NBA Summer League gives the Raptors a lot to work with — and work on – Toronto Star

The information gathering part of the NBA off-season is over for the Raptors now and the time has come to take what they’ve learned, come up with further developmental plans and be ready to hit the ground running when training camp begins next month.

The games were not of huge significance, but the play was: a chance for young players who may fit into the team’s future to learn what’s expected of them, and what they have to work on.

“At this level, I believe it’s all about matchups and exploiting the defence and being able to manipulate the defence, and seeing what’s best for you as an offensive team,” the recently acquired Precious Achiuwa said. “Being able to exploit that and give yourself the advantage.”

It’s finding out what those advantages are, who can create them and who can exploit them that the Summer League is all about.

The Raptors wound up their Las Vegas engagement Tuesday with an 86-72 win over the Brooklyn Nets, leaving Toronto with a 4-1 record over the 10-day “season.”

It was, however, secondary to the overall goals for the glorified exhibition games.

The Raptors’ brass needed to see which parts of the game young players need to work on the most, find out what returning players have done to develop their skills and set baselines that will be valuable when the NBA camp begins in Toronto in late September.

There were, not unexpectedly, some uneven signs with a disparate group.

  • Scottie Barnes, the ballyhooed No. 4 pick in last month’s draft, looked solid defensively — he’s long and aggressive and willing to guard several positions — but his offence is very much a work in progress.

In games where he was forced into shots and opportunities — like 18 field-goal attempts in a win over Charlotte on the weekend — he was fully engaged and able to get baskets in the run of play. But his shot needs work and he needs to fine-tune his instincts for the game. But he’s good and will be a valuable defender as a rookie, it would seem. The Raptors’ brass has to be happy with what they saw.

Raptors Justin Champagnie, left, and Freddie Gillespie double-team Alize Johnson of the Nets in Tuesday’s NBA Summer League finale in Las Vegas.
  • The other key Summer League player was Malachi Flynn, the second-year guard who is in line for an increased role this coming season, particularly if the Raptors are able to move Goran Dragić before the season begins.

There were times when Flynn looked like the best player on the floor – and frankly, a guard who played in 47 regular-season games as a rookie is supposed to stand out — but the small things still need work.

Flynn showed a greater willingness to shoot, which is key. But he also showed a tendency to shoot when closely covered, and that’s not going to work at the NBA level. He’ll be facing better defenders and likely on the court with veteran teammates who will look askance at a young player forcing contested shots. But on the whole, he seems to have developed a knack for pick-and-roll offence over the off-season, something he’ll fine-tune when camp rolls around.

  • The surprises were the play of Achiuwa (the most consistently impressive Raptor) and Dalano Banton (the long, skinny guard few knew about before Summer League began). Achiuwa has a streak of toughness that the Raptors sorely need, and should give the frontcourt a measure of physicality that coach Nick Nurse will appreciate. Banton’s ability in transition was impressive and his rebounding (12 in one game, nine on Tuesday) was an eye-opener for club brass.
  • Aside from Barnes, Flynn, Banton and Achiuwa, only six players from the Summer League team — David Johnson, Justin Champagnie, Yuta Watanabe, Ish Wainright, Freddie Gillespie and Anas Mahmoud — will go to training camp at the moment, and competition for jobs will be intense. Banton has a fully guaranteed deal for the coming season, while Johnson and Champagnie are on two-way deals. The rest will be left to fight for, at best, four roster spots. Sam Dekker and Isaac Bonga will also be in camp. The sheer numbers mean spots will be at a premium.

The Summer League exists not to find out who can play at the NBA level, but to give teams an opportunity to judge which players have a chance of contributing.

It’s fair to say Barnes, Flynn, Achiuwa and Banton stood out. What’s to be found out now is just how diligently they’ll work on the aspects of the game that need it most before NBA training camps begin.

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