— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) November 12, 2023
If you’re wondering how someone with Winslow’s track record finds himself in the G League at age 27, injuries are your answer. He had interest this summer from teams in the NBA and abroad, but his timeline for a return wouldn’t have allowed him to compete fully in training camp. Winslow had observed a number of teammates over the years benefit from their G League experiences, and the Raptors and their G League organization offered the best mix of resources and opportunity once healthy. Winslow also has a good relationship with Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic from their time in Memphis together.
“It was a pretty smooth adjustment, just with the terminology and play calls and that sort of thing. So, I was pretty excited to get down here and get to work.” Winslow said.
(And yes, Winslow remembers the 2016 playoff series in Toronto well, including Kyle Lowry’s buzzer-beater to force overtime in Game 1. Winslow came off the bench for the Miami Heat as a wing early in that series, drew a DNP-CD in Game 3, then started Games 6 and 7 at centre. It was the full Winslow versatility package on display.)
Once healthy, the goal is to get back to the NBA. There have never been doubts about Winslow’s ability, other than maybe spacing concerns around his limited shooting range. He defends everywhere and has had seasons averaging more than four assists from the wing. The Raptors don’t currently have an open roster spot, but things change between now and the trade deadline, and there are 29 other teams for whom Winslow can be auditioning — and showing he’s healthy — while with the 905.
For as long as he’s in the G League, the 905 are thrilled to have someone like him around.
“He’s an extremely versatile piece that we could use all over the G League,” Winn said. “I think it’s a mutually beneficial situation where we want to get him ready to play for us, and to get back to the NBA, and also have him, in kind of a new way, use all of the experiences he’s had in the NBA to mentor some of our younger guys.
“You never know what you’re gonna get when you have an NBA player without G League experience coming in. Is it just something they view as, ‘I’m here for a few weeks and out and I’m not going to really invest in the team’. And to his credit, he’s really jumped in and been a great presence from the first days here. He’s embracing it. I think he’s been great with the guys so far. He’s been a noticeable presence. He has a great personality. I think that because of all his varied experiences, he’s got a lot of wisdom to share that’s going to be valuable.”
Players are already grabbing Winslow after practice or texting him questions, whether about the game or his NBA career. He’s comfortable in that leadership role, giving his insights on the court and sharing his experiences off it. The team has a number of big, long, playmaking wings without a natural position and you can see how they might be drawn to Winslow’s perspective.
Midway through the first quarter of their Sunday afternoon home opener against the College Park Skyhawks, Raptors 905 point guard Markquis Nowell committed consecutive turnovers — one of them turning into a bucket for the visiting team.
Instead of hanging his head, the five-foot-seven Nowell pressed on. Seconds later, he stole the ball, outran a defender for half the length of the court and made an easy layup. A couple of plays later, he drained a three-pointer and dished out a couple of assists, fuelling a mini-run and prompting “Let’s go Raptors!” chants at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre in Mississauga.
That focus and confidence helped the 23-year-old guard find his way into the rotation with the Raptors’ G League team, having inked a two-way deal after going undrafted in June.
It’s the same confidence that once led him to boast publicly that he will go down as the greatest Raptor ever when it’s all said and done. The team as a whole is hoping that competitiveness is contagious as the season progresses.
“He’s kind of been an underdog his whole life, so he is hungry, he’s competing every day, trying to win every draw. That type of stuff is making the team better,” said teammate Darryl Morsell, who had a team-high 22 points in Sunday’s 118-101 loss.
“He just brings a calming presence to the locker room and on the court … someone that just understands the basketball game and sees the floor a lot different than other guys. His hunger and toughness, I feel like it translates throughout the team.”
Nowell — who wasn’t available for comment after the game — is coming off a standout season with the Kansas State Wildcats, averaging 17.6 points and 8.3 assists. During March Madness, the New York native set a tournament record with 19 assists against Michigan State in the Sweet Sixteen. He also played significant minutes with the Raptors in the Vegas Summer League. Now he hopes to follow in the footsteps of other undrafted players who had successful NBA careers after signing with the Raptors — a list that includes Fred VanVleet, José Calderón, Chris Boucher and Mike James.
In his Raptors 905 debut this past Friday, he posted a double-double with 19 points and 13 assists in a loss to the Long Island Nets. He finished Sunday’s game with 16 points and seven assists in 33 minutes.
“For sure, that’s part of it,” Raptors coach Darko Rajaković said about Boston’s ball pressure slowing down the Raptors’ ability to set up their offence. “But we’ve got to be able, first of all, to get stops. And when we’re getting stops and rebounding and getting deflections (and) steals, that’s a way of running our offence. We scored only 12 points in transition. … In fast break, we’re (usually) flirting with 25, 26 points in transition.”
Essentially, an admission the Raptors offence is not nearly where it needs to be to contend with an elite defence in ordinary circumstances.
In all, considering the Raptors were 1-3 heading into a five-game stretch that included games against the three teams with the most championship equity in the Eastern Conference plus a visit to Texas, heading out of the four-game trip at 2-2 is a win. What it says about the Raptors? That’s less clear, although the offensive tire fire that seemed aflame after the loss to the Portland Trail Blazers has at least been doused.
It is heartening the Raptors entered the Boston game ranked second in assist percentage after spending the last two years near the bottom of those rankings. There is typically no correlation between assist percentage and offensive efficiency — the other four teams in the top five of assists rank 26th, 20th, eighth and third, with the Raptors at 18th on offence — but it is an indicator the Raptors are doing what Rajaković wants them to do.
