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Player Review: The rookie season Oshae Brissett never expected

Brissett’s first year in Toronto had no shortage of ups and downs. But that didn’t stop him from being the type of player the Raptors need.

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

As one of two Canadians on the nation’s lone NBA squad, Oshae Brissett had an inaugural season to remember. But let’s go back to the beginning. After going undrafted following an impressive two-year stint in the NCAA with the Syracuse Orange, the Raptors rookie spent his Summer League time with the Los Angeles Clippers, appearing in five games to average six points and four boards in just over 17 minutes of play per contest.

It was enough for the Raptors to offer Brissett an Exhibit 10 contract in mid-July. At the same time the new Raptor was already forming a strong relationship with Toronto coach Nick Nurse as a member of the Canadian Senior Men’s National Team. Following national team duties, and a strong training camp with the Raptors, the Raptors signed Brissett to a two-way contract setting him up to spend his rookie season going between the NBA and their G League affiliate, the Raptors 905.

Fast forward through a tumultuous season, and the rookie was called-up on 19 different occasions, showing considerable athletic effort, and a strong understanding of floor spacing, all while melding into a dominant defender. In other words, Brissett fit the Raptors’ team identity seamlessly.

Meanwhile in the G League, Brissett featured in 28 games for the Raptors 905, 21 of which as a starter, averaging 15.8 points and 6.9 boards, through 29.8 minutes per game. As the season went along, it looked as though he found an offensive rhythm, exploding for a career-high 26 points in early March, one week before the season came to a halt.

Then came the hiatus and with it plenty of unanswered questions around the season, but for Brissett there was an even greater expectation on the horizon. On May 28th, he welcomed his first child, Ellai, into the world. With the restart of the NBA season looming quickly, Brissett was only able to spend seven weeks with his newborn daughter, only adding to his grueling first year in the league. Couple that with knee troubles that required a procedure in August, as well as an expired contract following the end of the season, and Brissett has just as many worries as he does memories.

So, where does that leave Oshae?

The path he currently travels isn’t an unfamiliar one for the Raptors, as players like Chris Boucher and Pascal Siakam have paved the way before him. In those cases, however, hardware solidified the investment. Boucher was named the 2018-19 G League MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, and Siakam clinched a title, as well as Finals MVP honours for the 905 (back when it was known as the D-League).

While Siakam’s success is unprecedented — he’s the first G League alum to become an NBA All-Star starter — Boucher’s path to the NBA is quite similar to the road Brissett looks to travel. Both receiving identical contracts in their first season, the early success of Boucher garnered him a two-year contract before his rookie season’s end. The same result hasn’t occurred for Brissett, but he’s proven his value in numerous ways.

Much of his NBA playing time was by way of necessary call-ups to fill in for rotational gaps due to injuries. From November to February, the Raptors saw no end to their injury woes, and found that they could rely on the forward who proved to be a versatile defender that could guard multiple positions.

But that’s who Brissett has been all season, the player you can count on to be there and do what’s needed. Just as he left for the Bubble, Brissett was always an option for the coaching staff to consider and was ready to be the next man up. Even when injuries came, he continued to soak it all in, and remained an active member of the squad throughout the season.

At 6-foot-8, Brissett has plenty to add to his arsenal, most of which is to his offensive game. But being a high-energy defender and a reliable asset isn’t one of them, and that’s something the Raptors will not overlook during the off-season.