Raptors 905 Check-in: This could be a long, long season

Caboclo could make his first G League all-star appearance this season. (Frank Gunn/CP)

The Raptors 905 are sinking quickly. Now losers of seven of their last eight games, last season’s defending champions are second-last in the Eastern Conference with a 4-9 record.

As discussed in the last check-in, the best players from the team last season are now either in Europe or battling for minutes with the Toronto Raptors. The 905 were the best defensive team last season, and head coach Jerry Stackhouse’s constant hollering of “No middle!” has them competing admirably on that end once again with a third-best defensive rating of 101.3.

Canadian Kaza Keane is a pest against other point guards, more than happy to pick up full-court and stifle his opponent’s breathing room. Bruno Caboclo has been quite good defensively as well, and has shown a more consistent focus than in seasons past. His length continues to be a factor, his positioning has improved, and getting more minutes at centre and power forward — due to Edy Tavares’ last-minute departure — seems to have brought out his tenacious side.

What has negatively impacted the 905 is their decline offensively. They are currently second-last in the G League with an offensive rating of 97.8 — nearly 12 points less than last year’s mark — and repeatedly have stretches in games where the offence comes at a screeching halt.

Friday’s game against the Grand Rapids Drive was a perfect example, where the Drive went on a 16-3 run between the end of the first quarter and early second quarter to take a commanding lead. The 905 were plus-3 over the other three quarters, but were done in by losing the second frame 28-11.

They are struggling to move the ball or create open spaces for each other in an offence where Stackhouse demands quick read-and-react decisions. The lack of outside shooting to space the floor has allowed opposing defences to focus on clogging the middle and daring the 905 to shoot from the outside.

The 905 are currently shooting a league-worst 29.7 per cent from downtown on 28.1 attempts per game, after finishing second in the league at 37.6 per cent last year. This can happen when you lose a sniper like Brady Heslip, who made more three-pointers than anyone in the G League last season.

Canadian Content

The team waived Scarborough native Richard Amardi on Monday. This was a move necessitated by the addition of American Fuquan Edwin, a six-foot-six forward who had a stellar career at the NCAA level before playing across Europe, Venezuela, and Australia.

Edwin led the NCAA in steals in one of his four years, and finished with a career average of 2.3 steals per game. With the struggles the 905 have had offensively, this should give the team more opportunities to leak out and get some easy buckets in transition.

This is a tough pill to swallow for Amardi. The 27-year-old started off brightly by bringing the 905 scoring and energy off the bench, but departs with averages of 5.5 points and 2.8 rebounds over 12 games. It’s possible he looks to make a return to the NBL, where he previously played for three seasons.

Aaron Best is averaging 8.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists and has struggled to find consistency on the offensive end. He’s had five games with at least 12 points, but eight games in single digits including a zero-point outing on Dec. 5 against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

The reason he gets significant playing time, though, is because of his consistency on defence. Stackhouse has praised Best’s basketball IQ on multiple occasions, and the former Ryerson Ram continues to be execute their defensive schemes to a T by always being in the right place.

Negus Webster-Chan has made his return from injury, appearing in the last three games. He’s still working his way back into a rhythm, but it is a positive sign to see him hovering at about 20 minutes per game. He’s got a smooth shooting stroke which, as discussed earlier, could provide a much needed boost to the 905 offence.

Alfonzo McKinnie, Lorenzo Brown, and Malcom Miller

All three players were employed by the Toronto Raptors with the belief that they could potentially help the parent club.

Courtesy of the shoulder injury suffered by Delon Wright, Brown has provided insurance for Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry of late, albeit with negligible playing time. Miller was called upon for the Raptors’ West Coast road trip as well, limiting the options available to Stackhouse.

Former G League all-star McKinnie has been a consistent scorer for the 905, averaging 16.5 points to go along with 7.5 rebounds per game. His athleticism is a treat to watch at any level, and he’s been surprisingly good from the three-point line, shooting 41.7 per cent on four attempts per game.

BRUNO

It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for, I know. Caboclo is averaging 16.7 points, seven rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.9 blocks through 12 games and looks poised to make his first G League all-star appearance. He’s shooting 34.7 per cent from three, but just 41.3 per cent from inside the arc. There are two duds mainly responsible for bringing down those percentages, where he combined to shoot 7-of-26 from two and 2-for-13 from three.

The most encouraging sign with the Brazilian is his usage. The current rate of 23 per cent is the highest of his 905 career and is a sign that he is growing comfortable with more responsibility. Stackhouse employed a democratic offence last year that could cater to the variety of strengths on offer, and the relative lack of talent around this season has him relying on the 23-year old more often.

While Bruno had the chance to earn a roster spot with the Raptors at training camp early this year, the emergence of OG Anunoby combined with the depth provided by Norman Powell and C.J. Miles off the bench means that he will be resigned to the G League for the remainder of the season.