How does one measure success in the NBA G League level? What does a G League championship mean, and is it the barometer of a team’s developmental strength? Those are some of the questions one should think before they look at the Raptors 905’s premature end to their playoff run.
Sure, the 905 fell short in the playoffs, but that’s where the disappointment stops. There are plenty of things that made this season a “developmental success,” and looking back at my season preview post, it’s definitely another year of that type of growth for the Raptors organization.
The Good, The Bad, and The Baldwin
An honorary “prospect,” Wade Baldwin IV has to be the highest profile player that played for the Raptors 905 without a full NBA contract. A 17th overall pick almost three years ago, Baldwin was unable to find consistent playing time for the Grizzlies who had no other real backup point guard. His falling out in Memphis was terrible enough that they had to cut him after just one season.
Baldwin eventually landed at Portland Trailblazers, who had a thousand other guards. In a season and a half, Baldwin was unable to break into the rotation, and was jettisoned to the Cleveland Cavaliers during this year’s trade deadline. Then he had to play musical chairs, getting traded to the Houston Rockets and the Indiana Pacers, who eventually waived him. It’s bizarre that three teams who could use some talent would pass-up on him, and the Raptors wanted to see this for themselves.
The Raptors did get to have a good look of Wade Baldwin IV. They affirmed what he’s good at — e.g. pulling up around the free throw line for the mid-range jumper, playing the passing lanes for steal opportunities, and finishing or play-making off transition opportunities. The Raptors also got a good look of things he’s bad at — e.g. finishing in traffic and decision making. There were a couple of surprises with Baldwin too: he’s a better three-point shooter than expected, and he’s wasn’t as good as an on-ball defender as advertised, e.g. getting blown by constantly off the dribble and dying in switches.
The Raptors don’t have a first round pick in this upcoming draft, and the team has stashed many projects to alleviate that in Patrick McCaw, Chris Boucher, Malcolm Miller, and Jordan Loyd. As a back-up guard, I’m not sure that Baldwin has done enough to convince Masai Ujiri he’s worth the investment — especially if the team values McCaw and Loyd higher. Also, the Raptors don’t have Baldwin’s rights, so he’s free to go wherever he wants to next. Is there a mutual interest here? I don’t know. But Baldwin is still young, and, for the most part, it’s hard not to see why he was a first round talent.
The End of the Malachi Experiment
Malachi Richardson had a promising summer, and it looked like he was trending up after getting off to a strong start in the G League this season. However, he was not going to outplay all the wings (pre-trade) that were competing for the shooting guard spot, and, much like our boy Bruno Caboclo, he ran out of time.
I’m not going into great detail about Malachi, as I have already said as much during the Prospect Report: Mid-Season Report Card. What I’d like to emphasize in here is that Richardson did make incremental improvements to his game — his passing, defense, and even his contested perimeter accuracy got better. If nothing else, Richardson’s shooting confidence should no longer be an issue (and he’s now fully healthy).
Return of the Mac
The Raptors must really like what they see in Malcolm Miller. After a Summer League shoulder injury derailed his NBA journey for a time, the Raptors kept him in the fold via the 905 as he recovered.
The timing of Miller’s recovery was crucial, as he was back on the court merely weeks after the trade deadline. In that, Miller finally caught a good break, as the Raptors made enough trades that they actually needed to make sure he was signed through this year and next.
Fortunately for both player and team, Miller came back from his injury looking like he didn’t miss an extended period of time. He slotted in well as the team’s floor spacer, usually the third or fourth best player on the floor offensively, and as a really sound defender, that can provide good on-ball defense and switch-ability against most positions. Miller often had to play out of position as the starting PF on the 905 as the team needed the floor spacing for Chris Boucher to do his damage in and around the paint.
It also helped that Miller has shown the Raptors a glimpse of what he can do when he was given those random minutes off the bench. Given how he looked last year when he got his minutes with the Raptors, there’s definitely a case now for an extended look, especially with the team locked into the two-seed.
Jordan Loyd, Point Guard
Before the start of the season, I wrote about Jordan Loyd, calling his stint as a two-way player as a season-long tryout as he tries to transition into a point/combo guard type of role. While Boucher has made the bigger bang this season, Loyd’s seamless transition into starting point guard is one of the most underrated successes of this year’s 905 squad.