“There is a feel to it. Definitely conversations that guys are (having) here and with each other,” Rajaković said before the game. “It’s our locker room. It’s our energy in the practices. It’s all of that. And at the same time, we’re a team that right now we’re leading the league in potential assists. And that’s something that we really pride ourselves in, moving the ball and playing for each other and creating opportunities for each other. And I think that we are growing as a team.”
They are also down to 23rd from 10th last year in isolation frequency. They are finishing possessions in the pick-and-roll far less often than last year, as you would expect with the departure of Fred VanVleet.
The trip had good moments. The San Antonio Spurs game was a gut check, the Raptors proving they can flip the script on a game. Beating the Dallas Mavericks was proof the Raptors could beat a prolific team. Even the loss against the Philadelphia 76ers was a superior effort to their prior loss to the 76ers.
Defensively, the Raptors are gaining a reputation for being a physical, tough-minded team, Saturday night notwithstanding.
“They switch the least of any team in the league,” Mazzulla said before the game. “If they do that, we’ve got to set really physical screens.”
The questions, as we expected, concern the Raptors offence. After nine games, that is where they remain.
Recently, Flynn has had more reason to smile. The Raptors did not win Flynn’s minutes in any of the first six games, leaking 49 points in 76 minutes. The bench’s struggles weren’t all on Flynn, but when a point guard is getting stripped in the backcourt, as Flynn was by Patrick Beverley last week in Philadelphia, things aren’t going great.
In two games in Texas, the Raptors won Flynn’s nearly 30 minutes by 13 points. He made a trio of 3-pointers and, more importantly, had eight assists to no turnovers. Even if one of the Raptors’ skilled forwards was doing a lot of the playmaking, Flynn contributed as a competent organizer and secondary creator. The players on the bench mobbed Flynn in Dallas at the quarter break after his big shot on the Raptors’ last possession.
“Malachi been grinding — he’s been grinding a lot,” Chris Boucher said Wednesday night. “It’s amazing to see him get the opportunity. It’s not like we didn’t know he was able to, but for him to actually get minutes and actually produce, you can see that for four years he wasn’t just there. He was learning and getting better.”
One need not spend too long on the last two seasons of Flynn’s career. After playing nearly 1,000 minutes in his rookie season, a number inflated by the final gasps of the Tampa Tank, he started his second season behind second-round rookie Dalano Banton in the rotation. On a team that desperately needed a backup to Fred VanVleet, Flynn could not secure Nick Nurse’s trust. When injuries or roster depth forced him into a rotation spot, injuries of his own — hamstring strain in 2022 and a fractured cheekbone to start the next year — limited his own opportunities.
Flynn said he never lost his joy for basketball, but he clearly became preoccupied with not making mistakes. Part of Darko Rajaković’s mandate from the front office is to give the younger Raptors a longer runway to succeed or fail than Nurse did, so nine bad days to start the season were never going to cost him his spot in the rotation. Still, Rajaković noticed early on that Flynn was a player who was putting an inordinate amount of pressure on himself.
After Wednesday’s win, the coach told the media he sent Flynn an article on Tom Brady earlier in the year in which Brady recounted complaining to a coach about a lack of playing time at Michigan. The coach’s message: Take the reps you are getting and make them essential to your growth.
The fifth-ranked Canadians finished the four-team tournament 3-0, after already securing their spot in one of the four FIBA Women’s Olympic qualifying tournaments on Friday.
“I’m excited that we came here and we did what we wanted to do,” Achonwa said. “We won three games, we qualified for the Olympic qualifiers, that was our main goal. Now we get to take some things that we learned in this tournament and apply it to the next round.”
Arella Guirantes paced Puerto Rico with 22 points, six rebounds and five steals.
The 12th-ranked Puerto Ricans had also already booked their spot into an Olympic qualifier after consecutive wins over host Colombia and Venezuela.
The pre-qualifying competition consisted of the four teams that finished between third and sixth place at the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup back in July, with the top two teams — in this case Canada and Puerto Rico — advancing to an Olympic qualifier.
Canada finished third at the AmeriCup after falling to the U.S. in the semifinals, before defeating Puerto Rico in the bronze-medal game.
Canada had a strong first half, going up six points after the opening quarter before blowing the game wide open in the second. The Canadians led by as many as 22 points and took a 43-25 edge into halftime.
Although Puerto Rico outscored Canada in the second half looking to make a comeback, the Canadians didn’t allow Puerto Rico to get any closer than seven points of them.
“(The tournament was) good in terms of results, but we have to work a lot from now until February because of the level of the rivals in February,” Canada head coach Victor Lapena said.
“I trust in my players. They know what they did good, what they did wrong and what they have to work on. I think (we will) calm down, get some rest and look forward to the future.”
“I saw a woman that looked like me on the TV screen,” Hamilton said. “She was biracial, had curly hair and everything … It clicked for me in that moment. I literally didn’t ever see myself on TV that often and when I did, it was a light-bulb moment.”
That light-bulb moment has carried her all the way to the NBA sidelines, covering the Raptors for Sportsnet. Now in her second season, the sideline reporter is using her deep knowledge of basketball to share a new side of the game with fans — as well as inspire a few along the way.
“You don’t know which kid is watching my colleagues or myself and having that light-bulb moment for themselves,” she told the Star. “Toronto is a beautiful, diverse city and I think people deserve to feel like they are represented, too.”
Hamilton, from Mississauga, played basketball at Ryerson (now Toronto Metropolitan University) while earning a degree in sports media. In her first year, she suffered a brutal injury to her left knee, breaking cartilage and bone but not her ACL. She had surgery.
In her third year, she suffered the same injury. If she hoped to continue to pursue a dream of playing professionally, she would have to undergo another operation and have metal plates put in the knee.
She decided to stop playing. But her intimate knowledge of the game is coming in handy.