Another week, another undefeated streak for the Raptors 905. After a roster shakeup earlier in the week saw Donta Hall and Jalen Harris get recalled to the Raptors, where they joined Malachi Flynn, head coach Patrick Mutombo rallied his crew to do what they do: just win. As a result, the 905 finished the regular season on an eight-game winning streak. In all, they went 11-1 to round out the 15-game regular season after a shakey 1-2 start.
For their efforts: the Raptors 905 are the top team in the G League Bubble. And since the playoffs start today with the 905 taking on the G League Ignite select team at 3:45pm this afternoon, we’re here with an early Prospect Report looking at the past week and the playoffs ahead.
Monday March 1, 2021: 905 win 125-124 OT Thriller vs. Canton Charge
This was the only competitive Raptors 905 game last week. The 905ers had to dig deep to overcome a 20-point deficit late in the third quarter. Just named G League Player of the Week Henry Ellenson dropped 31 off the bench, and provided the scoring punch the team needed for their comeback. Meanwhile, Matt Morgan and Nik Stauskas helped out with their clutch shooting late in the game, and Matt Mooney had the golden touch, dropping 13 dimes in his first start of the season. It’s only apt that the 905 closed out the Charge in OT behind Ellenson, Mooney, Morgan, and Staukas’ contributions.
Wednesday March 3, 2021: 905 win 115-93 vs. Oklahoma City Blue
The Raptors 905 busted this game open early, racing out to an early big lead in the first quarter behind Alize Johnson’s hot start. Johnson ended up setting the 905 record for the fastest double-double in a game, achieving this milestone with 4:46 left in the second quarter. He finished with 19 points and 18 rebounds. Not much to talk about here as the OKC Blue didn’t quite put up much of a fight from the jump. In the win, the Raptors 905 clinched their playoff spot.
Thursday March 5, 2021: 905 win 132-124 vs. Iowa Wolves
The Iowa Wolves turned this game into a shootout, and the Raptors 905 gladly obliged. The 905 survived the hot shooting of Dakarai Tucker, who scored 38 points via 10-of-14 shooting from behind the arc. Led by Stauskas’ 29 points, and complemented by Ellenson’s 27 and Johnson’s 25, the 905 were able to flex their own scoring prowess on the way to the win.
Saturday March 7, 2021: 905 win 122-100 vs. Lakeland Magic
The 905 steamrolled the Lakeland Magic, who were without their leading scorer, Mamadi Diakite, to cap off their regular season as the best team in the Gubble. This was another balanced attack and a showcase of the 905’s deep bench, which saw the team blow this game up in the third quarter behind Matt Morgan’s heroics. He dropped a career-high 24 points despite barely playing earlier this season.
905 Play of the Week
Alize Johnson, Point Forward
Johnson’s Regular Season Stats:
16.6 PPG, 57% FG% (6.8/11.9 FGM/A Per Game), 33.3 3P% (8/24 3PM/A Total), 13.3 REB, 4.2 AST, 1.3 STL, 0.3 BLK, 2.9 TO, +122 +/- (total)
If I have to hand out a team-specific award, I’d have to give the 905 MVP hardware to Alize Johnson. (Though Ellenson’s scoring, especially in clutch situations, makes a strong case too). Still, Johnson’s overall impact on the team on both ends of the court just can’t be ignored. While Johnson’s numbers are actually a bit down this year as compared to last (e.g. his scoring average dropped three points, along with his three-point attempts), but in watching the 905’s games, Johnson’s fingerprints are all over the place — in a good way.
Throughout the season, Johnson filled the gaps for the Raptors 905. He was pencilled in at the team’s power forward, but after Dewan Hernandez’s slow start, coach Mutombo trusted Johnson to man the middle. He doesn’t have the size and length expected from a centre, but he held the fort down when called upon. If anything, sometimes the 905 looked better defensively when Johnson was at centre (compared to Ellenson).
It’s on the offensive end where Johnson is a real revelation, despite his limitations as a scorer. Having watched some of his Fort Wayne Mad Ants games, his passing was always intriguing, either in quick swings or kick-outs. I thought he saw the floor well or at least had good instincts as to where his teammates were. Coach Mutombo saw his skill as a facilitator and took it to the next level this season. The 905 started initiating their offense through Johnson, and he became a point-forward this season.
Part of the Raptors’ offensive philosophy is to get into the paint to collapse the defense, and kick-out to the open shooter. This puts the defense on their toes, making them at least half-a-step behind as the 905 swing the ball around to find an open man. Unfortunately, their two best players at doing this (Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris) were out of commission for the most part.
