Since before the start of training camp, Head Coach Dwane Casey has maintained the Raptors backup point guard minutes behind starter Kyle Lowry were up for grabs and while D.J. Augustin had the most experience, Dwight Buycks and Julyan Stone had a chance to take the job away from him.
Through training camp and preseason, neither Augustin, Buycks nor Stone did anything to stand out above the other two players, so the job tentatively fell to the more veteran Augustin. However, Augustin has been slow to claim ownership of the position during the regular season and Casey has been taking a look at his competition. It’s been spot and situational minutes for Stone and Buycks so far, but they have both been making the most of their opportunities.
“When I am in there I have to be productive and that’s the basis of how many minutes I get,” Stone said. “If I am not productive, I might get 1 minute. If I am productive, I might get 10 minutes. It feels good to be on the court and competing against guys in the regular season.”
Stone has been getting minutes when other bench players haven’t been getting the job done. Stone has been subbed in for Terrence Ross for defensive purposes and he’s seen minutes in the second half of games when Augustin hasn’t played well. Casey likes his defensive mindset and willingness to pass.
“I think (Casey) just looks to me to make an impact regardless of where it is,” Stone said. “I move the ball and try to get it from side to side. There are a lot of different things that I feel I can do, basically (Casey) just brings me in to maintain or make a run or spark something off the bench and if it’s 3 minutes, 1 minute or diving on the ground for 1 play and coming out and is just something to liven the game up, it is just something I have to get used to and it is something I can do. It’s the opportunity that I have now and I have to make the most of it.”
Stone has been making the most of it and his offense has really been coming around in the last 2 games. After 0-1 shooting in his first 2 appearances, Stone is perfect from the field with a three-ball in each of the past 2 games. Even though the sample size 7 games into the regular season is small, Stone has mostly looked pretty good on the court and his stats are far superior to Buycks or Augustin.
Stone: 4 games, 28 minutes, 18.2 PER, 17.1 Assist%, 163 ORtg, 110 DRtg, 100 eFG%
(per 36 minutes) 12.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.3 turnovers
Buycks: 3 games, 28 minutes, 8.4 PER, 11.4 Assist%, 97 ORtg, 104 DRtg, 50 eFG%
(per 36 minutes) 10.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.6 turnovers
Augustin: 7 games, 71 minutes, -1.1 PER, 14.8 Assists%, 67 ORtg, 109 DRtg, 23.8 eFG%
(per 36 minutes) 8.1 points, 1.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 4.1 turnovers
(Assist% = percentage of teammates fields goals a players assisted on while he was on the court, ORtg= points produced per 100 possessions, DRtg = points allowed per 100 possessions. Basketball-reference.com)
“Each game is starting to get better,” Stone said. “I am starting to realize that I just have to take my shots when I have them. At first I was being a little tentative, now when I shoot, it is going to open everything else up for me and I have to continue to worry about doing whatever it takes for our team to win.
“T. Ross has been pressuring me to shoot the ball, so I just shoot it now when I get it. I don’t like hearing his mouth, so I just let it go now.”
After 7 games, even Augustin’s veteran experience can’t hide the fact that he has played very poorly. Augustin is 5-21 from the field and has more turnovers than assists. The reason Stone and Buycks have been getting a chance is because Augustin just hasn’t been contributing. Augustin hasn’t recorded a single assist in the past 4 games.
Stone is not going to maintain his perfect stroke from deep for long, much less the rest of the season, but his confidence at the offensive end is improving as he feels more comfortable on the court and his strength and conditioning return.
“For the most part I am back,” Stone said. “Now it is just about getting back with everything to do with the basketball aspect. The rehab part, I am great, now it is just getting everything basketball-wise and building that confidence again doing certain things.”
One of those things has been building some rather obvious chemistry with his fellow bench player Ross. Stone hooked up Ross quite a few times through the preseason and a pass-first point guard is just the thing Ross needs to be successful on the court.
“T. Ross, he’s a scorer and as a point guard, I like to see guys go for 30,” Stone said. “T. Ross is a guy who can fill it up given the opportunity, so if I’m in the game being a pass-first point guard, I’m going to T. Ross, why not? Man goes for 20 and I know in that 20, he’s going to give me 3 highlight dunks, so that’s something I can watch.”
Through 7 games, Stone has made his case to be the Raptors backup point guard. The sample size is small and Stone hasn’t done so much that Buycks couldn’t take these minutes from him or Augustin couldn’t win his minutes back, however, the discrepancy in the level of play between Stone and Augustin has become too large to ignore. It’s time to see what Stone can do as Lowry’s primary backup.