Congrats to Jordan Loyd (@mrjloyd), Alan Williams (@alantwilliams), Johnathan Motley, Isaac Humphries (@IsaacHumphries7), Tyler Harvey (@YoungTRaaw) for making our All-NBA G League Winter Showcase 1st Team. https://t.co/lGWasBk6Cq— Ridiculous Upside (@RidicUpside) December 23, 2018
I thought it was weird at first when the 905 picked up Kay Felder to be the team’s starting PG, since the plan was to get Loyd reps in the role. Maybe the front office didn’t think he could do it full time yet. Based on his Vegas Summer League performance, I wasn’t so sure either.
The first month of the G League started with Loyd as the starting shooting guard, only taking on handling the ball once Felder went for his rest. After the 905 cut Felder early in December, the 905 handed Loyd the keys to the starting PG spot, and he looked like a capable point guard out there on the floor.
Loyd was conscious about getting his teammates involved early in the game to a fault, but it was this selflessness that made him an excellent complementary player. If Loyd was not featured to score on a play, he’d try to find a way to contribute by doing the small things that may or may not appear in the box score. There were plenty of nights where Loyd looked like he was on his way to a triple-double through that kind of smart effort.
Unveiling the Midseason #AllGLeague Teams as voted by #NBAGLeague coaches, GMs & players!— NBA G League (@nbagleague) February 11, 2019
Highlights, info & more: https://t.co/5tMTYuGlhU pic.twitter.com/EJ1Nxv3u4k
With the addition of Jordan Howard and Josh Adams mid-season, Loyd also got his reps as a combo guard, switching between playing on-ball and off-ball depending on the play calls and match-ups.
Loyd’s perimeter shooting is still a work in progress. He can be streaky at times, though shooting at least 36 percent from deep is quite good (especially since Loyd is normally at the top of the opposing team’s scouting report). This year, he got some valuable reps trying to shoot them off the dribble, or as an off-ball kick-out/swing-out option.
The NBA G League awards are coming out now, and I won’t be surprised if Loyd gets named onto one of the All-NBA G League teams.
G League Unicorn, DPOY, MVP
To say that Chris Boucher shocked the NBA G League world is an understatement. When the Raptors signed Boucher as one of their two-way players, I immediately fired up my laptop to check out his videos and scouting report. Boucher looked like a “curiosity” signing; his mobility and shooting looked good, but his slight frame, age, and overall game screamed of “raw prospect” — which was validated during the past Vegas Summer League.
Nobody saw Boucher owning the first month and a half doing G League unicorn things — a centre that would drop 3s, go coast to coast for a lay-up/dunk, pick-and-pop/roll, and finish lobs. It was fun watching opposing teams run him off the perimeter only for him to drive for a lay-up or dunk. Equally impressive was how Boucher managed to protect the paint despite his thin frame.
Averaging 29.6 PPG, 12.1 RPG & 4.1 BPG in November, Chris Boucher has been named @nbagleague player of the month!— NBA Canada (@NBACanada) December 5, 2018
➡️ https://t.co/Nzsht1vwNw pic.twitter.com/IedeUbkSBi
Everyone got so accustomed to Boucher’s offensive explosions that it became almost a given to see him (together with Loyd) put the 905 on his back to try and win any given game.
Aside from his scoring, it’s equally fun to see Boucher hunt for blocks. He’s an excellent shot blocker as a help defender, able to lure players into the lane before popping out with his go-go-gadget arms to swat the shot away. The most impressive part of this is how well Boucher reads the play, and how fast he can get into position for the potential block.
My biggest takeaway with Boucher’s G League season is not his offensive explosion, but his basketball IQ combined with his determination to learn through mistakes and adjust in-game offensively and defensively. Boucher’s game wasn’t always consistent in terms of results, and he had some performances where his shots just weren’t falling. But he would always keep plugging away and try to find some way to adjust during the game.
Boucher also had games where teams were going at him a certain way offensively or defensively, and he figured out how to counter most of them (even given his physical limitations). If anything, the heart that Boucher showed during this year’s 905 playoff campaign convinced me that he’ll only get better.