Not all players are gifted enough to get into the paint easily, let alone quickly assess the situation and find an open man. The team still has Breein Tyree, who’s explosive at breaking down his man, but his drive-and-kick game is still developing (and he’s now injured). On the other hand, Matt Mooney has elite passing skills but struggles to break down his man off the dribble.
This is where Johnson comes in. He’s able to get the ball either in the high or low post, map out his teammates and defenders, and get in the paint via backing down his man or a quick spin-move into the paint. Johnson was also involved in pick-and-roll/dribble-hand-off plays, often as the decision-maker in such actions. In these moves, he makes high-level passes — not just in their complexity but in how he’s making the reads. Johnson’s instinct to know who’s hot or who was ready to catch the ball in rhythm, where his teammates were relocating, or setting up a teammate for a hockey assist were all on display every game.
I love how even in transition, Johnson’s teammates were looking for him to get something going. He’s usually the only non-shooter on the floor, so having the ball in his hands eliminates the 905’s spacing issues — in fact, his pressure on the defense creates more spacing for his teammates around the perimeter.
Besides that, Johnson will be a fan favourite wherever he goes. His energy around the basket is hard to match. He’s perpetually fighting for boards, even if the odds are against him. Johnson leverages his excellent quick-leaping ability to give himself a chance in securing a rebound.
Johnson is playing at an elite level in the G League, displaying an all-around skill set similar to what Draymond Green brings to the table. Johnson’s got decent size at the SF/PF spot — he’s 6’7” without shoes, and his measurements are comparable to, say, Brandon Clark. He’s also an inch taller than OG Anunoby per their combine stats at stats.nba.com. However, Johnson is probably more of a two-way candidate than a 10-day, as his other skills (handles, shooting) need to be refined to maximize his value on the floor. If he can improve on this, he could be a valuable bench piece for a team with shooters.
Playoff Preview: Raptors 905 (1) vs G League Ignite (8)
Later today, the Raptors 905’s will face the G League Ignite, the so-called select team for this modified season, in the first round of the playoffs. However, this is not a typical playoff series as the G League is implementing a knock-out format for their abbreviated season.
In this, the 905’s regular season success does not carry any advantage. The games are being played at a neutral site and with a win-or-go-home format. Any team can get caught on a bad day or against a hot-shooting opponent.
For the 905, coach Mutombo has his team peaking at the right time, which is impressive given two of the his higher profile players, Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris, have been absent for most of the season. As mentioned, Johnson’s transition to point forward opened up his game and he should get MVP buzz. He is constantly surrounded by excellent shooters in Henry Ellenson, Nik Stauskas, Matt Mooney, and Matt Morgan.
The 905 excel with sharp ball movement and perimeter shooting, thanks to Johnson and Mooney’s high-IQ plays. But really, the entire team boasts of unselfish and high-IQ players. To add to this mix, we’ll see if Harris coming off a dislocated finger (and just out of quarantine) will be able to help. He was re-assigned to the 905 after Toronto’s game against the Detroit Pistons. Meanwhile, the 905 also just added Rawle Alkins to their squad on March 3. As you’ll recall, he was formerly on the team back in 2018.
For the Ignite squad, their team barely made it in as the playoff door was about to shut. After starting hot at 4-0, they’ve been up and down since. They went 2-4 after Donta Hall was picked up by the Raptors on a 10-day contract. And it didn’t help that one of their prized phenoms, Jonathan Kuminga, missed their last two games due to a knee injury.
Still, the Ignite’s talent and athleticism were a problem for the Raptors 905 with or without Kuminga. Daishen Nix looked like OKC James Harden and dropped 25 points off the bench the last time these two teams met. Meanwhile, both Johnson and Ellenson struggled in that contest (though Hall, then their opponent, was one of the reasons why).
In any case, it should be a fun contest, with everything on the line for the 905. Here are the details for the game this afternoon:
Where to Watch
TSN4, ESPN2, NBA TV Canada, Raptors905.com, 3:45 PM ET
905 — Matt Mooney, Matt Morgan, Nik Stauskas, Alize Johnson, Henry Ellenson
Ignite — Jarrett Jack, Jalen Green, Isaiah Todd, Daishen Nix, Amir Johnson
905 — Breein Tyree (ACL - out), Malachi Flynn (with Raptors - out), Donta Hall (with Raptors - out)
Ignite — Jonathan Kuminga (knee - questionable)