One of the centrepiece conversations around the Toronto Raptors right now is about experimentation and creativity. How much is too much when you’re playing the best teams in the NBA?
Head coach Nick Nurse has never been shy about going against the grain with his defensive looks. He was smirked at by Stephen Curry in the Finals last year for his box and one strategy, but Fred VanVleet was the exact person needed to hound Steph and carry it out. Now we have memes for the rest of our lives as basketball fans.
This season, the emphasis has been on doubling superstars to force other role players to beat you. It’s been hit and miss (thanks a lot, Ben McLemore), and has been a strategy (and its high risk, high reward results) that’s trickled down to the G League.
Jama Mahlalela’s Raptors 905 have had similar issues balancing creativity and a roster in upheaval. Injuries to the Raptors, additions like Justin Anderson, and lineup changes have created a bit of unrest as the 905 try to hold water after an 0-3 start to the season. This week, we saw both sides of that sword in a loss to the Delaware Blue Coats and a win over the Erie Bayhawks as the 905 moved to 6-8 and still in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference.
In general, there’s been a cooling off among some players, which Mahlalela has used as a reason to shake things up in-game. Let’s take a look back at how that went down in this week’s Dial 905.
Saturday, December 14 vs. Delaware Blue Coats
Blue Coats 114
This past weekend’s loss at home to Delaware highlighted two issues that have plagued the 905 in their losses: a poor finish in the fourth quarter and unbalanced shooting from the outside.
Starting with the former, the 905 were outscored 32-21 in the fourth by Delaware, coughing up a four-point lead to lose by seven at home. The 905 suffered by really only having three players with efficient offensive performances. Paul Watson led the way for the second straight game, scoring 21 points, six rebounds, and two assists in a team-high 34 minutes.
Final from Sauga.@_PWJiii | 21p, 6r@TylerEnnis | 19p, 13r, 6a pic.twitter.com/K5zt5hvKTq— Raptors 905 (@Raptors905) December 14, 2019
He took a huge majority of his shots from outside (11 of 13), making six of them — which was massive for a 905 team that otherwise shot... wait for it... 10-for-36. Watson’s last three of the game nearly earned the 905 a puncher’s chance at the game, as he cut the Blue Coats lead to five with 29 seconds left. Unfortunately a missed three on the next possession was the dagger.
At the heart of that was the Justin Anderson cool off game, as the new 905er missed all five of his threes and finished with eight points starting at power forward. Dewan Hernandez, who has also struggled more since a stretch of good games early in the season, was just 3-for-15 and 0-for-5 from deep in the game at centre. Jawun Evans, the starting two guard, was just 1-for-9.
Luckily, Tyler Ennis was good again — scoring 19 points on 14 shots and grabbing 13 rebounds to help out his bigs. As was the bench, as Nichoals Baer had an impressive 14 points in just 16 minutes. Duane Notice also chipped in 12 on 50% shooting.
Tuesday, December 17 at Erie Bayhawks
A nice bounceback game from the 905 here, as every starter scored in double figures and the 905 rode an excellent second quarter (31-22) through a tight second half to win their third straight game on the road.
Again it was pure shooter Paul Watson who led the 905 to a win, hitting 3-of-5 from outside to score 16 points. More importantly, though, the 905 frontcourt came to play. Anderson, who had looked a bit awkward shifting down to the four after Watson’s return from injury, missed all his threes but created more inside — scoring 12 points and grabbing seven boards.
Dewan Hernandez also (finally) looked like himself again. With 15 points and nine rebounds, Hernandez was a team-best +19 and dominated his matchup with the Bayhawks’ Vitto Brown, who was 2-for-8 and a -32.
Hernandez isn’t going to bowl you over, but athleticism still counts for a lot when it’s used confidently. Seeing Dewan get some mojo back was a great sign.
Testing the rims tonight @DewanGoesFor_20 ?#RoadToTheSix pic.twitter.com/NsLRD4HePS— Raptors 905 (@Raptors905) December 18, 2019
Off the bench, it was also good to see Oshae Brissett settle back into his bench energy role this week. The two-way player had a solid outing against Erie, scoring ten points and grabbing seven rebounds in 20 minutes of play. With consistent play from the starters, Brissett can take advantage of seams in the defence and catch opponents off guard. Like he did here!
outta nowhere #2WayPlayer @Obrissy @Cuse_MBB ↗️ @Raptors905 ↔️ @Raptors pic.twitter.com/DlXEWM7LNK— NBA G League (@nbagleague) December 18, 2019
The 905 schedule slows down a bit around the holidays, with a game on Friday and then seven full days before their next matchup on December 28. That game against Greensboro starts off a stretch of three of four at home, another solid opportunity for the 905 to climb the Eastern Conference standings.