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Player Preview: Svi Mykhailiuk is about to steal someone’s job

Svi Mykhailiuk was an unassuming late summer signing who could be in line for some serious minutes — but at who’s expense?

Houston Rockets v Toronto Raptors Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images

Every team has that guy the fans want more of. It’s backup quarterback syndrome; the shiny untouched thing might not be better than the old hat thing you know, but what if it is?!

There’s a good chance we already know who that guy will be this season among Raptors fans. It’ll either be late-summer signing Svi Mykhailiuk, or it’ll be whomever loses his minutes to Svi after the preseason he just put together.

When the Raptors signed Mykhailiuk for two years and $3.6 million on August 31st, it felt like a shoulder shrug move. Yes, there was a player option attached to the second year, and guaranteed money for 2021-22, but it would not have been all that financially prohibitive to move on from him before the season if things didn’t go well in camp.

It took exactly one stretch of floor time for Mykhailiuk to secure his roster spot, and render any late-summer dismissals of the move pretty foolish. Lost in the fog of two lifeless seasons with the Pistons and Thunder was the fact that the dude can apparently play.

Upon subbing in for the first time against the Sixers back on October 4th, Mykhailiuk played nearly 17 straight minutes, putting up 13 points, three boards and five assists on 4-of-5 shooting, while the Raptors stomped the Sixers by 19 in that time. What was striking about Svi’s first shift was the balance he brought to lineups populated mostly by energetic 6’9 oddballs flying around and making shit happen. If Toronto’s bet on position-less maniac basketball being the new way forward is gonna pay off, it’ll be because of the adults in the room that help channel the frenetic energy of Toronto’s limby youths. Like Fred VanVleet or Goran Dragic or the increasingly refined Pascal Siakam, Mykhailiuk profiles as a guy who can calm things down when the end-to-end wind sprints skew away from chaotic good into chaotic booting the ball out of bounds.

It’ll be easy to find room for him when the season gets rolling next week. With Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher and possibly Yuta Watanabe all sidelined to begin the year, Mykhailiuk’s 9.6-point, 3.0-rebound, 2.2-assist preseason showing on 47.4 percent from the floor (41.2 percent from three) should be more than enough to earn him steady rotation minutes out of the gate. And from the looks of things, he looks ready to offer more than just reliable spot-up shooting. On a team that could use any extra morsel of play making and creativity — especially with its best player out — his preseason demo reel suggests he could be able to chip in on that front more than just a little.

It’s not like Mykhailiuk is a blow-by machine or some cross-court, skip pass whipping genius, but every extra dude who can keep the offense flowing helps when you’re trying to wring as much juice as possible from a roster that’s not exactly saturated.

To open the year, he looks to be no lower than ninth in Nick Nurse’s pecking order — and at this point that may even be true if Watanabe is ready to go on opening night. It remains to be seen whether Nurse will roll with heavily staggered lineups that keep one of Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Siakam on the floor at all times once all are available, but until Siakam returns there will inevitably be some all-reserve crews thrown out there. Whether its as a fifth option next to Toronto’s top guys, or a role with a bit more responsibility working in support of Malachi Flynn and the bench, Mykhailiuk looks like a fit with just about any collection of Raptors. Depending on how well he can hold up on defense (his 6’7 height is nice, but a 6’6 wingspan doesn’t totally fit the Raptors’ vision), he figures to open up all sorts of looks with his shooting and tertiary playmaking. Scottie Barnes, Precious Achiuwa, Khem Birch and any other iffy and/or speculative shooters on the Raptors seem like natural pairings with Mykhailiuk in the interest of floor balance and space. If Gary Trent’s having an especially tunnel-visiony night, Svi could even slide into some closing lineups next to Toronto’s starters.

It’s possible that when the Raptors get back to full health that Mykhailiuk will assume his presumed role of 12th man, occupying the break-in-case-of-emergency spot that Matt Thomas used to. But even if that is his ultimate niche on this team, it leaves the Raptors a hell of a lot better off than they were last season. If his preseason flashes hold up as legit, Mykhailiuk projects to be the kind of deeper bench piece the Raptors simply didn’t have in Tampa; someone who doesn’t feel over-extended when forced up the depth chart, and who won’t resign the Raptors to playing depression basketball whenever they’re down a couple bodies. Toronto’s deep reserves last year brought one dimension or less to the table. That Mykhailiuk is somewhere between passable and good at a handful of useful things should set him up to be the man Raptors fans pound the table for whenever he’s not in Nick Nurse’s night-to-night plans. That is, unless he snags a job from day one and hangs onto it through April.