With two games played since the All-Star Break, coach Jama Mahlalela and his Raptors 905 are inching their way into playoff contention. Similar to the NBA, the All-Star break marks the two-third mark of the season. For the 905 and the G League, that means about 13 to 15 games left to play before the playoffs — should they make it.
The break was also supposed to bring a much-needed rest to the ailing Raptors 905. The first two games since then have proved otherwise: Jawun Evans exited the game against the Maine Red Claws with a hamstring injury, while Paul Watson sat a game due to a toe issue. Heck, even the team’s iron man Tyler Ennis was forced to miss a game due to a quad injury.
It’s a good thing to see the Raptors’ two-way players pick up their game to get the team a much-needed victory in both games. Paul Watson dropped 30 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals in a triple OT win against the Westchester Knicks. Oshae Brissett led the team against the Red Claws with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks, while shooting 5 for 7 from the perimeter.
Here’s how things worked out for the rest of the key members of the 905.
Tyler Ennis only played one game after the All-Star break, and he struggled against the Westchester Knicks for the most part. He had a hard time finishing around the basket, and his perimeter shots were off. However, Ennis’ knack for knowing when to take over late in the game was on display that night.
As the 905’s offense faltered late, Ennis scored six points and assisted on a couple of makes by Matt Morgan. Unfortunately, the Knicks packed the paint late in the regulation and Ennis had to force a couple of bad three-pointers. Still, it was a solid run by the team’s veteran leader.
Devin Robinson is back playing at a high-level again — in fact, he’s been the most consistent 905er as of late. His high-flying activity on both ends of the court have led to averages of 21 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 2.5 blocks for the past two games.
Robinson looked much more active in looking for his shots for the past few games, and a match-up with Tacko Fall last Saturday got him the green light to do more than lobs and rim-running. Against Fall, his game was in full display — he took advantage of the distance that Fall gave him in the perimeter and dropped four three-pointers, and when Fall got close enough, he would blow by him.
Henry Ellenson posted one of the quietest 28.5 points per game last week, as he sprinkled his points throughout the game. His perimeter shot was on, hitting 7-for-13 in two games, but more importantly, he showed a lot of fight last week. Ellenson was out there fighting for rebounds and loose balls, and trying to get to the basket late in games to get to the foul line. His four free-throws in OT and his tip-in kept the 905 alive and put the team in position to steal back the game from the Knicks.
Bad news: Malcolm Miller hasn’t his a three-point shot this season in the G League. That Pacers annihilation game should make Miller feel better though, as he finally made a perimeter shot in an actual game (G League and NBA) since dropping four three-pointers against the New York Knicks in late November last year.
We all know that Miller can hit threes, but his chances in the NBA are few and far between. Meanwhile, some of his shots in the G League have been wide open, and he hasn’t been able to stick them, despite playing a lot of minutes. Is Miller pressing? Maybe.
Good News: Miller brought in the defense the Raptors 905 needed to help the team secure their first win against the Red Claws in three games this season.
Miller’s box score line may look underwhelming — six points in 13 shots, 0-for-7 from the perimeter — but the team’s defense was just in a higher gear when he was on the court. Miller was doing a lot of things you would not see on the box score. His help defense, rotations, and pressure were on point, as he forced a lot of bad shots and some turnovers, disrupting the Red Claws’ offensive rhythm throughout the game.
Aside from Miller’s defense, his passing was on display that night too, as the 905 had to use him as one of their backup point guards (by committee) against the Red Claws.
With about thirteen games left, I think it would be wise for the Raptors to send him (along with Stanley Johnson) down to the 905 now to get (and maintain) his rhythm. Nurse knows he can count on Miller’s defense, but Malcolm has to get his perimeter shot ready when Nurse calls his number.
Paul Watson started the game against the Knicks doing pretty much what he wanted. He was cutting to the basket, pulling up from the perimeter, toying with his defender, and taking advantage of the wide-open lane. Watson was even doing the patented Steve Smith jump stop and turn-around in the midrange.
Watson was at 20 points at the half against the Knicks and all-signs pointed to maybe double that number, as he dropped another perimeter shot early in the third period. However, the Knicks adjusted their defense, and the 905 failed to get him involved for the rest of the quarter. Watson came back midway in the fourth thought, and got a lot of reps in as the team’s go-to scorer — to mixed results.
Watson had a tough time going against a defense that had all eyes on him, as he settled for jumpers initially. He tried to get into the paint several times and was unsuccessful in making a lay-up in traffic.
If there’s an Exhibit A for the Raptors’ development system in the G League, it’s Oshae Brissett this year. Last year, we had the pleasure of seeing Chris Boucher figure out his limits and Jordan Loyd transition into a full-time point guard. Right now, we are witnessing Brissett’s game grow right before our eyes.
Earlier in the season, Brissett was bricking his shots, and his forays to the basket were wildly out of control. Right now, we are getting more and more games from Brissett where he’s showcasing improvements on his perimeter shots: jab steps, catch-and-shoot sets, and smooth step-backs. His drives to the basket are much more in control, although he still needs to work on finishing better in the paint.
It feels like the game is slowing down for Brissett (at least in the G League), and I can’t wait to see what another summer will bring to his game.