The Raptors 905 played three games last week, but we are only looking at the two-game winning streak as the previous week’s Prospect Report already covered the loss against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants last Monday. Coach Jama and his 905ers are gaining some momentum, going 5-2 in their last seven games — perhaps their best stretch of the season. The 905 are still outside of the playoff picture though, 4.5 games out of playoff spot with 16 games to play.
For the injury report, which seems to be a staple of this column every week, Jawun Evans remained sidelined with a hamstring injury, and Dewan Hernandez is on the shelf for almost two months now due to an ankle sprain. Still, the good news is that Devin Robinson looks as healthy as he’s ever been, and doesn’t seem to be on minutes restriction anymore.
More good news: Oshae Brissett’s ankle injury that he suffered against the Mad Ants seems to be minor, as he was back in action against the Lakeland Magic (and Indiana Pacers). Paul Watson, meanwhile, has been with the mother club for the past few days thanks to the injuries the Raptors are currently enduring — and for the team to get him up-to-speed with their system.
Speaking of Paul Watson, he was named to the Midseason All-NBA G League team yesterday. It wasn’t so much a surprise from this corner of the internet, as I thought he might be the best NBA-ready prospect on the team earlier this season. Now, if Nurse can just play him some minutes!
Let’s take a look at how the key 905ers did this past week with some video help.
I was going to leave Konate off this piece until I remembered he hit a milestone last week — he finally hit a three-point shot. In fact, he made a couple. Konate was 0-of-8 for the season from deep heading into the Magic game, but he has been camping a lot at the three-point line for the past few games like Sam Perkins.
Sagaba Konate finally hit a three-pointer. He actually had 2 3PM on both corner 3s vs Lakeland Magic. pic.twitter.com/PR8ohfCPHg— JD Quirante (@jdkeyrants) February 11, 2020
Konate is still on heavy minutes restrictions (he’s at one stretch of 4-5 minutes per game), and his movement has no explosion nor lift. Working on his perimeter shot while he recovers from his injury could be beneficial for him in the long run.
Matt Morgan finally showed up, after being AWOL for the past 6-7 games. Jawun Evans’ absence means more minutes and additional touches, and Morgan broke through his slump as a result. He averaged 11.5 points in two games last week, including 5-of-8 from the perimeter. It’s a feast or famine when it comes to Morgan, and we’ll have to keep an eye if the return of Evans would send him back to a slump again.
Can we say that Devin Robinson has returned to form? It doesn’t look like he’s on minutes restriction anymore, and he seems to be the biggest beneficiary of Henry Ellenson’s addition to the team. Robinson’s fingerprint is all over the place — he’s catching lobs, cutting to the basket, following up on misses, going coast-to-coast, and he’s back to hitting an occasional three-pointer.
Defensively, Robinson’s length, athleticism, and even more length is such a problem for opposing players, especially if he is playing all-in on defense. In two games, Robinson is averaging 26.5 points, on 21-of-28 shooting from the field. That’s just insane efficiency, especially if we take away the two misses from the perimeter.
Probably my favourite best sequence for Devin Robinson last week. pic.twitter.com/BneqqQpEmU— JD Quirante (@jdkeyrants) February 11, 2020
It’s rare to see a team in the G League have a solid defensive game plan based on the opposing team’s scouting report. But for the past couple of games, the 905’s opponents are keying in on chasing Henry Ellenson off the three-point line.
In response, Ellenson showed he’s quite decent with his handles in traffic and was able to get to the basket repeatedly. It wasn’t the quickest move, but his handle is tight enough to get him that little separation. With Ellenson’s length and ability to finish with either hand, it’s tough to stop someone like him once he’s near the basket. Ellenson only ran into problems when his defender stays with him laterally.
Other than that, Ellenson played pretty well off the ball — knowing when to cut when the defenders were ball-watching, and relocating around the perimeter as the play unfolded for Ennis and Duane Notice. He’s averaging 23.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, and an amazing 1.0 combined turnover in the last two games. This is a great bounce back after seeing Ellenson turn the ball over seven times against the Mad Ants.
Oh, I know I already mentioned this before, but he can also do this:
Ellenson with a nice two-way sequence pic.twitter.com/Hyv7eJxjWh— JD Quirante (@jdkeyrants) February 11, 2020
It looks like Tyler Ennis’ play is on an upswing again, as he’s had three consecutive strong performances, capping it off with a complete game against the Lakeland Magic. Despite Ennis’ desire to get everybody on the 905 involved, and look for the hot hand, Ennis showed he can still go off when needed.
That’s my favourite version of Tyler Ennis, the one that dropped 30 points, including 4-of-6 from three. He’s already had games like that before, where he’s aggressive enough and willing to play off the ball and shoot from the perimeter. The fun part is that the Greensboro Swarm tried to “swarm” him once he got inside the three-point line, which slowed him down in the middle quarters. However, in the fourth, Ennis came out and imposed his will, scoring 11 points in the first 5-6 minutes of the frame.
It’s encouraging to see Ennis shoot from the perimeter; he shot 7-for-11 these past two games, and most of his misses were tougher off-the-dribble shots. He was letting it fly with no hesitation. It was almost a perfect stretch for Ennis, even though he still can’t shake off his turnover issues. Some of them are self-inflicted, and some of them are risky passes that might not be a turnover at the NBA level.
Oshae Brissett was back in action against the Lakeland Magic, and while the time-off slowed his momentum for a bit, I guess we’re at a point now where a quiet game means he’ll still have around 15 points. In the past, it was different. An off night for Brissett meant just 6-10 points or an out-right stinker.
Defensively, Brissett was caught a few times ball-watching, and he lost his man on several ocassions. He still plays off his instinct for the most part, but every now and then, he showcases excellent team- and man-defense akin to what we’re seeing from the Raptors.
Earlier in the season, Brissett’s drives to the basket were almost always out of control; recently, he’s been more patient at his attacks, and showing a better feel for the resistance he might encounter in the paint. He’s also starting to convert his shots better, or at the very least, get to the line.
As Brissett continues to hone his craft, he displays flashes of brilliance every now and then, just like this play below:
Oshae showing some DeMar/Paul Pierce-like midrange game pic.twitter.com/cfRlCUakif— JD Quirante (@jdkeyrants) February 11, 2020
We are so preoccupied with the prospects on the court, we keep forgetting that coach Jama Mahlalela is a prospect himself. We rarely touch upon the coaching decisions that he’s made (except the bad ones!), but we have to give props when they’re due. As I mentioned above, Evans did not play last week, and I was expecting Morgan to get the backup point-guard spot.
Instead, coach Mahlalela went with shooting guard Duane Notice, who is undersized for his natural position, but will not be overpowered at any position. I found it weird at first, because Notice did not get reps like this last year, and he was the secondary ball-handler at best regardless if Jordan Loyd was in the game. He does have a good playmaking and passing instinct, but he was mostly either a slasher or spot-up shooter last year.
Fast forward to last week, where at first I was a bit miffed that Morgan was playing off-ball, and next thing you know, Notice was dropping dime after dime. Coach Mahlalela simplified it for Notice: initiate pick-and-pop/roll actions, drive-and-kick, and sometimes even simpler play calls to give the defense a different look. It freed up Morgan from playmaking duties, allowing him to do what he does best: operate as a sniper from the perimeter. Notice averaged a cool double-double with 12 points and 10 assists in two games last week.
Props to Notice, obviously, but also: good call by Jama.