Plenty at stake for Raptors 905 in first D-League Showcase

Raptors 905 coach Jesse Mermuys. (Frank Gunn/CP)

The NBA Development League Showcase kicks off on Wednesday and, adding to a long list of firsts for the Raptors 905, this will be the expansion club’s first year in attendance at the event— a five-day tournament in Santa Cruz, Calif. where each team will play two games apiece in front of a crowd featuring scouts from all 30 NBA teams.

The Showcase represents perhaps the most important four-day span on the D-League calendar and is a vital tool for NBA teams as it coincides closely with the beginning of ’10-day contract season’, when contracts allowed to be handed out and, on Jan. 10—the final day of the Showcase— when all other contracts become guaranteed for the rest of the season.

These two factors weigh heavily on the entire event because it’s pretty much the best way for teams to plan for short and longer-term roster building for this season, by meeting and seeing players up close who they’ve been tracking.

“The timing of it is perfect” says Raptors 905 GM Dan Tolzman. “So call-ups can begin and the timing of the showcase is perfect because most teams have two, three, four, even more staff members out there watching the games and it’s nice and easy to have everything set up where there’s almost dinner table-like setups for every team where they can sit around a table and just kind of chat and watch games and then as players get seen, if they have big days, they’ll get called up like right there on the spot.”

Tolzman’s exaggerating a little bit when he says guys get called up on the spot, although that is something that can happen, but this does provide NBA clubs an excellent opportunity to get a feel for talent they may not have been paying as close attention to.

“This is a good opportunity for GMs and high-level NBA personnel to get in a spot where they can see every single D-League team at once over a matter of four or five days and get kind of a good pulse on who’s playing well in the D-League and kind of start a list going for when any sort of roster situation happens,” Tolzman said. “Whether it’s an injury or a trade leaves you with an open spot, you can kind of refer to guys that you saw at the Showcase and call players up that way.”

Something to keep an eye on over the next few days will be Raptors 905 players that can be called up by other NBA clubs. Remember, each D-League team can only keep the the NBA draft-rights players that are on the team’s roster, making every other player fair game for any NBA club to offer them a 10-day contract.

The 905 boast a few players who should be getting interest, but none more impressive than Ronald Roberts. The versatile forward has been Raptors 905’s best player this season, averaging 17.8 points and 12.6 rebounds per game on 66.2 per cent shooting, and, despite how great he’s been for the Mississauga-based club, 905 coach Jesse Mermuys wants to see his guy get his shot in the NBA.

“I’m hoping and praying that Ron gets picked up Day 1 [of the Showcase],” Mermuys said before he and his team departed for Santa Cruz. “He deserves it. He’s worked as hard as he can. He’s done everything that’s been asked of him and he’s done it the right way. He’s a great teammate, he’s coachable and he’s good enough. Good enough to play at that level and I’m just hoping that happens for him.”

“I think a guy like Ronald, with the numbers that he’s put up and the energy that he plays with, he very well could get called up at the Showcase,” Tolzman added later when discussing Roberts.

Other players Mermuys mentioned that likely deserve a shot are Axel Toupane and Scott Suggs, arguably the 905’s best two overall wing players. Ultimately, however, securing a call-up will come down more to getting a break, than anything else.

“This whole thing is so much about opportunity,” Mermuys said. “There’s so many factors on who are the coaches, where the team is in their stage of building, what style of play, what is the GM looking for as far as building a roster? So there’s a ton of factors and that’s why it always doesn’t happen for everyone. There’s timing involved, but both of those guys are right there knocking at the door.”

Of course, Mermuys, Tolzman and Co. aren’t only looking to give their own guys chances, the point of the Showcase is for all teams to find ways to get better, and in Tolzman’s case, while he won’t be looking around much for talent to add to the Raptors, he does want to put guys on his radar that can help out his struggling 905.

“We don’t have any roster spots on the Raptors, so I’m kind of approaching this more from a D-League scouting perspective where we’ve got a young team who, for whatever reason, we haven’t won a lot of games that we’ve had big leads in,” Tolzman said. “It’s slipped through our hands a number of times this year and there are players throughout the D-League who could help Raptors 905 with approaching the game a little more mature and cautiously and really solidify some of these wins.”

Raptors 905 sport an Eastern Conference-worst 5-14 record and in many occasions this season have allowed leads they built up to just instantly evaporate, hence why Tolzman is probably looking for a bit more of a veteran presence to help teach his young team.

On Tuesday, he already sort of addressed this problem, however, with the acquisition of Greg Smith, a former D-League all-star who had previously worked with Mermuys when both were part of the Houston Rockets organization and a guy who can make an immediate impact, particularly if a player like Roberts gets called up.

“This is a big guy who’s got NBA experience and I think he’s going to bring a toughness and some defensive intensity to our front line,” Tolzman said. “I think, if we end up dealing with call-ups at all, he’s going to be a guy that can pick up some of that load. … He’s definitely a guy that we look to lean on and get a lot out of.”

Also of note, is that Sim Bhullar will be at the Showcase, marking the first time he’s been able to go on the road with the team, something that will continue for the rest of the season, Tolzman said.

“He’s worked towards to the point where now all parties are happy with the progression that he’s made where we’re ready to kick it into high gear, get him on the road and get him working with our trainers and our coaches all the time. He’s still got a long ways to go, without question, as far as conditioning and from a basketball standpoint, but he’s definitely trending in the right direction and he’s shown the dedication to really try and get this thing started.”

As you can probably tell by now, there’s a lot going on for both the Raptors and the 905 at the D-League Showcase, but this isn’t a unique situation as every NBA club will have to deal with all of this. So expect to see a lot of moving and shaking going on as the D-League takes centre stage.