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Prospect Report: Good things come in threes for the 905

Boucher, Loyd, and Malachi were back in action together for the 905. And the winning ways started coming back too.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

After going on 12-3 to start the season, it’s been a rough two months for coach Jama Mahlalela and the Raptors 905. Assignments, injuries, and call-ups to their main players severely handicapped the squad, and integrating new players to the team is still an on-going transition, especially for the prospects who had limited playing/practice time with the newbies.

The last 905 Prospect Report covered games through Jan 5, 2019, and around that time, the 905 lost six of their last eight games after their hot start. While the ensuing week piled on two more losses (loss @ Delaware Blue Coats on Jan 8, 2019, and a loss vs Erie BayHawks on Jan 8, 2019), the competitive spirit was back. The 905 carried some momentum over their next three games, where the team and their main guys looked more like themselves (for the most part) during their hot start of the season en route to a three-game winning streak (win @ Greensboro Swarm Jan 13, 2019, win vs Greensboro Swarm Jan 17, 2019, win @ Long Island Nets Jan 21, 2019).

It’s great to see Chris Boucher back with the Raptors 905 again, as his scoring and defense were sorely missed. Also, the team is much more potent offensively when all three are playing as they provide spacing and gravity for each other, and not to mention, with all three playing major minutes, the team can play at a faster pace. Boucher, Jordan Loyd, and Malachi Richardson are averaging a combined 74 points per game after yesterday’s game against the Long Island Nets.

Misc Note: Prospect Birthdays! Chris Boucher turned 26 last January 11th, and Malachi Richardson turned 23 last January 5th.

Let’s look at how the prospects fared during this stretch.

Jordan Loyd

21 PPG, 48.5% FG% (8/16.5), 41.7% 3P% (10/24 3PM/A), 6 REB, 6 AST, 3 STL, 3.5 TO, +15 +/-

I mentioned on my previous prospect report that Loyd looked banged up — well he was, he had an assortment of injuries that he played through. Given the way Loyd went down late December with an ankle injury, I thought he was going to miss a few weeks. Instead, it looks like Loyd powered through the injury, missed only one game, and looks to be rounding back into shape based on the last three games.

Good

Great active hands. That’s how Gareth Wheeler described Loyd after one of his steals against the Swarm, and he could not have described Loyd much better. Earlier in the season, I harped on how Loyd was at times cheating to potentially come in as a help defender and go for the steal, and he would end up getting back-doored. It looked like Loyd found a good balance of sagging off his man to potentially go for the steal as a help defender, and still be able to recover if the ball goes back to his man. Loyd has now averaged 3.0 steals per game in his last four games compared to 1.3 steals per game on the three games prior to that stretch.

Bad

As I alluded to above, Loyd looked like he played banged up, and eye test and his stats can’t hide it. While Loyd doesn’t have the best first step (average at best), he wasn’t blowing by his defenders and at times — especially against the Blue Coats. Worse, he was even missing those wide open layups. Loyd likes to get to the line and get his points there, and against the Blue Coats, he had zero attempts, showing his lack of aggressiveness or willingness to drive.

When Chris Boucher got called up for a while, the 905 became Loyd’s team. He was the featured player and go-to guy. When the team needed to put up points on the board, he would answer that call. However, injury or not, Loyd (and the team) cannot afford for him to have slow starts, especially if no one else on the team is cooking.

Misc

GM Chad Sanders did a great job scooping up some players that are a clear upgrade over their backup players. The shooting and finishing abilities of the new guys like Jordan Howard, Josh Adams, and Derek Cooke Jr opened up Loyd’s game again.

Coach Mahlalela started Howard alongside Loyd against the Swarm (both games) for a two-point-guard look, but it was Howard’s perimeter shooting provided the spacing that Loyd needed to operate, and Howard also allowed him to play off-ball and look for his shots more. Having better finishers like Adams and Cooke Jr also helped, considering Loyd had a total of one assist on two games against the Long Island Nets (Jan 5, 2019 game) and the Blue Coats. For the last three games, Loyd was back averaging 6.3 assists per game.

