Coach Jama Mahlalela and his Raptors 905 squad wrapped up last week by falling short. They were in every contest, but dropped exciting games against the Delaware Blue Coats, Long Island Nets, and Fort Wayne Mad Ants regardless. They finally got back in the win column last Monday, when they wrestled the game away from the Long Island Nets (again!) in the final period.
As is the story of their season, injuries continue to ravage through the Raptors 905 roster. This time, the 905 were without their second (Justin Anderson has now surpassed Devin Robinson as the team’s leading scorer at 25.6ppg) and third-best scorers in Devin Robinson (23.7ppg) and Paul Watson (18.6ppg).
Coach Mahlalela had no choice but to put out a lineup of Tyler Ennis-Jawun Evans-Oshae Brissett-Justin Anderson-Dewan Hernandez during this stretch, which mirrors the two-PG lineup that the Raptors utilize heavily. Unfortunately, Oshae Brissett and Dewan Hernandez do not provide similar perimeter shooting and defensive IQ as their counterparts in OG Anunoby and Marc Gasol.
The young prospects’ performance last week showed how much work they had to do to get to the next level. It was a mixed bag of sub-par skillsets, intensity, and polish to their game juxtaposed to flashes of NBA-caliber moves throughout the week. It was a tough week for the 905, but there were plenty of silver linings in the team’s performance.
26.5 PPG, 49.3% FG%, (16-40) 40 3P%, 7.5 REB, 1.25 AST, 1.25 STL, 1.25 BLK, 2.25 TO, -11 +/-
A 3+D wing that can shoot three-pointers in bunches, muscle his way to the basket, hustle for rebounds, and block shots? Seriously, Bobby Webster and Masai Ujiri need to re-think their roster and see how they can squeeze Justin Anderson onto their roster. He’s already got Nick Nurse’s approval — he was at the game and looked really impressed.
Last week, I said that Anderson’s three-point shot is still in development. I was totally wrong about that. He’s ready, and he’s confident shooting them. Except for Monday’s game against the Long Island Nets, Anderson was putting up double-digit attempts from deep. During this stretch, he averaged 10 perimeter attempts and hit at a ridiculous 40 percent. Not bad for someone who never shot more than 32 percent in the NBA (26.8%, 30.4%, 32%, 31.2% in the NBA year-to-year).
Whether it’s catch-and-shoot or if he had to create separation, Anderson will shoot it from deep. If a player is transitioning into getting comfortable hitting their three-point shot, they would typically camp at their “preferred” spot, but that’s not Anderson. He was shooting it from anywhere, and sometimes, a few feet behind the line.
Anderson has considerably altered his shot profile, primarily shooting threes or attempts in the paint. There may only be less than five shot attempts that are in the mid-range/long-two areas. Out of his 69 FGA during this four-game stretch, 40 of them came from behind the arc, and he’s shooting 62 percent inside the arc, primarily in the paint.
Roster move, anyone?
17.75 PPG, 45.9% FG%, (2-11) 18.2 3P%, 4.75 REB, 6.5 AST, 0.75 STL, 0.5 BLK, 4 TO, -21 +/-
Tyler Ennis had a decent week even though he hasn’t shot the ball particularly well. Instead, Ennis was solid in setting up the 905’s offense and getting his teammates scoring opportunities. Aside from his shooting, Ennis’ turnover woes continue as well — he’s averaging four turnovers per game over his last four appearances. Some of them are unforced, and there were instances during this stretched where he was blitzed and coughed up the ball a few times.
I’m not going to gloss over a lot of the things that Ennis has shown that he’s capable of though. Instead, I’m going to focus a bit more on what’s missing and what could potentially be keeping him from making his NBA comeback.
As far as being a floor general goes, Ennis is in the cream of the crop among G League hopefuls. Ennis has the size advantage and should have no issues running any team’s offense as a back-up point guard in the NBA. His much-improved court awareness, defense, and strength should also allow him collapse the defense to create shots for his team, if not for himself.
Unfortunately, Ennis’ shot outside the midrange area is suspect. While he hasn’t shown hesitation taking them, he’s not hitting his perimeter shots at a decent clip. Then there’s also the finishing around the basket. Ennis being at 51 percent at the rim is a mild concern because the NBA’s got bigger and quicker players compared to the G League. The return of his explosiveness to the basket might still be a work in progress since he’s only been a year removed from a significant injury.
That said, Ennis will take and hit important shots if needed, as demonstrated throughout the season so far for the 905. It was fun seeing his game versus the Nets, for example, especially in the decisive final quarter. Ennis knew that Shamorie Ponds was cooking, so he deferred until the situation required him step up — and that he did. As if Ponds passed the baton to Ennis, he finished what Ponds started, taking over offensively to seal the game.
