Toronto is nothing if not predictable. Transit continues to be poorly managed at seemingly every level. Bars, restaurants, and venues shutter for the ever-expanding sprawl of condominiums and gentrification. And Raptors fans get geeked at the arrival of an athlete who puts their body on the line in the name of hustle. DeAndre’ Bembry is the newest athlete to bear that mark and if his the few preseason games he’s played are going to serve as any indication of what’s to come, Toronto is going to fall in love hard and fast.
But who is DeAndre’ Bembry? Raptors fans would be excused if they hadn’t been indulging in the requisite amount of Atlanta Hawks games over the last four years in order to find out, so let’s break down some of the highs and lows of Bembry’s game.
DeAndre Bembry is a vintage Raptors player — one who excels on one end of the court while offering glimpses of excellence on the other. Defense has been Bembry’s calling card since his college days at Saint Joseph’s and though his professional advanced metrics don’t jump off the page, there’s only so much someone can do when they share the floor with Trae Young and John Collins.
This Toronto team will be a stress test of Bembry’s individual abilities vs. his ability to conform to a hyper-aggressive defensive scheme that demands precision execution. Like Aron Baynes, who is also a stout defender and has yet to find his footing, it’s going to take some reps to learn this very complicated defense. With that learning curve, Bembry’s strengths will be momentarily buried in stretches where he looks lost or out of place which will lead to a “time will tell” scenario — will Bembry be able to reign in some of his gambling tendencies in order to stay within the Raptors very tight system?
With the departure of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the Raptors were left with a gaping void in the hustle department. This isn’t a knock against current players on the roster, but more of a testament to the prodigious levels of hustle that RHJ brought to the club.
Herein lies the highest of highs of DeAndre Bembry’s game. A fixture in the top-50 players in the league in deflections, Bembry’s 6’9” wingspan and, at times, overactive gambling nature means he’s always a threat in the passing lanes as evidenced by his 2.1 steals Per/36 averaged over his last two seasons.
While his assist to turnover ratio leaves a lot to be desired, Bembry has shown flashes of being an above average passer, specifically out of the pick and roll where he developed chemistry with fellow Raptor newcomer, Alex Len while playing in Atlanta.
With Fred VanVleet’s emergence propelling him into the starting unit, Toronto has struggled with ball handling off the bench and this is an area where Bembry can immediately contribute. What minutes will be available to showcase these skills remains to be seen with Toronto’s glut of guards.
While all of the highs listed above are certainly true about Bembry’s game, there was a reason why he was available on such an affordable contract this offseason. Save for his incredible amount of hustle and willingness to pass the ball with the occasional spot of flair, DeAndre’s offensive game is not pretty. With a 45/27/59 shooting slash, Bembry struggles to shoot the ball from all over the floor. Moreover, his sub-100 offensive rating leaves a lot to be desired, but there is the distinct possibility that, like his defensive advanced metrics, that might have more to do with playing with the Hawks than anything else.
Thankfully, not much will be expected out of Bembry on the offensive end as he will surely be a fourth or fifth option with pretty much whomever he happens to share the floor with. And that — that is where Bembry shines. With the spotlight pointed at every other Raptor on the floor, Bembry’s opportunities will come in the form of loose balls, tipped passes and early clock steals off of the opposing team’s rebound. If he can provide that, then he will more than justify being on the floor on the offensive end of the court.
Possibly most importantly, according to Basketball Reference, DeAndre’ Bembry has no nickname. This is unacceptable for a player who fits so snuggly into the hustle role and, quite frankly, will absolutely not to cut it in Toronto if there is any hope for a lasting impact. A collective effort is going to have to be undertaken by Raptors Twitter, but a pal of mine called him Teen Wolf in a group chat and that’s just too perfect not to stick.
What does all of this amount to for Bembry’s season with the Raptors? With the logjam of guards on Toronto’s bench, Teen Wolf’s (gotta start somewhere) minutes will likely be sporadic as coach Nick Nurse has been known to ride the proverbial hot hand when it comes to his bench players. Bembry will be fighting for that 8th through 12th spot with Patrick McCaw, Malachi Flynn, Matt Thomas and [redacted] so an expectation of around 13 to 16 minutes per game isn’t out of the question.
One thing is for sure, he’s definitely going to get some fits off.