They lost Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in free agency, have over 100 games lost to injury in their rotation, and still the Toronto Raptors are on pace to win 59 games before the regular season is up. The question many people are asking is: how are they doing it?
Well, as we know, there are plenty of reasons — not all of which it’s worth getting into on this web page. The Raptors have great coaching, an identity as a team, and a bevy of smart, high basketball IQ players.
What we can talk about, though, is another reason: their structural integrity as a franchise. What we’re seeing out of the Raptors 905 in the past couple weeks is a decent extension of this, and shows how the NBA Raptors are finding success.
Since the 905 were born, they’ve been home to the same type of players that Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster have built the Raptors with. There’s long, switchy, athletic forwards galore — ready to put in the work on defence and build their offensive game through experience.
With the move two weeks ago to trade Justin Anderson for Henry Ellenson, the 905 doubled down on this philosophy, and now have a tremendous amount of forward depth with Devin Robinson, Oshae Brissett, and Dewan Hernandez when he returns from injury. They’ve also had the bench personnel to plug and play smaller lineups, with Michael Bethea Jr. improving his scoring touch and Matt Morgan able to make some shots from outside.
It’s not a total turnaround, but the moves have seen the 905 look more cohesive on the floor. This week, they won games against the Wisconsin Herd and Greensboro Swarm thanks to aggressive scoring from their frontcourt players. The 2-1 week improves them to 14-19 as they inch closer to the .500 mark.
Let’s take a look into each game in this week’s Dial 905.
Saturday, February 1 vs. Wisconsin Herd
A big scoring night for the Herd’s Jaylen Adams, who had 32 points, was offset by poor outside shooting overall by Wisconsin’s role players. As a team, they made just 7-for-27 and after losing the first three quarters to the 905, couldn’t mount a comeback in the fourth quarter.
While Adams owned the scoring for Wisconsin, it was a win by committee for the Raptors. Henry Ellenson and Oshae Brissett — the latter starting in a role he locked down against Fort Wayne as well — both scored 21 points and posted +11 and +13, respectively.
Tyler Ennis and Paul Watson chipped in 17 each in the backcourt and Michael Bethea Jr. scored 14 off the bench.
The five double figures scorers weren’t entirely efficient — the team shot just 40% in the game — but they were enough to get the 905 a win.
The double-double from Ellenson especially punctuates how steady he’s been for the 905.
Apart from one stinker last week, he’s been able to keep his scoring steady throughout his run with the Raptors, which has helped in a season where it’s been different heroes at different times. In this column, we’ve switched a lot between praising Brissett one night, Tyler Ennis another, and the bench on other nights. Having the steady presence at the centre spot really helps keep the ship going forward.
Monday, February 3 at Fort Wayne Mad Ants
Mad Ants 122
Much like the Raptors game we witnessed last night against Indiana, this one was a tale of two very different quarters. The 905 won the second quarter 43-24 and looked poised to blow the Mad Ants out. Fort Wayne, though, rallied to win the second half by an eye-opening 21 points — earning an eight-point win.
This game was closer than the score suggests, as four free throws and a garbage time layup by Daxter Miles Jr. extended this to a three-possession game. The 905 had a chance to cut the lead to one with 1:10 left but Bethea Jr. missed a three, as Fort Wayne would go on to finish on a 6-1 run.
Two days after winning by committee, the 905 saw their opposition do the same to them. Four players for Fort Wayne scored over 20 points — with Alize Johnson posting 29 points and 10 rebounds on 13-for-18 shooting to lead the way.
The Raptors got 23 points and 13 rebounds, meanwhile, from Henry Ellenson to lead the team, as the big man started a blistering 4-for-4 from distance.
Devin Robinson and Tyler Ennis combined for 35 points, but needed 33 shots to get there.
Still, bright spots right? There was a welcome contribution from Justin Reyes, who had one of his best games in red and white scoring 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting and 2-for-4 from three.
Wednesday, February 5 at Greensboro Swarm
When I talk about forwards carrying the load, this was the best example of the week.
Devin Robinson exploded on the road for the 905, scoring 30 points and tearing down 16 points — doing it on 13-for-17 shooting, 1-for-2 from three, and posting a +20.
Right next to him was Henry Ellenson, who made 12-of-20 shots and scored 29 points, also posting a double-double with 14 rebounds.
A struggling shooting night from Bethea Jr. (3-for-16) and Duane Notice (2-for-9) didn’t matter at all thanks to the performance of their bigs. The 905 shrugged off a 31-point game from Caleb Martin and blew out Greensboro 37-22 in the third quarter after trailing by six at the half, eventually winning by 13.
Now, onward — the 905 play Lakeland on the road before a four-game home stand, beginning with the Stockton Kings next Wednesday night.