Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

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Javon Freeman-Liberty is next up

“He’s a heck of a player.” - Raptors 905 head coach Eric Khoury.

Two minutes left, Raptors 905 down by one. Javon Freeman-Liberty splits the defenders with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it quickness. He charges into the paint with a head full of steam and expertly rises up using every inch of his 6-foot-4 frame to finish over two bigs in the paint.

It’s plays like these that earned Freeman-Liberty a shot with the Raptors.

Freeman-Liberty is one of Toronto’s three two-way contract players and is having himself an astounding year thus far in the NBA G-League with the Raptors 905, earning a call-up for potentially his first NBA action.

The Chicago native had an instant impact upon joining the franchise, beginning all the way back on October 15, 2023, before the regular season even started. It was a pre-season game against the Cairns Taipans. The leading scorer for Toronto in that contest wasn’t two-time All-NBA team member Pascal Siakam, it wasn’t a budding star and future face of the franchise Scottie Barnes, nor was it the recently traded OG Anunoby. It was… you guessed it, Javon Freeman-Liberty. 

“That kid brings it every single day,” said Raptors coach Darko Rajaković to the media after Freeman-Liberty scored a team-high 15 points.

“He competes at a very high level, and since he joined us, everything that we asked him to do, he was able to do it. He really helps us in practices [and] brings versatility as well. I think that he can be on the ball, and play off the ball. He’s got good size, he can guard positions 1’s and 2’s. He’s doing a really good job, he’s a good player.”

The 24-year-old has improved year after year no matter what level of basketball he was playing at, including his time in college, last year with the Windy City Bulls, and now in Mississauga with the 905.

“I just want to get better, progress each and every day,” Freeman-Liberty said.

“I’m very versatile, I found every little thing that I can do out there on the court. You can work on something each and everyday just to get better as a player to get where you want to be, [and] I want to be in the big leagues.” 

Now he gets his shot.

To provide a broad overview before getting into the weeds, Freeman-Liberty is a 6-foot-4 combo guard weighing in at 190 pounds with a staggering 6-foot-9 wingspan and a nearly 8-foot-5 standing reach. He is currently among the top scorers in all of the G-League averaging 22.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.3 steals. He is shooting 45.3 percent from the field, 32.8 percent from three, and 81.5 percent from the charity stripe. These numbers are nearly identical to his stats in his final year at DePaul, suggesting that his play is translatable to the higher levels of basketball he reaches.

The first thing that stands out when you watch the 6-foot-4 combo guard play, and what is really the crux of his game, is his pronounced ability to get downhill and attack the paint. He uses his speed, change of pace, and explosive quick bursts to blow by defenders. He maximizes that quickness using stampede cuts when he catches off-ball to leave defenders in the dust. He is slithery when getting to the rack and also great at swiping defenders’ hands away when driving.

“You always need players on the court who can collapse the defence and touch the paint, and Javon is an unbelievable paint-touch player,” said Khoury.

“He finds his way to get downhill, and to pair him with other paint-touch players and have him off the ball, now you’re really in trouble when the ball kicks out to him and he’s got an advantage. If you’re sprinting at him, he’s going right by you. He’s somebody who creates a lot of advantages, he gets downhill so well both in transition and in the half court, [and] with the amount of work he puts in, it’s inevitable for him to be leading the team.”

Once Freeman-Liberty gets to the painted area, he’s fantastic at drawing, absorbing, and finishing through contact at the rim for his size. He’s undeniably crafty within 15 feet of the rim, getting to his spots consistently, with a creative layup package that he executes from a multitude of angles to finish over bigger and stronger defenders.

Furthermore, his quickness and finishing ability allows him to be spectacular in transition and really push the pace when he has the ball, and fill lanes when he doesn’t. This quality of his really fits in with the big club, as they are one of the best in the league in transition.

The former Windy City Bull has shown the ability to knock down open shots from behind the arc as well. While strictly stand-still 3’s (for now), he’s hitting 32.8 percent on 2.1 attempts per game. In college, he shot 28.9 percent on 3.9 attempts per game through his first three years. In his final season in 2022 however, he saw an uptick, hitting 36.8 percent on 5.5 attempts.

Freeman-Liberty’s form is consistent, compact, smooth, and is relatively quick with a minimized dip and zero hitch in his follow-through. Everything mechanically seems to check out. 

“[I’m] very confident,” Freeman-Liberty said about his 3-point shooting.

“[I’ve] just been getting a lot of reps up each and every day. If I get the open looks I’m letting it fly.” 

And that he does.

There is no hesitation to pull the trigger with the 905er when he is given space, even having the ability to launch from a couple of feet behind the arc.

