The NBA G League started late last week, with the Raptors 905, unfortunately, dropping their season and home opener against the Grand Rapids Drive last Friday.
The 905 were slated for back-to-back games against the Grand Rapids Drive and the Westchester Knicks the following day on the road, but the Knicks’ “unplayable court conditions” forced the cancellation of the Raptors 905’s first away game.
With only one game to base our initial first impressions on, it was tough to nitpick on the 905’s prospects’ successes and shortcomings so far. Still, there’s a wealth of history there, plus what we’ve seen during the Summer League and preseason games.
For affiliate Matt Morgan, for example, his path forward includes transitioning into being a point guard or at least a combo guard. Also, because of his size, we have to ask: can he be good enough defensively? I’m looking forward to seeing him defend bigger and stronger guards in the G League, and I’m also on the lookout of any improvements in his playmaking/decision making.
While one game (the first game to boot) does not reflect how these youngsters would play for the whole year, it should give us something to start with in terms of where they are currently, and how far along they are in the process.
New for this season, we will be loosely tracking the affiliates if there’s something worthwhile adding here. The Raptors are in an interesting situation - given the roster turnover and injuries, things could get interesting based on the Raptors’ situation, and maybe some of these affiliates’ names come up.
Devin Robinson showed off a solid first step to get a good angle and get by his defender a few times during the game. His athleticism and length enable him to float to his layups easily.
Robinson missed all three of his perimeter shots but looked comfortable hitting a midrange shot with a defender on his face.
After having a strong first quarter, Robinson was pretty much non-factor for the rest of the game. He was unable to get his game going, and some bad breaks and bad decision-making added up to his five turnovers for the game.
Matt Morgan had limited time as the primary ball-handler, but he was able to make the most of it. He dropped six dimes for the game, often finding the right cutter or the roll man even in traffic. Morgan looked composed enough as a ball-handler in PnR situation. The ball didn’t stick to his hands a lot; he readily swung the ball around the perimeter for “the better shot.”
Unfortunately, his perimeter shooting hasn’t lived up to the hype, just shooting 2/7 from behind the arc.
If we are rating Tyler Ennis’ performance based on how he has to come back from his injury, we could say that he looked good for someone who’s playing his first official game back. If we are to grade his performance based on who he is and what he’s capable of, his performance was so-so.
Ennis finished with a game-high six turnovers, and quite a few of them were risky passes to teammates who are still trying to get used to playing with him. I suppose at the NBA level, some of those passes wouldn’t be a turnover, but as the team adjusts to him, he also needs to adjust to his teammates. He still managed a team-high (tied with Morgan) six assists but a 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio isn’t great.
Ennis’ shooting was off for the most part, but he was able to show his range from the perimeter a few times. Some of the misses from behind the arc were at least two, maybe three feet away from the line, which I’m not sure his range is.
Ennis found himself stuck with the ball a few times with the clock winding down, often because his teammates were unable to execute their part of the offensive set. He tends to be a bit predictable by driving to the basket when he’s caught in situations like this, showing shades of Wade Baldwin IV hero mode.
Defensively, Ennis was an active body. He did a good job staying in front of his man, and on switches and scrambles, he was pretty good at looking for someone to cover. I’m a little bit surprised with the defensive IQ that he showed for this game — he had a good feel of how the play was developing whether it’s in front of him or away from the action, and he was able to parlay that in multiple steals, deflections, near-misses on steals.
It’s a tough task for a new point guard to run a new system with teammates who are entirely new to the system as well. While his performance isn’t that great last Friday, clearly there’s plenty of room for improvement — and that he should be able to reach that level.
Oshae started the game looking out of control; hopefully, it’s just the nerves. He had a hard time getting past his man on his drives to the basket and was blocked a few times. The other instances where he was able to put up a shot, they were well-defended, low percentage shots. He did have one drive to the basket where he was able to get the angle and was able to adjust and finish his layup using his left hand.
Brissett had a nice catch and shoot corner three; it looked more natural than his other shots. Unfortunately, he went 1-for-4 on such attempts. Brissett also had an excellent looking possession where he initiated a pick-and-roll and stepped into a midrange shot. Again, looking more natural.
