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G League Playoff Preview: How do the Raptors 905 stack up?

The Raptors 905 start their post-season run today against the Grand Rapids Drive. Let’s get to know the current roster as we preview what’s to come in the G League Playoffs.

Raptors 905 coach Jama Mahlalela calls for a timeout as the Raptors 905 tries to make a comeback against Oklahoma City Blue. December 12, 2018.
JD Quirante

The Raptors 905 are heading into the playoffs pretty much in the same spot as the 2017-2018 version of this team: fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, about to play a knock-out game against the Grand Rapids Drive at home, while another Atlantic Division team (Long Island Nets) waits for the winner.

Only this time, there won’t be a Lorenzo Brown that will put his team on his back, nor the defense and the discipline of past Raptors 905 teams. They now have to rely on Jordan Loyd and Chris Boucher to provide the main scoring load and hope that the rest of the supporting cast provides the necessary help offensively and defensively.

Looking at the roster construct, here’s what to expect moving forward:

Injured Players

There’s a good chance that we won’t see these key players in the post-season due to the timeline of their injuries, and Kyle Collinsworth’s playmaking and Wade Baldwin IV’s scoring punch would definitely be missed.

Kyle Collinsworth, SF

Collinsworth went down with a broken metatarsal early in February, and the initial time table was at least three weeks. It looks like he suffered a setback as he’s been out for almost seven weeks now. When healthy, Collinsworth provided the 905 with his Swiss Army knife versatility offensively, being able to switch between being a finisher, facilitator, or a spot up shooter depending on the situation. Also, he owns one of the slowest yet the most effective spin move in the paint.

Wade Baldwin IV, PG

I included Baldwin on my previous “Prospect Report” and I’m confident that my observation there is still accurate.

Baldwin dislocated a finger two minutes into the game against the Delaware Blue Coats just over a week ago, and at the time of this writing, there is no information regarding his timeline. Google suggests four to six weeks, and we’ve seen Jonas Valanciunas and Fred VanVleet have different recovery timelines with their finger/hand injuries.

Out of Rotation

Uche Ofoegbu initially made the roster via an open tryout but was waived mid-season when the Raptors 905 acquired MiKyle McIntosh. He came back as a FIBA replacement player when Duane Notice and Josh Adams suited up for their home countries during the FIBA qualifiers.

Ofoegbu hasn’t played much, if not at all since he came back. With the current guard depth, we should not expect to see him play actual rotation minutes.

Situational Bench Players

Christian Watford, PF

Christian Watford is the Lakers-era Sam Perkins of the team — he will provide at least a decent option around the perimeter, and will give the team about two three-pointers if he gets his usual playing time. Watford is also one of the few 905 players that can potentially hit four or more threes in a game. In the paint, he’s a big body, but not an above the rim defender.

The acquisitions of McIntosh and Derek Cooke Jr impacted his minutes, and his role, but he needs to shoot much more consistently, or find other ways to contribute to the team. The 905’s bench has been inconsistent lately, but earlier in the season, Watford was part of the offensive barrage when the bench crew clicked.

Rodney Pryor, SG/SF

Similar to Watford, Rodney Pryor was a big part of the bench crew prior to the roster churn. He was seeing consistent backup minutes behind Malachi Richardson and Duane Notice, and his sharpshooting can get him hot, and one of the few options on the team that can drop 15+ points off the bench in a hurry.

Unfortunately, the acquisitions of Josh Adams, Jordan Howard, and Wade Baldwin IV led to his inconsistent minutes, and some of those minutes were played out of position, occasionally playing the SF/PF spot minutes.

Key Bench Players

These players are either part-time starters, starting based on match-ups or missing key players, and will move back as key rotation players when they are not starting.

Jordan Howard, PG

Jordan Howard was acquired by the Raptors 905 early in January to provide some decent back-up PG minutes, as Myck Kabongo was struggling to fill the role. Howard took advantage of the minutes and ran away with the backup PG spot, until the acquisitions of Baldwin and Adams.

Like Pryor, Howard’s minutes have fluctuated recently, but he’s a solid outside threat and can get hot real fast. He’s a great catch-and-shoot option around the perimeter, but he can be like “discount Steph Curry” with how he utilizes his handles to create his own three-point shot. While a bit undersized at the PG position, playing him alongside Jordan Loyd allows Loyd to play off the ball, yet can also be a catch-and-shoot option for Loyd’s drive-and-kick game.

MiKyle McIntosh, PF

MiKyle McIntosh was acquired late December to provide some front-court depth, and he has provided the inside presence that they were lacking before - a bruiser that would move bodies around en route to getting his shot up.

McIntosh is a throwback PF where he can create a bit off the dribble, look for physical contact, utilize spin moves to throw his body around, and hit an occasional wide open perimeter shot. He’s not an above-the-rim finisher, and his increase usage also comes with a baggage as he’s a bit turnover prone with increased usage.

