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Player Preview: Has Jeff Dowtin finally found a home?

After several stops, has Jeff Dowtin finally found a team that will be patient enough and help him develop into an NBA player?

Photo by Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images

When the Toronto Raptors signed Jeff Dowtin to a two-way contract, I didn’t recognize the name immediately. I thought it was probably a second- or third-year, fringe NBA talent coming back from overseas. Looking at Dowtin’s stats on Basketball Reference, I realized that he was active in the NBA last season, playing for the Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks, and Orlando Magic for a total of nine games.

Checking out the boxscore of the games that Dowtin played, I am pretty sure that I have seen at least five, if not more, of the nine games that he’s played. However, I don’t recall seeing him play, even in that game where the Warriors visited Toronto last December. Dowtin averaged 2.1 points, two rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game on 30.8% field goal shooting while hitting only one of his nine attempts from behind the arc.

Before Dowtin’s Magic stint, the only non-garbage time stint he had was with the Warriors against the Raptors, where he played 17 minutes as the backup point guard. He found Looney on a back cut for a dunk, had a floater to follow his own miss, and found a cutting Raptors 905 legend Gary Payton III for an emphatic dunk.

Going through the limited minutes that Dowtin’s played over nine games, I saw a rook struggling to find his place and lacking the confidence to showcase his game. He looked hesitant to shoot, especially the perimeter shots, and his forays inside the arc seemed off-rhythm at best. I didn’t see anything special, so I didn’t do much digging until after the Vegas Summer League.

My opinion changed after seeing Dowtin play for the Raptors Summer League. He was decisive, in command, and looked like the best player on the floor more often than not. He got to the spots whenever he wanted to, and scored with efficiency on the floor, both traits the Raptors could definitely use.

Offensively, Dowtin averaged 16 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.3 steals in four games in Las Vegas. He also made one three-pointer per game, good enough for a decent 36.4 clip. Defensively, there’s a lot more to be desired, but it’s summer league, so you can’t make D a big deal. Dowtin played the passing lanes great, but his on-ball defense was not up to the Raptors’ standard.

After the Summer League, I had more time to dig into Dowtin as to what attracted the Raptors and why he could not latch on with the Warriors, Bucks, and Magic. Dowtin declared for the draft after his senior season at Rhode Island, averaging 13.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 3.2 assists. His production went down a little after flourishing as a playmaker in his sophomore season and having a career year as a Junior, as he took a backseat to the team’s prize recruit PG Fatts Russell. However, Dowtin would form a 1-2 combo with Russell, leading the team to a successful season that was halted by the pandemic.

Dowtin had to go through the G League Elite Camp Combine, and he posted some impressive numbers on the limited workouts available, placing top 10 in 3-point Star Drill, Spot-Up 3s, and Free Throw Drill. His rise among projected undrafted prospects earned him a G League contract with the Orlando Magic as an affiliate player for the Lakeland Magic.

Dowtin played admirably as the backup to Andrew Rowsey and Devin Cannady during his rookie season with the Lakeland Magic. Despite low production numbers, Dowtin would have a stretch where he would be on par with the other Magic two-way players. His role and production levelled up in the 2021 G League playoffs, helping the Lakeland Magic to their first championship, averaging 11.3 points, 6.3 assists, three steals, and a total of two turnovers in three contests. Sadly, that performance included a highlight reel sending Jeremy Lin toward retirement.

A pivotal 2021 summer saw Dowtin landing gigs with Orlando Magic and Golden State Warriors summer league teams. However, his stint with the Warriors got him closer to his dream. Dowtin averaged 17 points and four assists with the Warriors, earning him a two-way contract.

Unfortunately, the jump from the NBA G League to the majors might be a steep level up for Dowtin. The usually in-control, assertive, and confident Dowtin looked diffident and unable to find his place on the floor. Unable to show his value, the Warriors quickly moved on and released him in January.

Luckily for Dowtin, the injury-ravaged Milwaukee Bucks brought him in, but it was short-lived, and he was released when the Bucks’ players returned from the injury list. If anything, it earned Dowtin an assignment to Wisconsin Herd for a few games, and for the first time as a pro, the ball was in his hands a lot, and it translated to 20 points, 5.7 rebounds, and four assists per game.

Jeff Dowtin’s shot chart during the NBA G League regular season 2021-2022

Rediscovering himself and getting his confidence back was huge for Dowtin, as he tore it up when he returned to the Lakeland Magic after his stint with the Bucks. He averaged 21.1 points, four rebounds, seven assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.4 turnovers. At this point, I want to say that the URI A10 God was back, but he’s taken his game to another level. The big difference: His perimeter improvement. Dowtin shot 44.2% from the perimeter on 4.1 attempts in 19 games with the Magic’s G League affiliate, including a near-perfect game against the Raptors 905, where he put on a show, dropping 33 points on 13-for-14 shooting, including a perfect 7-for-7 in the perimeter, five rebounds, seven assists, and one block.

Of course, now that I remember watching him play, I rarely compliment opposing players on Dial 905 unless they’re exceptional, and that night, Dowtin was amazing. He torched all of the Raptors 905 defenders, looked like Steph Curry on the perimeter, and got to his spots at will. Most of all, he was clutch. Several players on the court that night have had a better NBA career than him (Isaac Bonga, Devin Cannady, Admiral Schofield, and Reggie Perry), but he was clearly the best player on the court that night.

Road to the Six

In a way, the Raptors’ decision to take a flyer on Dowtin is similar to a couple of two-way players they have had. Lorenzo Brown and Jordan Loyd were both older prospects when they were with the Raptors, and Dowtin is entering this coming season at the age of 25. Coincidentally, all three players are combo guards and have proved their skills at the G League level. However, they are much more effective with the ball in their hands, like, quite a lot.

It’ll be difficult for Dowtin to get reps outside of garbage time under coach Nick Nurse. He would have to push hard in practice and the right opportunity for that to happen. Perhaps that right opportunity could be a game where the Raptors are struggling, or Fred VanVleet could take a day off for rest, or, worst case scenario, injury.

With Dalano Banton and Malachi Flynn presumably ahead of him on the Raptors’ depth chart, I’ll be surprised to see Dowtin play with the main club, as even those two prospects struggled to get off the bench for Nurse. It’s similar to his situation in Golden State. There are no PG minutes available there. In Orlando, almost half of their roster can play the point.

Because of this simple argument, I would expect Dowtin to shuttle back and forth along the QEW to Mississauga, where he can keep working on his game. Get more consistent as a perimeter shooter, and keep improving as a playmaker — he’s great at taking care of the ball but can use some polish on reading the defense to find better opportunities for his teammates. More importantly, he’ll need to show that he can hold his own within the Raptors’ defensive schemes. We all know that defense is the path to earning playing time from Nick Nurse.

I definitely see the value in developing Dowtin — if everything works out well, the Raptors might have found another diamond in the rough. Dowtin’s key skillset — his shot creation via his ability to get to his spots — is rare on this Raptors roster. I think the Raptors would need to develop not just his perimeter shot but also empower and work on Dowtin’s confidence. The Dowtin that I saw in the G League is the polar opposite of the one that barely got a chance in Golden State, Milwaukee, and Orlando. How Dowtin responds to the limited minutes he might get with the main club could dictate his future as an NBA player. I’m pulling for Dowtin, but I’m skeptical whether Nurse will give him a fair shake. After all, Nurse’s main priority is to win.

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