Chris Boucher

27 PPG, 44.1% FG% (10/22.7), 22.7% 3P% (5/22 3PM/A), 11 REB, 1.3 AST, 2.3 STL, 4 BLK, 1.7 TO, +21 +/-

After only playing one game with the Raptors 905 since Jonas Valanciunas’ injury, Boucher was assigned back to the 905 on three of the last four games. The 905 needed Boucher’s two-way game, and it showed — winning two out of the three games that he played. The lone loss was against the Erie BayHawks, where Boucher got to experience what’s it like without Loyd and Malachi.

Good

Boucher provides a lot of things to the team that they badly needed — his gravity as a perimeter shooter, and as a scorer overall, and his presence on the defense, where he’s back to his league-leading 4 blocks per game. Not surprisingly, he logged 12 blocks in the three games that he played.

But after watching a lot of games without Boucher, there’s one contribution that’s often overlooked when he plays: His ability to push the pace. During Boucher’s absence, the 905’s offense stalled, and they struggled to push the pace to get going. With Boucher back, his ability to rebound the ball and lead the transition attack puts a lot of pressure on the defense, creating mismatches along the way.

Even though the 905 lost to the BayHawks, they pushed the pace and managed to get 25 fastbreak points. On the three losses prior to this game, the 905 had a combined 23 fastbreak points — all of them without Boucher.

Bad

It’s nothing new, and it’s something that all Raptors fans have seen when Boucher got some minutes with the Raptors. Also, it’s something that he needs to work on to be on rotation next year: get stronger.

While Boucher did an admirable job trying to hold his own defensively and at times, offensively against bigger guys against Isaac Humphries and Chinanu Onuaku, overall, Boucher struggled against their physicality.

Majority of Boucher’s misses around the paint had a common theme: Boucher trying to drive, meeting some contact, and not absorbing the contact well as if he’s bouncing off them or as if he’s hitting a wall. Needless to say, it didn’t look pretty and he was not able to finish a lot of them. This is a big problem for Boucher, because in the NBA not only are the PF/Cs bigger and stronger but also quicker (for the most part) and much more skilled.

Misc

It looks like every time Boucher steps on the court for the main club, it’s as if he’s shooting 50% or more from the perimeter. However, since getting his call-up, Boucher is shooting a meagre 24.1% (7/29) behind the arc.

Malachi Richardson

19.3 PPG, 44.3% FG% (6.8/15.3), 33.3% 3P% (10/30 3PM/A), 5.5 REB, 3 AST, 4.5 TO, +22 +/-

If you look at his stats, it won’t jump out right away, but Malachi is going through a rough stretch. If not for his three-point shooting and getting on a hot streak every now and then, it could be worse for Malachi.

Good

Not knowing much about him when the Raptors sacrificed Bruno to trade for him, I thought Malachi was a one-trick pony — that he’s just a three-point shooter. However, Malachi’s passing is an eye-opener for me and he’s getting better at it. He’s averaging a G League career-high 3.1 assists per game, almost doubling his (G League) career average entering this season. This is impressive as he’s the second ball handler on the floor at best, and he’s usually looking to score on those possessions.

It’s still a work in progress, but Malachi has added a threat to pass on his drives to the basket — that is if he doesn’t just put his head down and drive to the basket hoping for a foul. As long as Malachi’s got an idea where his teammates are, he’s able to get the ball to them on his drives to the basket, and he can hit the roll guy on a pick-and-roll situation.

Bad

I’m pretty sure I have touched upon this part since last year, but Malachi just doesn’t have the quick first step/explosion on his drives, nor the bounce to finish his layups. A good majority of his turnovers come from situations where Malachi would just put his head down for a straight line drive to the basket. Often, looking like without a plan. Malachi is such a turnover machine lately, he’s racked up 18 turnovers in the last four games.

Misc

I know that Coach Mahlalela is trying to be true to the Raptors playbook as much as possible, but I’d like to see Malachi be put in a position where they can run plays for him where he can just catch and shoot the ball. I think at this point, it’s clear that Malachi doesn’t have much when it comes to shot creation (his jab left+step back is lethal), and it would be good to get him the same looks that C.J. Miles got last year, or heck, even a simple pick and pop that Jerry Stackhouse would run to get our boy Bruno Caboclo going.