The Raptors 905 continue to make their G League playoff push, as they went 3-0 over the past week to bring them within half a game of the wildcard spot. Not bad considering it looked like it would be an early spring for the boys of Mississauga.
The 905 have now won eight of their last 10 games, with five straight wins at home. More importantly, this stretch highlights the fact that the Raptors 905 have a lot of good players, and they each took turns putting the team on their individual back over the past week.
Coach Jama Mahlalela’s team continues to be plagued by injuries though. Jawun Evans’ hamstring injury got him ruled out for the season, and Oshae Brissett missed the game against the College Park Skyhawks due to a back issue. A saving grace: Devin Robinson came back against the Skyhawks after a badly rolled ankle two weeks ago.
There were plenty of highlights and a few lowlights for the past three games for the 905, but it’s a treat watching an assortment of what seemed to be a mishmash collection of talent earlier this season start looking like a well-oiled machine destined for the playoffs. Let’s go over some of these prospects below.
Konate’s minutes restriction rose to 11 for the last two games, and he’s back showing the same flashes of his potential that we saw earlier this season.
While clearly not in game shape yet, Konate is moving much better, and playing as advertised down low by bullying opposing players. He’s got a better explosion to the basket on his quick gather moves, which allows him to finish better around the basket. He also didn’t force shots in the post when there were multiple defenders around him.
A welcome development for Konate is his continued success from the perimeter, hitting his last three shots en route to 7-for-15 since the month of February.
Robinson came back from his ankle injury looking like he didn’t miss a beat. He dropped 21 points and 14 rebounds in his first game back this month against the Skyhawks, and he immediately made an impact for the 905.
Robinson did not have a lot of plays called for him, but he managed to put himself in scoring position in transition and by moving well and cutting to the basket. The only downside for him offensively is that his three was off that night (0-for-4).
While we did not see the usual high-flying acts that we’re accustomed to seeing from him, Robinson’s hustle plays and clutch free-throw shooting sealed the win for the 905. He had seven rebounds in the fourth quarter, and fought for a huge offensive board off Paul Watson’s free-throw miss in the dying seconds. He was not able to secure the rebound, but he was able to tap it out to his teammates to save the possession.
There’s a saying online about how Kyle Lowry is not just a spot-up shooter, etc. and the same can be said about Ellenson. Amid his worst shooting slump, Ellenson was doing everything else he can do to help the team win.
I criticized him last week for playing soft against the Long Island Nets, where he was ineffective with his shooting and not a factor in the paint on either side of the floor. That hasn’t been the case since then, as Ellenson has played his height during this stretch more often than not. He’s been getting into the paint to get a higher percentage shot, regardless of whether he’s putting the ball on the floor, cutting to the basket, or crashing the boards. Rebounding for Ellenson was also not an issue during this stretch, as he averaged 13 boards per game over the past week.
What shone most during Ellenson’s slump has been his offensive basketball IQ. He was reading plays ahead of others and making excellent passes — some of which were unexpected for someone of his size and position. He had six and seven assists against the Skyhawks and the Bulls, respectively, for example.
Ellenson was also able to break out of his shooting slump, which saw him shoot 1-for-18 from behind the arc over a three-game stretch (Nets, Bulls, Blue Coats). He was back on track against the Skyhawks, as he nailed 4-for-7 threes, including one the 905 badly needed midway through the fourth to fend off a late Skyhawks push.
Defensively, Ellenson is what he is — his feet will always be a bit heavy once he gets switched onto crafty smaller guards. And he provides limited rim protection outside of staying vertical if he’s in front of the shooter.
Tyler Ennis’ brilliance at the point is what’s keeping the 905 connected and competing for a playoff spot. Evans’ injury highlighted the steady presence Ennis brings at the point, and while he’s not doing anything fancy, he’s excellent at setting his teammates up in great scoring positions and picking his spots when to shoot and, at times, when to take over the game.
Ennis’ perimeter shooting is coming along, as he’s been aggressively looking for them and not necessarily always looking to make swing passes. In that effort, he went 6-for-16 from three over the past three games. That number doesn’t paint an accurate picture though, as Ennis had one game with 0-for-4, and his shooting, in general, was off that night.
Ennis’ turnover issues did return a bit recently. However, even that is just a minor issue considering his impact on 905 as a whole. Ennis plays at his own pace, and seems to have developed a few counters in the midrange so that he’s not always forced to drive to the basket all the time. With his perimeter shot coming along, he’s starting to become more of a complete player.
It was an interesting game against the Delaware Bluecoats for Oshae Brissett, as he was the focal point of 905’s offense for a big chunk of the first half. The Blue Coats chose to hide their center on Brissett to avoid letting Ellenson go off from the perimeter, and Brissett made them pay.
Coach Mahlalela abandoned the playbook and attacked the mismatch early and often, as eight out of the first eleven shots were from Brissett. It was moderately successful, but the pressure he put on the opposing team did put a strain on their defense, even in transition, as defenders had to extra aware of Brissett on the floor.
In response to that attention, Brissett made sure to vary his attacks on offense — providing midrange shooting, acrobatic layups, and threes — which was nice to see, given his one-dimensional role at the start of the season.
Brissett is in the midst of a shooting slump from the perimeter, shooting 4-for-24 in his last three games. A lot of those shots have been wide open, and some of the mildly-contested ones were in-rhythm. I suppose he’s not at that level yet where he can consistently raise up for a shot and expect them to go in at a decent clip. He’s not forcing shots though, which is encouraging.
We should just put this dunk and leave it as it is, right?
That dunk was insane, but Paul Watson’s game had cooled off a bit after averaging almost 30 points per game last week. Now, slightly under 20 points per contest is still not bad, and he shot almost 42 percent behind the arc (10-of-24) in his last three games, despite having a 1-for-7 shooting against the Skyhawks.
Watson was great at moving between being the 905’s first to third scoring option on any given possession these past few weeks. He’s also not shy about shooting the three even if he has to manufacture the opportunity himself.
Watson’s been getting a lot of ISO possessions for the past few games, and I mentioned last week that a good number of them would end up as futile trips to the basket. Lately, he’s been mixing it up, using the threat of a pull-up off the bounce or drive to the basket. It’s kept the defense guessing, and against the Blue Coats, he was able to turn it on in the fourth quarter and get the shots he wanted.
I know I already mentioned this previously, but Watson’s commitment to defense is at a higher level — his rotations, help defense, and hard contests on shooters were on pace with what we’re used to seeing from the Raptors. It’s hard for opposing players to shoot around him. Watson’s combination of length and quickness surprises a lot of opposing players.
The Raptors 905 play again tomorrow against the College Park Skyhawks, with playoff implications at hand. The winning team gets the tie-breaker as we approach the end of the G League regular season. The 905 are sitting just half a game behind the Capital City Go Go with a game in hand. However things play out, it’ll be an exciting time to be at Paramount Fine Foods Centre!