10 things: Raptors' Sam Dekker and Malachi Flynn showcase their talents

Malachi Flynn scored 22 points as the Toronto Raptors defeated the Washington Wizards 113-108.


One -- The Raptors earned a hard-fought win to conclude pre-season. They rested Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby, who have been their two top players to date, and continue to be without key rotation pieces in Pascal Siakam, Yuta Watanabe, and Chris Boucher, yet the Raptors still had enough depth to be competitive.

The starters in this game, which were really just the reserves, played the full-strength Wizards even in the first half despite a dismal shooting performance, and the Raptors' third stringers cleaned up the mess formed in the third quarter with a furious comeback push, before closing out the game. Although the result didn't count, the Raptors showed the right attitude and competitiveness in how they battled back, and have finished pre-season with a 3-2 record.

Two -- Scottie Barnes keeps making highlight plays. Today it was his passing that was on display again, as Barnes threw a no-look bounce pass splitting two defenders to spot Precious Achiuwa wide open at the basket. It was the type of pass that requires both expert technique and gifted vision to execute, and the flair of it all was simply the icing on the cake.

Barnes concludes pre-season as the Raptors' leader in assists, which is a reflection of the Raptors' shift in playing style. By going positionless, there is less of the ball for any one player to monopolize assists, but Barnes does find himself in a unique position at the top of the floor. He is often tasked with directing traffic and making reads, pivoting into dribble hand-offs, flipping it side to side, or even occasionally calling his own number with a mid-range jumper that he looks comfortable in. It's akin to the role that Marc Gasol used to serve for the Raptors.

Three -- Barnes is even more impressive on the defensive end. Nick Nurse continues to test his limits with a string of difficult scorers, having assigned Barnes to Jayson Tatum, Jalen Green, and now Bradley Beal. And while Barnes wasn't perfect, nor was Beal as razor sharp as he normally is, it was still a resounding success for the rookie forward.

Barnes shrunk the gap against Beal, used his length to his advantage, avoided fouling, and generally made it difficult for Beal to get a shot off. And even when Beal was able to shake free of Barnes on a switch, as he did in the second quarter by drawing Khem Birch on a switch, Barnes still factored into the picture as a secondary defender to run Beal off the arc which resulted in a turnover. Beal shot 1-for-11 with the only basket coming on a sequence where Barnes was summoned to help elsewhere on the play. Even in a pre-season setting, it's clear that Barnes will be a high impact defender right from the jump.

Four -- Achiuwa is more flashy, while Birch is more solid. That's probably why they will make a nice platoon pairing for the Raptors at centre. Birch doesn't take it coast-to-coast like a guard (Birch tries but he's simply not that agile) but he excels more in the traditional roles of a big. He plays reliable pick-and-roll defence and his positioning is always sound. Birch is stronger in the paint and able to take a hit before blocking the shot. And offensively, he stays more within himself than Achiuwa, who takes more attempts because he is more capable, whereas Birch stays squarely in his routine of little hook shots with either hand or the occasional corner three.

Expect Nurse to mix and match at centre all season, which is refreshing given the total lack of options at his disposal last season.

Five -- A veteran like Goran Dragic knows not to waste precious energy in pre-season. Dragic's entire approach over the first four days mirrored his muted entrance in the starting lineup introductions against Philadelphia, where he was so visibly disinterested that Barnes had to shake him to life. Dragic made sure to stamp his place on the team with a smart and efficient effort tonight starting in place of VanVleet. Dragic kept the ball moving, he showed a nice two-man game with Achiuwa owing to their time with the Heat, was smart in his movements off-ball, and set a quick tempo that suited the Raptors.

It's exactly the type of orchestrating that would fit the Raptors' second unit, although it's still unclear as to who Nurse wants to start at the other guard position along with VanVleet. With Dragic starting all four pre-season games he appeared in, he figures to be in the lead.

Six -- Malachi Flynn sent a reminder of his abilities. Flynn has been lost in the shuffle thus far, operating mostly with the third stringers just as he did today, but it's not necessarily for a lack of ability. When Flynn is confident and getting a handful of possessions to run the show, he is capable of leading the team.

Flynn mixed in a steady diet of darting drives to go along with his outside shot, landing him at the foul stripe for eight attempts, and iced the win with a gutsy drive down the lane for an and-one to put the Raptors up six points. It feels like a shame that Flynn doesn't quite fit into the Raptors' new style of play, which does take away from what are clear and tangible strengths in his game.

Seven -- Sam Dekker made a last-second push to make the roster. Dekker shot the lights out in the second half and single-handedly brought the Raptors back into the game after having fallen down double-digits, which is exactly what he was brought in to do. Dekker's improvements as a shooter are clear as he needed very little separation, and was confident almost to the point of being irrational with the difficulty of his attempts. Defensively, his best trait is that he stands at six-foot-eight and has enough strength to top out at neutral, but that's enough to keep him on the floor for an NBA team.

Even if it's not the Raptors, there will be another team in the league who can use Dekker's skillset.

Eight -- The inverse of Dekker would be Isaac Bonga and Ish Wainright. Both guys are defence-first wings who have tremendous length and an enthusiasm for defence, yet they're strictly limited in what they can do offensively. Wainright is a standstill three-point shooter, so he is entirely reliant on others for his own scoring, while Bonga offers slightly more of an ability to slash except with a downgrade in shooting.

Ultimately, these are players who get on the floor with their defence, and Bonga offers a little more litheness, while Wainright is built like a TTC bus.

Nine -- Freddie Gillespie's strong shift before the final buzzer not enough. It had been an underwhelming showing from Gillespie, to say the least, and it's hard to justify that he should've beat out others for a roster spot other than on account of his size. But that is one trait the Raptors are missing, and it was even evident in this game, where Daniel Gafford was running rampant in the paint except for when he met his match in Gillespie.

There is some defensive potential with Gillespie in his ability to contest at the rim and he's an average rebounder, but given his lack of a skillset on offence, it's understandable he didn't make the Raptors' initial roster.

Ten -- My guess is Bonga and Wainright for the final two spots. Bonga got the start tonight and has generally gotten more meaningful run than any of the other contenders, and he is also just 21 years old which implies some upside. Wainright is less certain, and hasn't shown all that much outside of his defence, but his disruptiveness truly stands out and his jumper connects just enough for him to qualify as a fifth option.

Dekker is intriguing, too, just for the shooting, but Nurse rarely likes to play one-dimensional shooters.

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