It was a lean week for the Raptors 905 last week, as the boys from Mississauga only played two games, splitting the pair. First, they grabbed a win over the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, but then took a significant loss to the Long Island Nets that has ramifications to their playoff chances.
As usual, the 905 were not completely healthy, as Jawun Evans continues to be sidelined with his hamstring injury. Sagaba Konate played his most minutes in a while (nine) against the Mad Ants, and he looked better. But he followed that performance up by looking sluggish against the Nets and only got two minutes of burn. To add salt to the wound, Devin Robinson went down against the Mad Ants late in the third quarter after badly turning his ankle while slashing to the basket. I hope his injury is not as bad as it looked as Robinson was just getting his rhythm back.
Nevertheless, it was a fun week for the Raptors 905 overall. We got to see, for example, Tyler Ennis show us the tip of the iceberg of what he’s capable of doing, while Paul Watson worked his way towards being the team’s first option on offense. Other 905 players were more up-and-down, so let’s get into this week’s review.
Watson is averaging 28 points in his last three games while shooting 46 percent from behind the arc (12-for-26) during that stretch. What’s pretty cool to see from Watson’s play lately is that he’s becoming the 905’s main option in crunch time situation, and he’s had a few games now where he put the team on his back.
Watson tried to will his team to victory against the Nets, dropping 24 points in the second half, including 15 in the fourth quarter. All of a sudden, his earlier struggles getting into the paint disappeared, as he successfully mixed up his shot selection. Unfortunately for Watson, the rest of the team could not offer enough help to get the W.
I’ve touched upon Watson’s struggles in the paint before. If he doesn’t get separation from his defender or make his move before help defenders arrive, it’s led to trouble. I’m not sure if Watson’s first step is quick enough to blow by above-average defenders, or if his handle is tight enough to give him that advantage (although he has been able to lull his defender to sleep with his crossover at times). More often than not, Watson’s defenders have been able to keep up with his movements and impede his progress. Still, he exploded in the second half against the Nets, providing a clue on how he can get to the basket: his threat as a perimeter shooter gives him a pseudo-quick first step against his defender.
One last thing: I want to go over Watson’s improved defense. I suppose seeing the main club defend up close made some impact on Watson, along with being able to practice with them. Watson’s defensive intensity and activity have gotten a notch higher, as his help defense and individual coverage right now is at the NBA level. There are no easy shots anymore if he’s the primary defender on the ball, and his effort to recover and help is astounding.
Just as Devin Robinson was hitting his stride, another injury derailed what could have been his best season in the G League. We’re left with just one game to evaluate Robinson’s performance last week, and it was one of those games where he struggled to get things going within the frame of the 905’s offense.
There was a stretch earlier this season when it seemed like Robinson lost his confidence shooting the ball, but that wasn’t the case against the Mad Ants. He was stepping into his threes, looking for his midrange shots, and trying to take his defenders to the basket. Unfortunately, it was just one of those nights where nothing was going well for him outside of transition and broken plays.
Speaking of transition and broken plays, Robinson was excellent at making the most of them, scoring most of his points that way. Another good thing about his lone performance last week was his defense. Normally, Robinson uses his length and athleticism to recover on defense, but against fringe NBA players like Alize Johnson, he clearly relished the matchup and was able to stop Johnson a few times by making smart defensive plays — moving his feet, predicting the moves, and beig decisive on when to take the charge or be vertical.
Robinson’s overall play, especially his rim protection, was sorely missed against the Nets.
Henry Ellenson had two contrasting games last week: an efficient night against the Mad Ants where he dropped 30 points on 17 shots (going 4-for-7 from three), and a (relative) stinker with 17 points in 11 shots. Those look like decent numbers, but his performance was worse than his boxscore would tell.
Against the Mad Ants, Ellenson couldn’t miss behind the arc, and he was able to get the angles to get to the basket too. The opposite can be said against the Nets, where Ellenson couldn’t buy a perimeter shot even when he was wide open. Kudos for him for trying to put the team on his back in the fourth quarter against the Nets, but it backfired — with bricks, turnovers, or bad possessions as the result. Those wasted possessions could’ve been given to Paul Watson, who was cooking that night.
On the bright side, Ellenson is getting better at staying in front and be vertical as a defender around the rim. If he’s not going to block shots (he has two blocks to show in six games), then he should be able to protect the rim this way.
One alarming thing about Ellenson’s play lately though has been the dip in his rebounding. He’s down to less than five rebounds per game in his last three games, and with Robinson out for the foreseeable future, he’ll need to step his “rebound-ball” game up.
Tyler Ennis is an NBA player. Against the Mad Ants, he had one of those games where you just know he’s head-and-shoulders better than the rest of the players on the court. Ennis was phenomenal in picking his spots — when to shoot and when to pass. And when he hunted for assists, the opposing team were kept guessing as to what he’d do.
The fun part here is that Ennis collected 15 dimes — which is a franchise high for the 905 — but in watching the game, he could have easily gotten 25 assists. A lot of the pick-and-pop passes and kick-outs Ennis tossed were to wide open players. On top of that, his 22 assists against just four turnovers last week would make Jose Calderon proud.
A welcome development for the past few games is Ennis’ willingness to shoot the perimeter shot. He was stepping into his threes confidently (even on misses), and he played off the ball pretty well, mixing up when to spot-up or cut to the basket.
I am pretty sure I have lamented about this before, but sometimes I wish Ennis would just be more selfish with the ball. He’s had games where he could rack up a lot of points, only to step back to get his team involved. It makes sense for Ennis to want to prove he can be a pass-first NBA-level point guard, but sometimes the 905 need more scoring from him given his talent for it.
Oshae Brissett had a forgettable night against the Long Island Nets, as every negative about his game that I’ve outlined here reared its ugly head. Brissett was out of control during the game, making his drives to the basket with no plan B (or no plan A even). What’s more, none of Oshae’s threes went in — but we won’t make a big deal out of that right now.
What was most missing during the game vs. the Nets was Brissett’s energy on both ends of the floor. Some early foul trouble, and his frustrations with the referees, took his focus out of the game. I’ve buried the lede here a bit, but Oshae was actually thrown out of the game after he received two consecutive techs after picking up his sixth foul late in the game. It was that rough.
In short, expect a bounce back game from Brissett.