There are long odds against any of the six training camp invitees making the Toronto Raptors this season, President Masai Ujiri could just as easily leave the 15th roster spot open for future flexibility, however, local prospect Brady Heslip could fill a role if head coach Dwane Casey makes the case for adding another guard that can nail the three-ball from anywhere on the court.
“We know he can shoot the basketball,” Casey said at training camp. “He is one of our best shooters that we have right now. It is almost like a layup for him for a three-point shot. He’s done it for a while. He’s a proven shooter.”
Heslip fits the mold of what the Raptors seem to want in a prospect at this camp. Two years past college with experience in Europe, the NBA Development League and internationally with Team Canada, the 26-year-old guard isn’t your typical NBA rookie. When Casey describes him as a proven shooter, he isn’t overstating anything.
After going undrafted in 2014 and being cut from the training camp roster of the Timberwolves, Heslip played 20 games with the D-League’s Reno Bighorns where he averaged 24.5 points per game and shot 44.3 percent from deep. He scored in bunches, four games with nine or more three-pointers dropping 35, 38, 40 and 45 points.
He played in seven Adriatic league games that season and last summer Heslip landed a sweet contract with Cantu of the Italian league where he averaged 12.7 points and shot 45.5 percent on 7 three-point attempts per game.
“I lived in the north in a beautiful place right near Milan and Lake Como, so you can’t ask for a much better location, great people and the fans were amazing,” Heslip told Pro Bball Report. “I had a great experience there.”
Add these experiences to his Team Canada double-digit scoring average going back to 2013 and it’s easy to see why Ujiri made the effort to give Heslip a shot at making the Raptors this season.
“When I was with the Timberwolves (in 2014), I did the whole NBA training camp thing, so now it’s not new to me,” Heslip said. “It’s just a better situation because the Raptors are a team that I grew up loving and I have the experience playing in Europe (now).”
The issue with the 6’2 Heslip has always been he’s shooting guard in a point guard body and what Casey wants to see in preseason is how much his playmaking and defensive skills have progressed. This isn’t the D-League and Heslip will have to defend his position and make the right play when he’s being closely guarded.
“This summer I really dedicated myself in the weight room and did a lot more speed training and stuff with my strength coach,” Heslip explained. “I worked really hard at getting faster and stronger so that I can be more physical. I am working really hard every day on defense just trying to get better.”
If the 12 game FIBA Europe Cup Heslip played in with Team Canada this summer is representative of his improving game, there might be something there. He averaged 16.9 points and 1.8 assists, 47 percent and 50 percent higher than his career averages with Team Canada respectively.
However, the big draw for Heslip (and likely the Raptors as well) is he’s home. The Raptors would like to add another Canadian to their roster if he’s ready to contribute and equally Heslip would be a big draw and huge crowd-pleaser with the Mississauga Raptors 905.
“My first goal is to make this team and I’ll take things from there, but if I go back (to the D-League) I just want to prove that the things that I’ve added to my game,” Heslip said. “I’m older now, I have more experience. I’ve played in a few different places and I just think that I’ll just play my game wherever I go and my main goal this year is getting back in the NBA.”
If he has to spend more time in the D-League, this is where it should be.
“I am just happy to be home,” Heslip said. “Last week we finished a workout and I just drove home and I haven’t been able to do that in a long time. That’s a huge benefit to being able to do that with this organization. Being home is a great feeling.”
Whether it’s in Toronto or Mississauga, Raptors fans will want to check out the local shooting sensation Brady Heslip. There just might be a 50-point game in there somewhere.