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Player Preview: Javon Freeman-Liberty betting on the Raptors’ developmental system

Can the Raptors’ revamped developmental system help unlock Javon Freeman-Liberty’s game?

Washington Wizards v Toronto Raptors Photo by Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images

One of the underlying storylines that prompted Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri to move on from Nick Nurse was his frustration with the team’s stalled developmental system. Except for Scottie Barnes, the Raptors have yet to develop prospects since Chris Boucher, which was almost five years ago. The Raptors front office promised a change in culture and a refocusing on the team’s developmental system. That’s a pretty big gamble for Javon Freeman-Liberty (JFL), as he’s had other options on the table.

Freeman-Liberty’s length, strength, motor, IQ, and just looking like a bundle of energy on the floor make him a “Raptors-y” type of player. He boasts a 6’9” wingspan that’s backed up with a strong frame, allowing him to play up a position or two, which is critical as he’s a bit of a tweener — his 6’3” height without shoes is a little bit in between the PG and SG range.

Where Will JFL start the season?

The NBA G League season doesn’t start until early November, so expect JFL to start the season on the bench for the Raptors. Could he see some non-garbage time minutes before he gets sent for the minors? Unlikely, here’s a possibility: The game’s in a rut, and coach Darko Rajakovic needs someone to come in and change the flow of the game. Just think of the non-garbage minutes that Justin Champagnie got during his rookie year. His impact as a mood changer through his hustle and effort bought him more minutes initially. JFL can have a similar impact in limited minutes, if not better. What JFL’s got going for him is, unlike Champagnie, he’s a much capable ball handler, and much further along with his perimeter shot.

Where will JFL spend most of his rookie season?

JFL will likely see the floor mostly with the Raptors 905, especially throughout the first few months until the trade deadline. However, he’s eligible to join the team as often as possible; they just need to be careful not to burn the 50-game limit on games where he will get a guaranteed DNP. If he maintains the upward trajectory of his development, maybe there’s an opportunity for him to be more than just a developmental project that will be stuck in the minors. However, the front office will need to do something about the back end of the roster to open up a path for him to compete for minutes.

What can JFL do now in limited minutes?

We saw what JFL can give the Raptors in spot minutes during the preseason games. He’ll come in and be an energy guy to make an impact on both ends of the floor. He’ll generate his opportunities by being an active body off the ball, presenting himself between and behind the defense. JFL’s nose for the ball, along with his effort level, should give him a 50/50 chance at generating another possession if the ball bounces in his vicinity. Defensively, he’s an upgrade already over Gary Trent Jr.

What’s JFL’s swing skill set that can earn him a closer look with the main club?

The Raptors are really thin in perimeter shooting, and there will be nights when the core players will have an off night more often than not. We know that JFL will bring the effort and intensity, but if he can come in and knock down a three-pointer in limited touches, he could parlay that into more minutes.

What can JFL prove in the 905?

JFL averaged 15/5/2.5 with the Windy City Bulls, and despite those numbers, he was actually on a roll, averaging approximately 25/7/4 in eight games before ending his G League season early with a knee injury. What makes his G League production impressive is the fact that he had to do all of this mostly coming off the bench and not being a featured player, as Carlik Jones and Dalen Terry were both ahead of him in the pecking order, having 2W/standard contracts with the Chicago Bulls.

JFL made it hard for the coach not to play him despite only starting six games and, sometimes, coming in as the 7th man on the rotation. With the Raptors 905, he should get more on-ball reps and be a focal point of the offense, whether he’s getting the shots on or off the ball. JFL should get a steady diet of reps on exploring what he can do on the ball while getting reps on plays that he’ll likely see working off the ball with the likes of Pascal Siakan and Scottie Barnes. JFL’s perimeter shooting needs some work, as he was streaky at best with the Windy City Bulls. However, he’s shown in-season improvements (from Showcase Cup to Regular Season), going from 34.5% on 3.1 attempts from behind the arc to 37.6% on five attempts.