Derek Cooke Jr, PF/C

Derek Cooke Jr is an athletic, high-energy PF/C who’s filled in really well during Chris Boucher’s absence, and he’s one of the best above-the-rim finishers on the team. He’s strong enough to bang with the big men down low, and his athleticism and excellent motor make him a good roll man in pick-and-roll situations.

Cooke relies on facilitators to set him up in scoring positions, otherwise, he gets his scoring off his ability to crash the board and run the transition.

Josh Adams, PG

Josh Adams’ G-League debut came in with a bang, showcasing elite athleticism for a small guard, and often can be seen trying to dunk on people’s heads. Saying he’s a SG trapped in a PG’s body is not an insult, it’s actually praise given that his athleticism, combined with his creativity attacking the basket (usually with ill-intent), and his perimeter shooting would be something that you’d want from your wing player.

Adams is also a good option as the main point guard, as he’s good at setting up his teammates and running the transition game. He also allows Loyd to play off the ball like Howard, except that he’s a much better defender - he would really get up and try to chase a block. However, his outside shooting is streaky at best, and he can get real cold from behind the arc.

Key Starters

We have the usual suspects here: Jordan Loyd, who’s on a two-way contract, and Chris Boucher and Malcolm Miller, who both earned a standard contract for the rest of the season. I’ve covered these three players extensively, so instead, let’s focus on the fourth starter:

Duane Notice

Build like a football player, Duane Notice is a local talent (shoutout, Woodbridge!) who earned his way via open tryouts. At 6’2” - he looks a bit undersized as a SG, but his physicality, agility, and defensive intensity make up more than his physical shortcomings. He brings the hard hat every game, and he can stroke it from outside (39.2%). If he’s not scoring, he would always find ways to contribute to the team whenever he’s on the floor.

Potential Playoff Issues

There’s a trend with the rotation players that I just went down the list. Majority of these players came in at different points during the season, and combine that with the call-ups that Boucher got and Miller’s recovery from injury, they basically have a team with unstable chemistry offensively and defensively.

Over the past few weeks, the team has coughed up leads, including a few big leads, struggled with late game execution, and more importantly, played horrible defense — to a point where they are making costly blown-coverage mistakes that one would normally see in a preseason game.

Coach Jama Mahalalela and his staff have a short turnaround time to iron out the kinks of the players’ roles, rotation, defensive schemes, and establishing rhythm and chemistry on both sides of the court. Baldwin’s recent injury makes this task even harder, as they were starting to gel with Baldwin’s addition and now they had to change things up again.

Matching Up with Grand Rapids Drive

The Raptors 905 and the Drive split the two games that they played during the regular season, but those games felt like they were from a different season based on the following:

  • only five 905 players that played in either game are still on the roster, with two of them not earmarked for big minutes (Pryor, Watford);
  • Deng Adel was still with the 905 and had a good game;
  • No Malcolm Miller yet;
  • Loyd doesn’t officially have the starting PG keys;
  • Boucher and Kenneth Smith both missed a game;
  • Zach Lofton and Keenan Evans were the Pistons two-way players (not anymore);
  • Malachi shot 0-12 in one of the games;

It is also not just the Raptors 905 who overhauled their roster, the Drive also underwent a transformation and made the following changes:

  • Lofton and Evans out as two-way players, Lofton remained with the team but Evans got traded;
  • Kalin Lucas and Isaiah Whitehead was signed as replacement two-way contract players;
  • The Drive picked up Adam Woodbury and it seems like he’s wrestled the starting C spot from Johnny Hamilton.

Stylistically, the Grand Rapid Drive have transformed their game, as they have increased their pace each month since January, and their guard play, especially Whitehead could pose some trouble for the 905.

Keys to the Game

Contain Drive’s Guard Play - Expect Whitehead and Lucas to be aggressive. Whitehead could be a load, he’s physically stronger than most of the 905’s guards, and he can’t have easy, direct path towards the basket or Boucher might get into foul trouble.

Bench Contribution - The 905 don’t have any issues getting up early, but recently, the dry spells or the momentum swings start with the bench crew’s inability to hold the fort.

Team Defense - better communication, fluid and quick rotation/switches.

Late-Game Offensive Execution - Coach Jama and the 905 need to have a better late game execution, if not, they should play well enough that this “key” is not necessary.

*******

Assuming the mother club would lend Boucher and Miller (The Raptors will be on the road against Chicago Bulls on the same night), this should be an interesting match up. Two teams that can be guard-heavy production-wise and the centre position could be the swing vote, with Boucher/Cooke vs Woodbury/Hamilton. It’s very critical for either team to have some excellent contribution off the bench, especially on a game like this.

The Raptors 905 and the Grand Rapids Drive will square off at Paramount Fine Foods Centre (formerly Hershey’s Centre) tonight at 8:00 PM ET.