“He’s always in the gym putting up shots to get better at perimeter shooting,” said Khoury.

“I’ve seen him work all summer, he’s put in the work and you can see the work he’s put in. He can shoot if they go under [screens], and if you close out short, he’s knocking it down. His shot’s unbelievable, I got a lot of faith in him.”

Freeman-Liberty rarely shoots off the dribble. However, nothing indicates this can’t be the case in the future as he has shown flashes of pulling up with a live dribble.

The pull-up shooting will come with reps, as will all the other qualities it takes to be a successful point guard in the NBA. Which is something the 24-year-old is doing for the first time in his young career.

“This is his first extended minutes playing point guard,” explained Khoury.

“I think he’s got too much of a focus at times of getting us into sets, when his best offence is if he can just break down the guy and get to the paint and collapse the defence. Just to pass for the sake of passing is just gonna bog down our offence.”

The 905’s leading scorer has an above-average handle, but has struggled to consistently create for others, especially out of the pick-and-roll. Freeman-Liberty is a score-first, pass-second player, and is usually looking to get downhill to the rim instead of looking for his screener on the roll, or to shooters in which he can kick out too. He’s averaging 3.5 assists and 2.5 turnovers for an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.4. That’s not great.

But being a lead guard is something the 24-year-old wants to become, with his play on the court and the qualities that come with it.

“Honestly, [just] being a leader,” said Freeman-Liberty on playing point guard.

“I’m kind of a quiet guy, I don’t really say too much. But just being a leader and always talking. [I’ve been] playing more of a point guard role because I’m pretty undersized as a two.”

There have been dazzling flashes in this area for Freeman-Liberty as well, and it can only go up from here with reps, reps, and more reps.

Freeman-Liberty is certainly no slouch on the opposite end of the floor either, becoming a two-time All-Missouri Valley Conference defensive team member during his time in college. He showcases an innate ability to guard on-the-ball using his lateral quickness, length with his 6-foot-9 wingspan, and overall effort he puts in. He moves his feet extremely well, has excellent instincts, and has great hands by poking balls free and forcing turnovers. Freeman-Liberty has a slight build and can get physically outmatched at times, but that build allows him to navigate ball screens as he is terrific at getting skinny to maneuver around. While Freeman-Liberty is only an above-average vertical athlete, his athleticism and quickness really show when he is grounded and gliding around the court like he’s on skates at an ice rink.

“I’ve always been a defensive guy,” explained Freeman-Liberty.

“I take pride in my defence, I feel I can’t [just] let a man go by me easy.”

While off-ball defending, he shows great anticipation skills and the ability to pick off passes using his defensive acumen and quickness. His length is also a deterrent as it disrupts passing lanes and  gets easy steals because of it. However, there are times when he gets beat on back cuts and looks disengaged. That could be because of the offensive workload that he takes on and could be conserving energy. In a scaled-down role on offence, that part of his game can easily be cleaned up knowing how exceptional of a defender he is on-ball, and the mesmerizing ability he shows when he’s locked in as an off-ball defender.

Also, the former All-Big East team member’s ability to crash the boards is truly uncanny. Averaging 7.1 this year with the 905 and 7.3 in his final year of college. His ability to grab misses is prominent, you don’t see 6-foot-4 guards who grab that volume of rebounds consistently very often. He is always in position to grab a board, he’s great at boxing out his matchup, and has the length to go up and get it. Once he does grab one of his seven rebounds per game, he’s sublime at immediately pushing the ball up court and using his speed in transition.

“It starts with his work ethic,” said Khoury.

“He’s such a good rebounder, he finds a way to get some free points. It’s not free because he’s working his tail off to get the offensive rebounds, but he gets a couple extra like that.”

Finally, Freeman-Liberty has missed some time this year with an ankle injury, 12 games to be exact. In the 11 games he has played in however, he’s led the team in scoring in seven of them.

Theoretically, Freeman-Liberty fits alongside the Raptors’ core of Scottie Barnes, Immanuel Quickley and R.J. Barrett as a guard who can manage some ball-handling duties, provide pesky on-ball defence, hit open 3’s, and attack the paint effectively in the half court or transition.

We are seeing with our own eyes what could happen if you give a two-way player some run. Jontay Porter has come into the big club and provided the Raptors with some positive minutes, even recently getting a start. Freeman-Liberty could quite possibly do the same. The 24-year-old has showcased some really positive things in the G League, and it’s now clear Masai Unjiri and Bobby Webster have taken notice. 54 percent of NBA players have G League experience, and the Chicago native is poised to bump that number up even higher.