The Toronto Raptors wrapped up their 2013 NBA Summer League schedule with a 103 to 98 loss to the Phoenix Suns yesterday afternoon.
The loss knocks them out of the playoffs giving them a final record of 3 and 2 this year in Vegas.
Yesterday's loss was perhaps pre-ordained considering their Summer League juggernaut, Jonas Valanciunas, sat out the game with a sprained left finger. No big deal according to reports, and if this had been an NBA playoff game, I'm betting Jonas would have played.
But without him, the Raptors still put up a good fight, getting as close as three points down with seconds to go vs the Suns, scratching and clawing to the very end. However the hole they got into early was too deep, and the Suns move on in the Summer League playoffs extravaganza while the Raps go home.
Not all is lost though and in many ways, it's actually mission accomplished for Masai Ujiri and the team's executives. They got some major run in for cornerstone Jonas Valanciunas, a chance for young prospects Quincy Acy and Terrence Ross to showcase new parts of their games, and even a chance for their new point guard acquisition, Dwight Buycks, to get acclimatized to some of his future teammates.
It's all good.
The HQ doles out its Summer League grades, from A...to unfortunately F.
Jonas Valanciunas - A+: This is the easiest grade of the bunch. Jonas dominated Vegas to the point that he'll certainly be named to the All-Vegas team. He showed off his power game thanks to an enhanced physique, but also didn't shy away from some crafty hook-shots and nimble foot-work down low. He went left. He went right. He went over and through. Pretty much you name it, you saw it from Big Val who averaged a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds, and even hit 29 of his 33 free throws!!
Yes, a lot of the time Valanciunas was going up against D-League quality opponents, but that's not his fault. Valanciunas did exactly what we hoped he'd do. Dominate.
Quincy Acy - B+: Acy was getting a solid B in my books before yesterday's match. But Acy went off, carrying his club to a near upset of a much more experienced Suns' squad. He had 28 points, 10 rebounds, a steal and a block and was virtually unstoppable in the loss. The performance in fact made me wonder just what we might have seen from Acy had he been more of a go-to option for the club in Summer League.
Regardless, like Valanciunas, this is what you wanted to see from Acy. Improved range on his jumper, more back-to-the-basket emphasis and post-work, and yet that same aggressiveness and energy that made him an asset at times for the club last year. As I tweeted during yesterday's game, if you're Dwane Casey, you suddenly feel much more comfortable putting Acy into the thick of the action if his offensive game continues to develop in this fashion.
Dwight Buycks - A: Buycks represents another top grade in my books. Not only did he look pretty good running the team's offense, I'm not sure he won't give Kyle Lowry some issues in training camp. His Summer League stint showed a quick and athletic point guard who can be a terror off the bounce, and who also can make opponents pay for giving him room to shoot. He hit 14 of his 25 shots (56 per cent) and excelled at creating space for himself and penetrating to the cup. Unlike point guards of Summer League's past, Buycks could look downright dominant at times,again, something you'd hope to see from a player expected to earn his keep in the NBA next season.
He wasn't perfect however. Buycks did throw some ill-advised cross-court feeds, and we didn't see a ton from him defensively. But he certainly looked more than able to at least be a third-string option for the Dinos and I'd go as far as saying that D.J. Augustin better not assume he's a lock for the Number Two PG role.
Terrence Ross - F: Terrence Ross averaged 13 points and 5 rebounds in Summer League play.
Unfortunately, that's the good news.
If Valanciunas and Acy gave the team exactly what the club hoped to see, Ross would have to be the opposite looking passive, hesitant, and downright invisible at times.
Sure, he had a few good scoring games, including a 17 point outing on Thursday against Denver.
However he shot 4 of 11 in that match, the bulk of his points coming from the free-throw line, and of those points from the stripe, the bulk came from being fouled in transition, not from his own shot-creation attempts in half-court sets.
In fairness, he did knock down pretty much every free-throw he encountered. But for a player with his elite athleticism, you expected a lot more, especially in this setting where opponents typically don't have his caliber of athletic ability.
Put it this way. My baseline for Quincy Acy in terms of expectations was for him to at least be able to do the things he normally does (rebound the ball, throw-down some put-back dunks, hustle on both ends etc), but perhaps do them even better due to the level competition he would be facing. If he added in a few things on top of this such as an improved jump shot or post-game? Gravy.
So for Ross, same idea. You'd expect him to come in and knock down open three-pointers, get to the hoop, finish plays using his top-notch athleticism, be a defensive presence, etc, etc.
Only that didn't happen.
He rarely attacked the basket, he struggled shooting the long-ball (was 3 of 13), shot only 42 per cent from the field, had 17 turnovers despite not being the team's "go-to-option" on O, and got to the free-throw line only two more times than teammate Michah Downs.
Not only did I fail to see an ounce of development, but for the bulk of the contests, I also didn't see those "baseline traits" I mentioned before! I don't want to say Ross took a step backwards as we're talking five Summer League games here, but ugh. It was't good.
During last night's match-up with Phoenix I remembered a line his college coach Lorenzo Romar told me after Ross was drafted. He mentioned that whether Ross was "playing in his back-yard or drive way, it's the same thing as if he was playing for twenty-thousand people in the championship, he just doesn't get rattled."
Maybe the setting was the problem and Ross approached this like he had nothing to prove, lacking last year's hunger.
Maybe the calf issues that were reportedly bothering him prior to the Vegas League were impacting his play.
In any event, if you're judging Ross you wanted to see at least those traits that made him an intriguing prospect coming out of college and in absence of even those, never mind additions to his game on top of that, I'm not sure there's much other choice than to dole out an F.
A few others.
-Chris Wright - B-: Wright only played about 20 minutes a contest but I thought he played better than Mr. Ross overall. He averaged 10 points and 3 rebounds but led the team in blocks and almost always made an immediate impact as soon as he entered games. Was said impact enough to warrant a camp invite? I'm hoping so as his size and athleticism were major issues for opponents at times and Wright got to the free-throw line more than any Raptor not named Quincy or Jonas. Now if he could just knock them down once he got there...
-Coby Karl - B+: Karl doesn't have Wright's upside but he was a more consistent presence throughout his Summer League stint. He didn't dazzle but was the steadying hand the team needed at times and maybe his veteran savvy gets him a look with an NBA roster this fall. It just won't likely be with the Dinos.
-Micah Downs - C: Micah's got the size and athletic ability to find a spot in the league but he still struggles shooting the ball way too often. He was one of the Raptors' key guys in Vegas so had his looks, but hit only 35 per cent of them and only 24 per cent from downtown. Tough to get a roster invite with those kind of stats.
-Greg Echenique - B: Echenique played in only two games but was a factor in both using his size and strength to create havoc down low. I would have liked to have seen more of him but this is a player who might find a Ronny Turiaf type role down the line.
-Trevor Mbakwe - INC: After the play of Terrence Ross, this was the biggest disappointment for me. I still feel Mbakwe has a shot at being a solid NBA role player thanks to his play in the paint, but we just didn't get to see it in Vegas as he averaged only 3 minutes a game.