The 2017-18 NBA G League season is well underway and the defending champion Raptors 905 are off to a rocky start.
They’ve lost four of their first seven games — three by a combined 64 points — after finishing with a 39-11 record last season. They’re struggling to find a rhythm as a unit, and are still growing accustomed to playing with each other.
Why is a championship team unfamiliar with each other?
Success in the G League is a two-way street. As players prove they can compete at this level and dot the “i’s” and cross “t’s” the way championship teams do, the European leagues and the NBA sometimes come calling.
The 905 lost key contributors in Brady Heslip, Axel Toupane and Edy Tavares to Europe, and that doesn’t even include the G Leaguers who have now graduated.
The Toronto Raptors organization has done a tremendous job of using the 905 as a farm system and developing players to the point where they’re now playing key roles for the senior team.
Pascal Siakam is now the first big off the bench for the Raptors after winning the G League Finals MVP last year while Norman Powell, Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl and Fred VanVleet have all spent time working on their craft at the lower level.
That leaves Bruno Caboclo and the currently injured Toronto native Negus Webster-Chan as the only returning members of the 2016-17 roster.
As head coach Jerry Stackhouse and the rest of his coaching staff look to instil defensive principles and offensive schemes with the new faces, there are still some fascinating storylines to follow as the season progresses.
The Raptors’ long-term project who was once “two years away from being two years away” is into the final season of that term. He’s off to a strong start, averaging 17.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.8 blocks. At six-foot-nine, 200-pounds and possessing an absurd seven-foot-seven wingspan, he still offers intrigue at a coveted position in the NBA.
As mentioned previously, Webster-Chan is back for another season, but there are three other Canadians joining him for this campaign. Ajax’s Kaza Keane and Scarborough’s Aaron Best provide depth at the guard positions, while Richard Amardi provides some shooting touch at power forward.
Webster-Chan, who paid $275 for an open tryout to make the team last season, can play both the shooting guard and small forward position.
Arguably the most intriguing member of the organization, the former 18-year NBA veteran’s name is gaining steam among NBA front offices as a coaching prospect. His tough-love approach combined with an egalitarian style of play has already proven successful at this level, and he’ll be looking to prove a point this season with a brand new roster.
He’s easily the best dressed coach in the league, and if that’s not enough for you, he’s constantly walking the fine line between getting his point across to officials and getting tossed out of a game.
McKinnie claimed the final roster spot on the Raptors’ squad and is platooning between both rosters as required. He possesses incredible hops and is likely to have one or two posters before season’s end. A great story, McKinnie made his NBA debut on Oct. 19 for the Raptors after playing in Luxembourg and Mexico the past two seasons.
Malcolm Miller and Lorenzo Brown
Both will be intriguing to follow, if only for their contracts. The NBA introduced two-way contracts for the first time this season, and Miller and Brown were the lucky recipients for the Raptors.
NBA rosters expanded by two spots to accommodate these contracts, allowing them to maintain a level of control over a player they have interest in that they didn’t have before.
Brown, a score-first point guard, has already been called upon to provide insurance for the Raptors after Wright suffered a shoulder injury, and Miller made his debut on Sunday after being out of action for 12 weeks to recover from arthroscopic surgery for his right ankle.