What should have been a slow week at the turn of the year (decade!) became a hectic news week for the Raptors 905. First, Justin Anderson and Paul Watson received 10-day contracts from the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks, respectively. They become the 10th and 11th NBA G League call-ups for the season and the first for the Raptors 905.
The last game covered by this piece was supposed to be one with a depleted 905 roster. Instead, we get to our second big thing of the week: we got to see Stanley Johnson, Malcolm Miller, and Matt Thomas play in Mississauga, en route to an electrifying comeback win.
Aside from the two call-ups, the past week showed some positive and negative trends, with prospects either taking a step forward or a step back. We’ll go over some of them below.
Goodbye For Now?
To say that Justin Anderson’s 905 stint was a pleasant surprise is an understatement. In 13 games with the Raptors, he came in right after the season started and became “the man” for the team, providing the first and secondary scoring options for coach Jama Mahlalela.
Anderson leaves the 905 as their leading scorer at 21.2 points per game, production that’s somewhat expected from an NBA talent. However, his perimeter shooting was an eye-opener, as Anderson was past Chris Boucher-level of willingness to shoot volume threes. Anderson’s perimeter shooting has cooled off a bit, but he’s still sitting at 34.6 percent from three-point range.
The biggest takeaway for Anderson’s stint is that he has shown that he can hit perimeter shots, and will confidently take them. With Anderson’s size, athleticism, and strength, it’s quite intriguing to see whether his new-found shooting can translate in the big league. While he won’t be like Matt Thomas anytime soon, defenders won’t be able to sag off him.
Before the season started, Paul Watson was probably not on my top three call-ups on the 905 roster. I mean, looking at his NCAA and G League stats, nothing stood out. His highlights tell a bit of a different story, but he seems like a lot of fringe NBA players — a combo forward that’s trying to transition into a bonafide wing with a decent perimeter shot.
Not only did Watson deliver, but he overcame expectations, significantly bumping his G League production and, more importantly, becoming a lethal perimeter shooter. If 46.7 percent perimeter shooting isn’t impressive enough, how about doing it in volume at 3.3 out of 7.1 attempts per game?
Watson’s shooting should be an upgrade over all the Atlanta wings that can’t shoot right now. And if he can demonstrate that he can be decent perimeter shooter, who knows, maybe he can break into the Hawks bench rotation.
Tyler Ennis’ struggles could not have come at a worse time, as NBA teams are now eligible to sign players on a 10-day contract. For most of the players not in the league right now, that’s the way in, and at this time of the year, it’s usually the top G League performers who snag a majority of those 10-day contracts.
At the root of Ennis’ issues this week, he struggled to run the 905 consistently. His decision making was a bit off and he turned the ball over at inopportune times, often killed any initial momentum the team had. While Ennis is normally a good game manager, he had a hard time getting his teammates involved consistently. He also looked slow defensively, especially his lateral defense.
Ennis’ struggles continued through the 905’s game against the Erie BayHawks, and this time, it was a different kind of struggle. With Stanley Johnson, Matt Thomas, and Malcolm Miller starting alongside him, he was not effective in setting them up, and the offense looked lost with the ball in his hands.
If there’s any saving grace for Ennis’ subpar week, it’s how he tries to will himself into playing better in spurts, as evidence against the BayHawks. The 905 initially went down by as much as 17 points early in the first quarter, and the bench mob got them back into the game, cutting the lead to nine points early in the second quarter. He came back and dissected the defense with his passing and scoring, spearheading a 21-8 run to put the 905 ahead, and in good shape for the rest of the game.
We finally got to see Sagaba Konate on the floor, and while he’s still on minutes restriction, he may very well be the club’s best big man. Heck, I won’t be surprised if coach Jama Mahlalela starts him once his minutes’ restriction is lifted.
Konate had an underwhelming debut against the Agua Caliente Clippers, where he looked a bit lost, a step or two slow, and clearly not caught up to game speed. Jitters might be a factor as well, as that game was technically his professional debut.
