction to some Raptor fans came during Summer League when he and Markquis Nowell got into a yelling match, as Freeman-Liberty was still a part of the Bulls organization and leading their Summer League team in face off against the Vegas Raptors. For many more, it came as an end of bench substitution late in the Raptors first preseason game. If you stuck around to watch the former, you saw a lead guard dominating the SL runs. The latter? A two-way player on the periphery of a rotation, trying to mine every action for what it was worth - be that as a cutter or rebounder.
At Summer League, JFL was one of the premier guards and premier scorers. 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. Before that? 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. With that pull-up, he's far more comfortable hitting it out of isolations; breaking off combos that end with a step-back triple, rather than in the downhill flow of the pick n' roll.
On the Raptors, he won't be afforded the opportunity to get into his bag for healthy chunks of the shot clock. Not only are the Raptors trying to rid themselves of some of their iso tendencies under the banner of Darko Rajakovic's ".5 offense", but what two-way player is ever given that kind of offensive responsibility? Even though JFL has shown an elite scoring ability at other levels, the Raptors (and all other teams) ask two-way players to make it in a role before anything else. Higher paid, higher drafted players get the ball and the opportunities. No one is shifting that hierarchy.
That adjustment was easy for Yuta Watanabe, whose length and activity on defense was more than welcome on a fairly hapless, Tampa Raptors team. Watanabe leaned into the inherent '3 and D' principles of his game, had his two-way converted, signed an NBA deal, and went on to shoot the hell out of the ball. Even in some of the more wide open games, Watanabe didn't press to create much, and he certainly didn't try to do so when surrounded by stars and starters. This league finds it easier and easier to fall back on size, length, shooting ability, and low-usage players who pair all those things. You don't need players who built their game by scoring at lower levels, because creation opportunities are already spoken for, or desired heavily on the roster.
How does JFL, an elite scoring guard at the G-League level -- as Jeff Dowtin Jr. was before him -- crack a Raptors rotation, and have his contract converted? How do you shrink your game and still make it big?