Defensively, Brissett was active as a help defender, but had a few lapses defensively losing his man off back cuts or misdirection.
It wasn’t the ideal first game for Shamorie Ponds, as everything that the pre-draft scouting report said — good and bad — was on display. Granted, Ponds had to play off the ball for the most part as Ennis had the lion share of the ball-handling duties.
Plagued by early foul trouble, Ponds could not get anything right to start the game. He was a non-factor for the most part, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that there weren’t any bright spots.
Playing off the ball, Ponds was a willing passer when the opportunity presents itself. The ball doesn’t necessarily stick to him often as he would make the quick swing passes to get his teammate the better shot.
He looked comfortable shooting at the NBA three-point line, and he’s quite confident that he can get his shot off by throwing his defender’s timing off via multiple jabs. He’s got a quick first step and is capable of shooting anywhere on the floor if there’s daylight.
Unfortunately, Ponds’ self-confidence can be a double-edged sword for him. A few times that he had the ball, he looked to create his own shot at the expense of his teammates.
Defensively, Ponds had a hard time staying in front of his man, and if he were able to, the bigger and stronger players would just go through him. To be fair for him, he was playing out of position for the most part, as head coach Jama Mahlalela often went with two, and sometimes a three pointguard lineup, with none of them taller than 6’2”. However, he needs to show that he can be scrappy enough to defend guards at the G-League level.
After the game, I genuinely thought Dewan Hernandez did not have a good game. But when I looked at the box score, he had a stat filler 24/10/3/2/2 game. I literally had to rewatch the game to get a good feel of what Dewan did during the game.
Dewan came in as advertised — a mobile big that fits the mold of modern big men in the NBA. He runs the floor well, capable of initiating the transition or be on the receiving end. His three-point shot looks better than the last time we saw him in the summer league. The prospect of him being able to pick-and-pop makes me excited to see his development.
Dewan also has a traditional “big man” skillset; He’s quite comfortable in the post, and he can create a separation turning to his left or right easily and possesses a pretty good touch around the basket.
While Dewan was able to block a couple of shots in the game, I thought that he did not have a good defensive game. I’m not saying he was bad defensively; it’s just that there were a few situations where he was not aggressive enough being an inside presence.
Dewan’s pick-and-roll defense is still a question mark at this point. Guards were able to get their way easily — I’ll reserve my judgment unless we see this as a trend. It could very well be a lack of defensive chemistry/familiarity with his guards that makes him look indecisive on what to do in such situations.
Dewan’s rebounding needs some work too. He was boxed out a few times, and if not for his multiple excellent efforts to follow up a missed shot, his rebounding numbers would be lower. I don’t think it’s a matter of effort, but more of positioning (or getting a better positioning).
Overall, if this is just Dewan trying to feel a game out, we should expect even better performance from him because it looks like he can do a whole lot more damage than what he showed last Friday.
We missed out adding Jawun Evans as one of the affiliates that I profiled last week, my bad.
Watching Evans’ highlights from his OSU days all the way to his G-League stints, I saw a lot of shades of Kemba Walker in his game (especially on how he operates on pick-and-roll and utilizing screens). He is a flat out scorer — he can shoot from anywhere, and he utilizes his excellent handle and shiftyness to get to his spots.
Evans is capable of scoring over bigger defenders, and can also absorb the contact and finish strong on his drives to the basket. He’s got a pretty good court awareness while dancing around his defender, as he would find his teammate if there’s a slight opening to make a pass.
Defensively, Evans is physical and plays the passing lanes pretty well. He plays bigger and stronger on both ends than his size suggests. Unfortunately, his height is one of the main reasons why he’s not in the NBA yet. Evans is only 5’10” tall but he’s got a +5 wingspan.
Unfortunately for Evans, he’s in a situation with a lot of aspiring point guards in the roster, all of whom need to show that they can be a ball handler at a high level. I’m quite surprised that the Raptors did not offer the two-way contract to Evans, as he fits the mould of their past signings. Maybe he wants to have the flexibility to get a full contract, who knows.