It’s a “next man up” mentality for the Raptors 905, as they swept their week without their key players. Malachi Flynn is still with the main club, and Jalen Harris hasn’t played since dislocating a finger against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants over a week ago. On top of that, Breein Tyree got injured mid-week, and it was announced that he’ll be out for the season due to a torn ACL. Gary Payton II is also banged up and missed time as well last week.
And yet despite all of that, coach Patrick Mutombo maximized the talent at hand and the 905 went 4-0 over the past week. First, Mutombo flexed his clipboard skills in drawing up the game-winning shot for Henry Ellenson, defeating the Memphis Hustle 119-117. Then the 905ers followed that up with a 138-107 trashing of Delaware Blue Coats, who were on top of the standings at the time.
Donta Hall, the Raptors’ newest acquisition, joined the Raptors 905 as they wrapped up their week with back-to-back wins against the Greensboro Swarm (126-117), in which Hall made an immediate impact by dropping 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 blocks, and the Westchester Knicks (127-115).
All in all, despite the absences, it was not a bad seven days for our guys in Orlando. Let’s review what else has been going on with the Raptors 905.
So Long, Dewan
Last week, we also said goodbye to Dewan Hernandez, who was shipped to Rio Grande Valley Vipers for someone who barely played rotation minutes this season. (Well OK, the 905 get Jarron Cumberland and a 2nd round pick). It was a two-fold move for the 905. Donta Hall is expected to spend his 10-day contract with the team, giving them an upgrade in the middle as they aim for the Gubble championship. At the same time, they get to evaluate his fit within the Raptors system.
As for Hernandez, the Raptors 905 did him a solid by shipping him to a team that’s devoid of a centre. The Vipers’ past two bigs got picked up by other teams, leaving them playing like their mother club, the Houston Rockets.
This season hasn’t gone as planned for Hernandez. He had a rough start during which he was nowhere near what the team needed offensively and defensively. There was a stretch where coach Mutombo was playing Alize Johnson as the team’s small-ball big instead of Dewan for extended minutes. The unfortunate part is that Hernandez was showing signs of bouncing back before he got traded.
Ah well. We wish Hernandez all the best.
Hall’s Bubble Prove ‘Em Contract
Donta Hall is a welcome addition to the Raptors 905 Gubble team. He provides the team with a legit rim protection and pick-and-roll threat. Before the health and safety protocols shut down the Raptors’ schedule for the foreseeable future, Hall was essentially pegged to audition, but now is working closely with the 905.
The good news here is that the nature of Hall’s “call-up” gives us a chance to see what he can actually do offensively and defensively within the Raptors system — instead of sitting on the bench with the main club. As noted above, Hall has come in and made an immediate impact for the 905.
Hall offers a combination of physical attributes and skill-set that the 905 had lacked up to this point. He’s an excellent dive man at the G League level — he can finish with a quick dunk, layup, or alley-oop in such actions. If Hall is not rolling to the basket, he’ll be hanging out at the dunker’s spot, waiting for a dump-off or a putback. His second and third-jump efforts are good, and he uses his strength to create space on his shots. In a different era, say the early 2000s, Hall would be a prototype power forward/centre at the NBA level. Nowadays though, he’ll have to expand his game some to make it there.
Much like Chris Boucher, Hall is good at swatting shots as a help defender. He reads the offensive action well and leverages his length and quickness to time his blocks. As long as Hall is aware of the play transpiring and he’s near the vicinity, he’ll be able to either block or contest the attempt.
Fortunately, Hall’s court awareness does not seem limited to the defensive end. He seems to have a good grasp of where his teammates are on the floor, and it enables him to make a quick pass on a short roll. Back in his Grand Rapids Drive days, they would sometimes run plays off him on the post, and he’s trusted enough to find his teammates on the move while scanning the floor. That role on the 905 belongs to Alize Johnson right now. Still, it’ll be intriguing to see what Hall can do with the ball at the elbow.
Hall hasn’t displayed much outside of his pick-and-roll and rim-running this season, and he’s not quite advanced enough offensively to create his own shots. His shooting form isn’t too bad though, and he posted a 75 percent rate from the free-throw line last season. He was also given the green light to attempt from three last season, hitting seven triples in the process. As of late though, Hall barely ventured outside of the paint.
As mentioned above, Hall is an old-school PF/C, so that means he’ll have the same spacing issue as Aron Baynes. He’s accustomed to running towards the paint in transition and camping in the dunker’s spot if he’s not involved in the play. Defenders won’t follow him all the way out even if he tries to space the floor, which has led to Alize Johnson running through some traffic on his forays to the basket.
The Raptors’ defensive scheme is still a learning process for Hall — which, yes, is probably not something that can be taught entirely in ten days. His recognition and reaction time on rotating to the perimeter is still a work in progress. Sometimes Hall will be caught late in making a closeout/rotation as his traditional big man instinct is to go back and protect the paint after rotating or helping out. Perhaps that’s something that could be improved in time, however.
I have some reservations on Hall’s lateral movement — his closeouts are laboured, and he struggles to change direction and recover (east/west) on his closeouts. He hasn’t fared well as an on-ball defender while on the perimeter. In all, Hall is a much better on-ball defender in the post, but it remains to be seen — given the average size of the G League — whether he can hang with the bigger bodies of the NBA.
Henry Ellenson is Due for a Call-Up
I’ll lead with this: Henry Ellenson is the best stretch big in the G League right now. He is having his best season as a G Leaguer despite a slight downtick in his stats from his previous season. Still, Ellenson is good for 20 points and nine rebounds per contest. What’s impressive this season is his production continues to be at a high level despite not being the team’s developmental focus this season.
Ellenson started the season as either the third or fourth option offensively as the Raptors look to develop Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris. It took Ellenson a few games to figure out his role in the offense, and once he did, he was able to switch from being a floor spacer to a pick-and-pop target, to at times, the go-to guy in crunch time.
Hall’s addition did not faze Ellenson’s production, even when he lost the starting centre spot. Against the Westchester Knicks, Ellenson proved that he can do more than just spot up, as he helped the 905 pull away by scoring 11 points via cuts, drives to the basket, and off of offensive boards.
This is Ellenson’s second season at centre for the 905 after a failed experiment in the Detroit Pistons’ power forward spot. He’s settling in much better this season as a centre on both ends of the floor. Ellenson will not be a defensive stopper anytime soon, and he’s in trouble on an island against a crafty 1-on-1 guard, but his teammates can funnel their man towards him. In this, Ellenseon can provide solid verticality to contest the shot. That improved awareness as a help defender as helped him a lot. And now, there’s a case to be made that Ellenson has improved enough for a possible call-up.
More importantly, good things happen when Ellenson is on the court. The Raptors 905 have the best offense in the Gubble, with an offensive rating of 118. Meanwhile, Ellenson’s own individual offensive rating is 121 and he’s also the king of plus/minus so far, leading the league at +108 through eleven games. Ellenson’s perimeter shooting percentage is probably lower than he would like but he’s still putting up a decent 36.4 percent behind the arc. Not bad given that about 80 percent of his field goals made this season were assisted.
When your centre averages almost 20/10 and wins his minutes (30 per game) by 10 points, that’s a good thing, right? I’d say so. Let’s see what the next week has in store for Ellenson and the 905.
Stats are through February 28 via stats.gleague.nba.com.