Toronto Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri has been consistent in his approach of trying to develop talent internally, but with injuries to two of his starters, it’s starting to look like just maybe he put the emphasis on too many potential and actual NBA D-League prospects.
Searching for that diamond-in-the-rough, Ujiri loaded up the Raptors training camp roster with Axel Toupane, Shannon Scott, Michale Kyser and Ronald Roberts Jr before filling his team’s final open roster spot with the recent NBA number one overall draft pick reclamation prospect Anthony Bennett. This depth of potential was added to a roster that already included two rookies on guaranteed contracts and two returning players that barely played in the NBA last year.
From an organization standpoint, bringing in all those training camp prospects worked, they are all on Toronto’s new NBA D-League affiliate the Mississauga Raptors 905 and Roberts is looking like he’ll be one of the D-League’s early season call-ups to an NBA team. The only unfortunate aspect of that success is unless Ujiri is willing to cut a player or make a trade, Roberts is going to be called up to an NBA team other than the Raptors. Players on D-League contracts are not under the control of any NBA team. They are unrestricted free agents as far as the NBA is concerned.
Everyone knows the player control risks with a D-League affiliate, so that really is only a minor concern. The bigger issue is the Toronto Raptors have five players on their own roster who have been assigned to Mississauga at some point during the season already. Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira, Delon Wright, Norman Powell and Bennett have all played games with the 905 this season.
For all intents and purposes, Ujiri gave head coach Dwane Casey an effective 10 man roster with which to work this season. Take out two starters for a big chunk of the team’s first 29 games and that 17-12 record starts to take on a new meaning.
The complaint in Toronto has been a lack of consistency. A team that has the ability to beat top-ranked clubs like the Spurs and Cavaliers, but has dropped a pair of games to the 11-17 Kings. It might be hard to admit, but 2015 All-Star Kyle Lowry is starting to wear down. Cory Joseph has never played so many many minutes and it’s starting to show and it seems like Patrick Patterson has been so focused on defense that his offense is often missing-in-action.
At this point Casey needs his two injured starters to get back soon as the eight guys he relies on are fading fast.
Part of the problem may be just timing. Those young guys Ujiri was hoping would develop over the season were never expected to be ready this early and the team has gotten a little more than expected from Nogueira after he was recalled from Mississauga following the injury to Jonas Valanciunas.
Nogueira shows a lot of potential and may be just a short step away from becoming the effective backup center Casey can trust in all situations. The D-League experience was really advancing the young center’s game in a hurry. Being called up instead of getting another dozen D-League games under his belt might have stalled his progress?
The Raptors players being assigned to play for head coach Jesse Mermuys in Mississauga are benefiting from playing big minutes in the same system Coach Casey uses in Toronto. If only they could have been getting this experience before the Raptors found themselves so short-handed.