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Toronto Raptors play the Milwaukee Bucks in their final game of the regular season

Player Preview: Can Ron Harper Jr. avoid road closure to his #RoadToTheSix?

A positive training camp should help Ron Harper Jr. secure another shot to pursue his NBA dream.

Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Ron Harper Jr. spent most of his rookie year in Mississauga, working on his game with the Raptors 905. While he had the occasional call ups, he only appeared on a handful of games where it’s mostly garbage time. Unless they are watching the 905 games, it’s hard to blame the fanbase for thinking that they’ve seen everything based on the Summer League games and whatever garbage time minutes he got with the main club.

Unfortunately, the #RoadToTheSix for Toronto Raptors’ prospects is like driving in downtown Toronto during rush hour: full of traffic jams and road closures. Prior success with the Raptors 905 no longer guarantees anything; ask Jeff Dowtin Jr., Dalano Banton, and Justin Champagnie. Harper Jr.’s opportunity to keep his #RoadToTheSix path going likely relies on a good training camp and if he gets the chance to showcase his talent in the preseason.

Toronto Raptors

Harper Jr. saw the floor with the Toronto Raptors in nine games last season, with 8 of them in garbage time, while he did see some extended minutes in game 82, outplaying Thanasis Antetokounmpo when he’s on the floor. Given the minutes, that game is probably closer to what he can do: he can space the floor, get to the basket on single coverage, cut to the basket, and playmake.

Unfortunately, former Raptors coach Nick Nurse ran an extremely tight rotation. Unless you’re Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa, or Gary Trent Jr. coming off the bench, you’re just there to do cardio.

Raptors 905

When I did the Raptors 905 report cards earlier this year, I had Harper Jr. as one of the most improved prospects based on the Showcase Cup and Regular Season progression. Here’s my blurb:

Ron Harper Jr., B+

Position: Wing

Showcase Cup: Games Played - 14 (33.6 MPG), 16.9 PPG(47.1% FG%), 28.9% 3P% (5.4 3PA), 5.4 REB, 2.2 AST, 1.5 STL, 1.5 BLK, 1.2 TO, -26+/- TOT

Regular Season: Games Played - 29 (32.7 MPG), 17.3 PPG(49.9% FG%), 36.4% 3P% (6 3PA), 5.3 REB, 4.1 AST, 1.1 STL, 1.2 BLK, 1.7 TO, 29+/- TOT

Ron Harper Jr. was the most improved prospect for the Raptors 905 this season, IMO. He went from picking his spots in the offense during the Showcase Cup to playing point-forward and sometimes the engine of the offense in the latter half of the season. It wasn’t a smooth transition on both ends of the floor for Harper Jr. Still, his IQ allowed him to quickly learn from his mistakes and get comfortable with his ever-changing role throughout the season. One thing you can’t take out of his game is his confidence and ability to knock down clutch shots. However, he’ll need to get better shooting corner 3s if he’s got aspirations of getting a look from the Raptors or another NBA team.

2023 Vegas Summer League

Harper Jr. had an underwhelming 2023-24 Summer League appearance. He put up 12 points, 4.5 boards, and two dimes but shot poorly, hitting at a 34.9% clip from the field, including 30% from behind the arc. The typically chaotic summer league hid the fact that the Raptors front office fielded perhaps one of the worst Summer League lineups in history, and players like Harper Jr. and Markquis Nowell had to overdo things for the most part.

Work In Progress

Heading into last season, it’s clear that Harper Jr. will spend much time at the farm, needing to work on several things. For one, he was an undersized power forward at Rutgers, and at 6’4” without shoes, that’s probably not the ideal position for him despite a massive 7’4.25” wingspan. Harper Jr.’s projected position in the NBA is as a wing, and with his point-forward skills and decent handle, that transition is plausible.

Harper Jr. needed to work on his body transformation, and “eye test” suggests that he’s been making great strides if one would compare how he looked at Rutgers, Draft Combine, where he clocked in at 14.3% body fat, to the end of Raptors 905 season, and this summer. It’ll probably be a while before he gets that Scottie Barnes physique, but he’s looked lighter and a bit quicker as the season progressed in the NBA G League.

Moving up a position is challenging, as it would mean guarding quicker players and spending more time defending away from the basket. Harper Jr. showed great effort in his closeouts and had more than a few “Chris Boucher-type” perimeter blocks with the Raptors 905. However, he’ll need to be able to stay in front of shiftier guards/wings and be a better overall team defender.

2023-24 Season Outlook

Nothing is set in stone in the NBA, especially with this front office. Just ask Jeff Dowtin Jr. and Justin Champagnie. Harper Jr. is fighting to keep his roster spot as a Two-Way Contract player, and he’ll need to impress the coaching staff before the end of the training camp and show that he’s worth a look for another season.

Should Harper Jr. survive the roster purge next week, he’ll likely spend more time again with the Raptors 905, this time with an overhauled roster. From there, he can keep working on his perimeter shooting, defense, and offensive versatility. Coach Darko Rajakovic may be much more open-minded than Nick Nurse and give players like him a look once in a while when they perform well in the minors.

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