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Toronto Raptors introduce GTA natives Caleb Houstan and Andrew Nembhard

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Draft Watch: Evaluating the Raptors’ CanCon Options

Toronto recently worked out a pair of Canadians — Andrew Nembhard and Caleb Houston — and both are in range for the Raptors’ only pick.

Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The draft draws ever closer, and with it, the Toronto Raptors’ lone pick — #33. Let’s start the latest Draft Watch close to home, where we have homegrown prospects in Andrew Nembhard and Caleb Houstan as options for Toronto in the second round. They also recently worked out for the Raptors, so there’s definitely interest there.

Caleb Houstan, Wing

Age: 19

Height: 6’8” (listed)

Wingspan: N/A

Affiliation: Michigan (Freshman)

Stats: 10.1 PTS (38.4% FG%), 35.5% 3P%, 4 REB, 1.4 AST, 0.7 STL, 1.5 TO

Why Caleb Houstan?

If you watch Caleb Houstan’s highlights, it makes sense for the Raptors to pick him. He’s got a smooth jumper, he can shoot from the NBA 3pt range, and he’s got the size/length/mobility that the Raptors are collecting recently.

A Mississauga native, Houstan was a late lottery talent entering his freshman year, but a slow start and an OK finish were not enough to restore his value. Still, as we have seen in the playoffs, a team can never have enough shooting AND size. Perhaps Houstan rushed his process to get to the NBA, as there were a lot of moments early on where he looked not ready at Michigan. He was a top 3/5 recruit for the class of 2022 but elected to reclassify to 2021. If Houstan is available at 33rd pick, there aren’t that many players with his upside (3+D wing that can really shoot) and his age (19 years, five months) in the second round.

I mean, just look at how fluid his catch-and-shoot makes.

If the Raptors select him at 33rd, that means they see a 3+D potential in Houstan. He looks comfortable defending on the perimeter, and his size and length combination, along with his nimble feet, can present problems as an on-ball defender.

Areas of Concern

Houstan is a lottery talent, but with big holes in his game right now. Some of them may be fixable, but I have reservations about some.

Despite the flashes, Houstan was a subpar defender at Michigan. He was often out of place or out of position defensively, giving up blow-by opportunities that could be defended easily. If he lands in the right situation, I believe that part can significantly improve.

Houstan doesn’t have a “bag” right now, which puts him in a tough position every time he gets chased off the perimeter. He will have to live in the gym to work on his handle, footwork, and offhand to develop a decent skills package outside his perimeter shooting.

All of the above can be improved, but I am slightly concerned with his athleticism. Houstan hasn’t displayed enough quickness — whether a first step or a burst to finish his move, and it’s a little alarming that he struggled to finish at the NCAA level while more defensive monsters are waiting at the next level. However, his contact-averse drives to the basket worried me the most, as he’s a pretty good free-throw shooter.

Raptors Fit

The Raptors need floor spacing without sacrificing size, so Houstan makes sense. All he has to do is be decent defensively — I know it’s a tough task, but he won’t play if he’s a pylon — and he can assume OG Anunoby’s offensive role during his rookie season, which is to wait for a kick out on either corner and hit them at a decent clip.

Having a floor spacer is important for the likes of Siakam and Scottie Barnes, so they can take advantage of their matchups without going through multiple defenders.

I can see him spend some time with the Raptors 905 from time to time to work on his bag, as contrary to the general opinion, I think Houstan can do more than be a spot-up shooter. If the Raptors pick him, people might assume it’s for immediate need, which is his perimeter shooting, but I believe Houstan is a hidden gem hiding in the second round, just like how Anunoby slipped in the draft, as long as we are looking at him as a project, not an instant contributor.

Andrew Nembhard, PG

  • Age: 22
  • Height: 6’3”
  • Wingspan: 6’5.75”
  • Affiliation: Gonzaga (Senior)
  • Stats: 11.8 PTS, 45% FG%, 38.3 3P%, 5.8 AST, 3.4 REB, 1.6 STL, 1.0 TO

Why Andrew Nembhard?

The Raptors and Nembhard have been flirting with each other for a few years. Nurse coached Nembhard on the 2019 World Cup team, so he’s had a front-row look at what the Aurora, ON native can do, and on the flipside, Nembhard knows what Nurse demands from his players. He’s got decent size for his position, can do a little bit of everything with the ball, and will play defense.

Offensively, Nembhard operates best with the ball. He’s an excellent decision-maker on PnR/PnP actions. He operates at his own pace, patiently waiting for the defense’s mistakes and capitalizing on them, often with the pass, but he’s a capable scorer on such actions. Talking about passing, Nembhard’s capable of passing with either hand, however which way he wanted to go via bounce pass, short pass, kick-out, or even lobs. After watching the Raptors post-Lowry’s tenure, it’s refreshing to see a PG that can utilize the vertical space to set up their teammates to get a bucket.

Nembhard’s decision to go back to college helped him improve his game. He finished his senior season bumping his three-point attempts while significantly improving his marksmanship to 38.3%. A couple of encouraging signs regarding Nembhard’s perimeter shooting: he can now make the defenders pay from going under the screen and pulling up from the perimeter off the bounce and/or while on the move.

Defensively, Nembhard displayed excellent effort with his closeouts. Perhaps what I like more about his closeouts is that, more often than not, he knows who he’s closing out to and makes the adjustment whether to go full-on contest or just enough to get in front and discourage a shot (*cough*Chris Boucher*cough*). Once he gets into his defensive stance, he does an excellent job staying in front of his man as an on-ball defender, with his decent foot speed and ability to absorb contact to force a tough shot.

Areas of Concern

Athleticism is Nembhard’s biggest question mark heading into the draft, and it’s a legit concern. Despite having decent size at his position, he’s limited with what he can do whenever he tries to go to the basket. The lack of explosiveness hurts the leverage that his handle creates for him, and he’s pretty much an under-the-basket finisher with limited hang time. I think he’s more physical than Malachi Flynn on his forays to the basket — he can take the bump, but can he finish against the NBA-level bigs. Defensively, that athleticism factors in on being able to keep up laterally against fast-twitch players, especially if he’s not on his stance.

I’m not a fan of Nembhard’s shooting form, but he’s got it to a point where he’s good in the midrange and even has a few “pet moves” to create the necessary separation needed by his low release point. As mentioned above, his perimeter shooting got better as a Senior, but his shooting form makes me wary if that would translate well against quicker/longer defenders, and at the NBA 3pt range.

With how the Raptors went with “positionless basketball,” I have reservations about whether Nembhard can hold his own playing out of position. How effective can he be as an off-ball player, just like how we saw Malachi Flynn be on the court and rarely get to run the offense? Can he consistently knock down open shots?

Raptors Fit

I am a little skeptical about Nembhard’s fit with the Raptors. Coach Nick Nurse had moved towards giving Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Scottie Barnes the primary ballhandling duties, which basically killed Malachi Flynn and Dalano Banton’s effectiveness when they were on the floor. Will Nurse trust him with the ball with the second unit? Nembhard’s IQ and feel for the game, especially with the ball, can give the Raptors’ bench/hybrid lineups the extra oomph offensively with his playmaking, which is something that the Raptors have been missing since the GROAT left.

Nembhard can potentially come in as an upgrade over Flynn and Banton offensively. He may be the better floor spacer and could possibly be an effective secondary creator, especially with the team’s offensively-challenged bench. His midrange and floater game, let alone his ability to knock pressure shots, will come in handy.

Perhaps there’s something with the Raptors’ interest in Nembhard, as they also worked him out a few years ago before he decided to go back to school.

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