13.25 PPG, 32.8% FG%, (4-23) 17.4 3P%, 8.5 REB, 1.5 AST, 1.25 STL, 0.5 BLK, 2.25 TO, -21 +/-
As I wrote last week, Brissett’s offense is still a work-in-progress. It’s good that he’s demonstrated some flashes of repeatable moves, like driving and finishing with his left hand. His finishing around the basket still needs some improvement, but it’s trending up, as he’s figuring out what he can do and moving with more control. In fact, he’s getting better and better as a slasher.
Brissett started four straight games due to injuries to the 905’s key players, but unfortunately he was unable to deliver being a 3+D guy for the team. While he hustled and crashed the boards a lot, his futility behind the line (combined with Dewan Hernandez’s), cramped up the spacing for their teammates and produced a lot of bricks.
Despite a bunch of misses, it’s good to see that there’s minimal hesitation for Brissett to shoot. Devin Robinson and Paul Watson might be coming back soon, and when they do, it will be interesting to see how coach Mahlalela gets Brissett minutes and touches because out of the three, his offense production right now would rank last.
16 PPG, 38.1% FG%, (6-27) 22.2 3P%, 3.75 REB, 2 AST, 3.25 STL, 0.5 BLK, 1.25 TO, 31 +/-
Shamorie Ponds’ counting stats don’t look good for the past two games. He put up 16 points in pretty much the same number of shots, and shot under 40 percent from the field, including 22 percent from behind the arc. Based on that, there seems to be a statistical anomaly because his plus/minus numbers indicate that the team is better off with him on the floor. In fact, there are only three games this season where Ponds was negative on the plus/minus, and none of them were more than -3.
So I re-watched pockets of the games last week, and even the week before, and one thing’s evident: The 905 have a tendency to start slow and play catch up, and the lineup with Ponds usually comes in and goes on a run. What’s more, he’s in the middle of it scoring in bunches. Even when Ponds is not making his shots, his aggressiveness takes a lot of the defense’s attention, which opens things up for teammates.
Ponds can have a quiet night but all of a sudden, start putting up numbers in bunches. Against the Delaware Blue Coats, he only had two points at the half, but then proceeded to drop 17, keeping the team within striking distance before coming up short. Another example, Ponds kick-started the 905’s comeback run to start the fourth quarter versus the Nets last Monday with him pretty much involved in 80 percent of the possessions for the first half of the quarter:
- Two straight midrange buckets;
- a pull-up three (missed) that led to Brissett getting fouled (and subsequent trip to the line);
- a floater;
- a missed three-pointer;
- a trip to the free-throw line;
- another floater;
- a steal that led to Anderson’s dunk; and
- a clutch three pointer to put the team up six heading into crunch time.
During such runs, Ponds not only scores, he also comes up with timely steals. He’s got that Lowry-esque skill of sneaking around inbounds or defensive rebound situations and blindsiding whoever was holding the ball. For the last four games, he’s averaging 3.25 steals per game.
The only downside here is that I am not a big fan of Ponds’ shot selection. I love the aggression, but quite a few of his attempts are “heat check” shots — except he wasn’t on fire. It’s good that Ponds is confident though, and it’s true sometimes a catch-and-shoot or a quick pull-up might be a better than passing it up for a worse, contested shot.
12.5 PPG, 37% FG%, 0% 3P% (0-10), 10.5 REB, 1.75 AST, 1 STL, 3 BLK, 2.5 TO, -33 +/-
”I need more from you, big guy”
That’s what Justin Anderson said to Dewan Hernandez in his face late in the fourth quarter as they battled the Long Island Nets. He was in the midst of his worst game as a G Leaguer, and unfortunately for him, he followed up that game with a dud against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, scoring only six points to go along with nine rebounds and four blocks. Hernandez was an extremely rough -22 for the game.
Hernandez had been very inconsistent offensively — his sweet post moves around the basket aren’t always there, and he’s been ineffective as a scorer in a half-court setting that doesn’t involve him posting up. I suppose what’s even more disappointing is Dewan’s pick-and-roll and switch defense. He seems to be unsure or indecisive when it comes to switches, and got exploited easily in quite a few of this past week’s games.
While it’s been a rough stretch for Hernandez — he’s only averaging 12.5 points for the past four games — there seems to be a much better awareness of what he can do that can impact the game as it goes along. Hernandez started crashing the boards more and showed more intensity and awareness on the defensive end. I’ve mentioned before that he plays like he can do a whole lot more; he’s shown an increased ability at being an inside presence. Hernandez bumped his contest rate around the rim (with nine blocks in the past two games), and set a G League career-high in rebounds with 16 against the Long Island Nets on Monday.
Another pleasant development: Hernandez is moving the ball much better now, and it doesn’t look like he’s in Serge Ibaka Mode looking to shoot every time he touches the ball. Speaking of shooting though, Hernandez’s three-point shooting took another dip, as he went 0-for-10 in the past four games. This futility brings him down to 17.6 percent for the season.
Justin Anderson is a pro and knows what it takes to get to the next level. I believe that he also knows that Hernandez can do a whole lot more, and I think the same. Let’s see if he can keep some of this momentum going.