It seems naively impossible, if not actively upsetting, to spend 11 placid days in Las Vegas. Even walking down the Strip to buy something as mundane as sunscreen or snacks at the nearest drugstore will have you encountering theme park approximations of ancient Rome or strange Mickey Mouse mascots swaying in the street. heat. The Summer League, like Vegas, is a place people go to show off, but the Toronto Raptors, even after going 4-1, have kept quiet.
Some of them had to do with the team schedule. Unlike last year, when Toronto’s surprise pick of Scottie Barnes (and the energy of Barnes himself) saw the Raptors ranked among the top three teams to watch, this year had just one game. at the start of the competition, the rest stuck towards its end. What that meant for coach Trevor Gleeson’s group was plenty of practice, scrums and shootouts to keep everyone humming along for the long stretch before they hit the ground. The absence of a top star like Barnes to feature also meant that expectations for the entire roster were, from the start, level: everyone was there to work.
“It’s playing Raptors basketball, really. Playing selflessly, helping your teammates, supporting them, playing at that high level of intensity. Gleeson said after the team’s first shoot, when told asked what he was looking for at first to get the group together and together, “They’re really non-negotiable there. Just build that into the base group.
The core group, at that time, consisted of Raptors system and Summer League veterans Dalano Banton and Justin Champagnie, as well as the team’s only draft pick in Christian Koloko, two-way signee Ron Harper Jr. and five-year-old DJ Wilson. 26-year-old NBA veteran. Champagnie, who spoke enthusiastically about his leadership role at the start of the week, would suffer a broken thumb in a first team scrum, sidelining him for the duration of the Summer League. G League player Jeff Dowtin Jr., who Toronto has since extended a two-way contract, got a start with the team in their first game as a result.
By the time the Raptors announced their Summer League opener against the Jazz on July 9, the team had had three days of practices and shootouts together and it showed. Although it took a quarter and change to get there.
The Sixers played a physical opener that included a transition dunk from Champagnie’s twin brother, Julian, and plenty of shoving in an effort to unbalance Toronto. The Raptors stuck to their communication defensive tenants and went to their spots, which had the beneficial side effect of beating Philly on second-chance points, 18-0. Toronto brought balanced offensive play, with Banton, Koloko, Downtin and Armoni Brooks all scoring in double digits, as well as strong rebounds and assists. For Banton, who looked a little too long to start, the second half was a smart reset to hone and calm his game, and Brooks praised him as a late game anchor.
Dalano and Brooks will compete for a roster spot in training camp and used their time in Vegas to show why they would be a good choice for next season’s Raptors squad. Brooks, even when his shooting accuracy slipped, maintained consistent defensive pressure and an unflappable grip, proving a difference maker in pace. Toronto’s turnover win over Philly 25-17 was in part due to Brooks’ steady pace as the greener players on the roster got ahead of themselves; he would do the same in Toronto’s win over Miami in their 4th game. Banton’s length and growing talent for decision-making also gave the team a firm hand, with his improved three-point shot keeping them ahead most quarters.
Although the Summer League is a small step up from the NBA, it’s a step up, and there’s an awareness of that in some of its early games as the guys get their legs under them. For Banton, who made it easy to have a foot in the world of the G League and the NBA simultaneously last season, that fluidity and comfort has visibly rubbed off on some of his teammates.
“As a player, I love the game, getting a lot of reps. Downhill [to 905] and playing a different role, being able to have the ball, and then when I play with the Raptors, having a completely different role being an energetic guy,” Banton said ahead of the Raptors’ opener in Vegas. “Coming into this Summer League trying to be a vocal leader and asserting myself with the team, with the guys, and asserting myself in a whole different role. So I feel like I have that to my credit, that’s good.
Recalibration needs to be quick in Summer League, and in Toronto’s second game against Chicago, the Raptors were unable to adjust some of the lingering offensive shortcomings — turnovers, creating consistent shots — from their first game and the Bulls ended up taking advantage of it. Chicago set the pace and edged Toronto in every quarter as the Raptors chased. What was most notable in the loss was a one-game outlier for Wilson, who shares a similar presence with Banton. Wilson committed six fouls and turnovers but worked to balance it with 10 points, five rebounds and two assists.
Wilson is an attractive prospect for the Raptors, who are so loaded with young players that securing a contract like his might be a smart move by adding some hard-fought experience. He’s versatile at both ends of the pitch, his length and height matches Masai Ujiri’s vision for the team, and he’s consistently positive. Wilson has rebounded as a mercenary-style player, bailing out the Raptors last season during the team’s fight with Covid, but strives to keep a sunny, level disposition, something he spoke about in Vegas.
“It can be tough sometimes, but that’s all I want to do,” Wilson told Yahoo Sports Canada, “You have to support teammates, for sure. It can breathe life into you. Moment, be as present as possible, not getting too far ahead, not thinking about the past. Just being where your feet are. That’s what I try to do every day.”
Wilson took the hits in Toronto’s loss to Chicago and came out on top in Game 3 for the Raptors against the Jazz, collecting 22 points and nine rebounds. It was a needed cushion that helped the team weather the 4th quarter run and Utah’s comeback attempt. He was +12 on the ground, just behind Harper Jr. (+15), intuitively in a position to lead the team in scoring with a 58% field goal percentage.
There can be a compulsion (and that’s fine) to bet too much on Summer League games, whether it’s the first performances mandated by the league of future recruits or simply players looking to carve out a place for themselves. in the league. With their day-to-day approach to the contest, even coming out with a pretty impressive 4-1 record, the Raptors seemed intent on avoiding the hype, or even building up for the upcoming season. It was a work trip, for everyone. Koloko – who is yet to be signed by the club – has had some of the most impressive full-body blocking and shooting competitions at the Summer League, even when held out against what was out for Toronto in terms presence around the rim last season, and it is expected that he will still have to bring all of that to camp. Also Harper Jr., who showed a shrewd defensive IQ when asked to play off the ball on both sides, limiting his potential for offensive contributions, will have to prove it all again.
The sense of Toronto’s summer league this year is a continuation of what the regular season was for the Raptors — sharp retooling. Much of the core roster is already intact and working better than expected on a post-championship, post-Tampa, post-Kyle Lowry timeline, and there’s no point in pretending big changes (the potential for a trade by Kevin Durant still looms, though less ominously) are what the franchise is looking for right now. Whoever the Raptors choose for their final spots in training camp will have to have earned it. The downside is that based on the brief appearance in Vegas, this Summer League roster was the most pure Raptors — in terms of philosophy, functionality — in recent memory. All of this proves that bottom-up development works, if only too well for capable, fully-prepared athletes who won’t see their shot translate to outfitting in Raptors red this season.
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