As you’ve no doubt already heard, without Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green around, the Toronto Raptors may have some difficulties finding a consistent source of wing production on both sides of the ball this season.
Leonard and Green accounted for 25.7 per cent of the 9,384 points the Raptors scored in total last season during the regular season and 35.1 per cent of the 2,558 Toronto put up in the playoffs. Additionally, they were both among the Raptors’ best perimeter defenders in the regular season and playoffs.
Make no mistake, the Raptors aren’t going to suddenly be able to find a one-to-one replacement for a top-three NBA player and an elite-level, three-and-D role player, so if those are your expectations for Toronto’s wings this season it would be best to begin tempering them now.
With that said, it’s not like the Raptors are completely devoid of options at the two and three spots, in fact, one of the Raptors’ biggest strengths at the wing is that they have nothing but options.
Though it may sound bad, what the Raptors have now is an abundance of choice at the wing, with many players for head coach Nick Nurse to try in a variety of different situations as opposed to really only two top-end guys that must be used in all scenarios.
In Toronto’s pre-season opener against the Houston Rockets in Japan on Tuesday morning, there were glimpses of the possibilities at shooting guard and small forward as a slew of players got a chance to show what they can bring to the table.
Here’s a closer look at the guys who played and what they showed.
The player most expect to take the biggest leap this season, Anunoby looked outstanding in his 20 minutes of work Tuesday, finishing with seven points on 3-for-5 shooting with three boards and a couple assists.
More importantly than anything though, is the fact he looked strong and confident on the floor, two attributes he missed sorely missed last season.
Barring another injury, there was never going to be a scenario where Anunoby wouldn’t be given an opportunity to prove himself this season, and given the reports of him from training camp and how he looked in that first pre-season game, he could slide in nicely into that three-and-D role Green left vacant.
This is a big season for Powell, who might just be the person to benefit the most with Leonard and Green no longer in Toronto. He’s likely to get a ton of playing time this season and figures to be the opening-night starting shooting guard.
In the past, when given the greater opportunity – especially to start – Powell has underperformed, wilting under the pressure and expectation he sets for himself.
In Tokyo on Tuesday, however, this was a much freer-looking Powell, comfortable in the role he’s apparently been given. It showed with his assertive, in-control drives and cuts to the basket, and confident shots from deep to the tune of 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting
If this is the Powell the Raptors will see in the regular season, there won’t be much need for concern at the wing because offensively, this is all that will be required of him as his defence always remains steady.
An undrafted rookie who appears to be walking a similar path to Fred VanVleet, Davis is a six-foot-four, 205-pound, ultra-athletic specimen who made himself known in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s game, scoring six of his eight points in that period and helping the Raptors complete a comeback from 17 down to beat Houston 134-129.
Most notably, Davis got up for a huge dunk to start the fourth quarter over Houston forward Jaron Blossomgame.
The dunk was nasty, of course, but the more important takeaway is Davis’ athleticism.
With this level of bounce and the force, Davis appears as though he could very naturally sub in for someone such as Powell and still give Nurse an athletic option on the floor. Additionally, it helps that Davis could be a decent three-point shooter as he hit 37.1 per cent from deep last season in his senior season at Ole Miss.
Mr. 99% wasn’t quite that Tuesday going 2-for-5 from deep in his 14 minutes of action, but he made it very apparent why the Raptors went out this off-season and signed him.
Like J.J. Redick or Kyle Korver, Thomas is a three-point specialist who has shooting down to a science. He knows how to prepare his shot ahead of time, he knows how to position himself find spots to get open and he can absolutely make defences pay for daring to leave him unattended.
Without Leonard and Green, consistent three-point shooting was seen as something of a question mark for the Raptors, but with Thomas on the floor it’s very much a question answered, meaning he figures to be a very important rotation piece for the Raptors this season.
Hollis-Jefferson’s most memorable moment from Tuesday’s affair will be the nutmeg he was a victim of courtesy Rockets superstar James Harden, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Hollis-Jefferson is in line to become a fan favourite player because he’s incredibly quotable and because he plays hard as hell – especially on defence. His “embarrassing” moment with Harden should be looked at as a result of a player being willing to take on the challenge to try to defend one of the world’s best player one-on-one.
He didn’t come out of it looking great, but it should still send a message to Nurse that he can be relied upon to be used as wing defender when the team needs it. He’s a player who’s strong, has good anticipation and can come through in tight moments defensively, as his steal and slam with about four and a half minutes to play in the fourth illustrated.
This may finally be the season Miller gets a real chance with the Raptors. A fixture of Raptors 905 that last two seasons, Miller could carve out a consistent spot for himself as another three-and-D option for Nurse to go to off the bench.
At six-foot-seven and a G League career 38.9 per cent three-point shooter, Miller has the measurables to fit that role and Tuesday he showed it a little by hitting the go-ahead triple for Toronto with 5:24 left to play.
These three players combined for seven points on 1-for-6 shooting Tuesday, with six of the seven points coming from Brissett and McCaw not even attempting a field goal.
Obviously, it’s tough to determine what is and isn’t real in pre-season play, but there wasn’t a whole lot to take away from this trio’s performance that you could use to forecast.
McCaw is a long shooting guard with the reputation of having defensive upside, but that has yet to really become apparent.
Johnson, physically is a beast, and looks like he should be a future star, but has proven thus far that his shot isn’t there yet.
Finally, Brissett is a raw rookie out of Syracuse with possible upside because he should be able to play the two forward spots, but hasn’t had much of a chance to show what he can do yet.
This isn’t a knock on these three, but in Tuesday’s exhibition they didn’t show out as much as the others, and given the plethora of wings the Raptors have to choose from, a stronger performance Thursday morning would go a long way for them to be considered for the final roster.