Konate bounced back and played well in spot minutes for the next two games, averaging 14 points and five rebounds. While he still has yet to register a block, he is increasingly getting better as a rim protector. He is starting to contest more and more shots, and once he gets his timing right, we should get to see one of his poster blocks.
What’s a bit surprising is Konate’s touch around the basket. He takes his time to gather and eventually dislodges whoever is between him and the rim.
Every now and then, we would hear a coach say, “Player X scored this much without us drawing a single play for him.” I hope that coach Mahlalela got to use that cliche somewhere after the 905’s game against the Erie BayHawks when talking about Oshae Brissett’s performance.
Brissett dropped 18 points and was a team high +25 against the BayHawks. Taking a page from the chaos crew of Rondae-Boucher-Davis, Brissett came off the bench in what could potentially be an early blow-out game and brought his energy to both ends of the court, giving the team a pulse that was sorely missing until then.
Offensively, Brissett repeatedly crashed the boards to save and/or create extra possessions. He also hit a clutch and-1 corner three, but unfortunately, did not complete the four-point-play. Defensively, he was causing a lot of issues with his deflections and as a helper.
Brissett played so well against the BayHawks, we can go ahead and forget about his performance game against the Agua Caliente Clippers.
Ponds tends to supply a feast-or-famine type of outing for the 905 as their heat check guy and designated scorer off the bench. Case in point this past week: Ponds played contrasting games against the Agua Caliente Clippers and the Grand Rapids Drive.
Contrary to his stats, Ponds did not have a good game against the Clippers. While he managed to put a few shots in, he was caught in the middle of the Clippers’ decisive run in the second half, and his turnovers and defense were part of it. In his defense, Ponds arguably was the best among all the four point guards on the team — but they all played poorly.
It was time for Ponds to shine again versus the Grand Rapids Drive where he dropped 21 points, six assists, and three steals. It was a rare start for Ponds, and while he was not his aggressive self during the start of the game, he was instrumental in the 905’s come from behind victory. Early in the second quarter, with the team down 20, Ponds came in and made it a game to end the half. He dropped nine points and dished a couple of assists to spearhead a run that would cut the Drive’s lead to eight points.
With Anderson and Watson gone, there are now way more shots available, and my money is on Ponds taking advantage of it.
Malcolm Miller’s shooting woes followed him all the way to Mississauga, as he failed to hit a perimeter shot since he went 4-of-5 from three against the New York Knicks back in late November. Not a good sign for someone who is supposed to be a 3-and-D guy.
Similar to his previous game with the 905, Miller’s struggles from the perimeter did not deter him from contributing elsewhere. He was aggressive trying to get to the basket with mixed result, and defensively, he made a few plays that either forced a turnover or stopped the initial play. Miller had a couple of wide open shots from the perimeter, and one of them was even an air-ball. Unfortunately, it just was not Miller’s night offensively.
It wasn’t an efficient night for Matt Thomas, but seeing him back in action should make the Raptors fanbase feel better. He did not shoot 99 percent from the perimeter — he went 2-of-8 instead — but we got to see him showcase some of his counters.
Thomas showed a sweet step into the long-two territory for a pull-up jumper when his defender went hard for his fake. Above the break, he would take a couple of dribbles to get into the midrange and get a banker. If that’s not an option, he’ll try to dribble around the baseline, looking to reset or use the rim for a reverse layup. For a Raptors team dying for shooting and guard play, even this modest display was a sight for sore eyes.
Stanley Johnson went to his first 905 contest with one mindset: unleash his game. From the jump, it’s clear Johnson wanted to show everyone that he can play, and it resulted in quite a few forced shots. As soon as he got a head of steam to get to the rim, it was clear Johnson was not passing the ball. Sadly, his lack of creativity in traffic was evident.
But Johnson did not necessarily see red the entire game; in fact, he did flash a couple of plays where he made excellent passes. One of them was a lob to Devin Robinson to start the game; the other, a gem to Oshae Brissett as he was trying to ISO at the top of the key.
Defensively, Johnson was a pest and even had to dial down the physicality a bit as he got whistled for some touch fouls. However, Johnson looked lost with defensive assignments and rotations to start the game — this could likely be chalked up to the newness of everything for him in the G League.