The NBA preseason can represent a chance for inexperienced rookies and sophomores to make an impression on coaches and on a team like the Raptors where there are really no open spots in the rotation, it can be the last chance before an eventual assignment to the Raptors 905 in the NBA D-League. With preseason rapidly coming to a conclusion, the opportunities for rookies Delon Wright and Norman Powell and sophomores Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira to make an impression are fading fast.
“(Powell) is making a lot of mistakes like all rookies, but that’s what preseason is for – to give those guys minutes – Bruno (Caboclo) minutes, Norm (Powell) minutes, Delon (Wright) minutes, all those guys minutes,” explained head coach Dwane Casey. “(They) probably won’t be in the rotation when it becomes real, but this was a great time for those guys to get the experience, to get a taste of the NBA. For Delon to go against a guy like Andre Miller who’s a 20-year vet is a great experience for him. For Bruno to go against Tayshaun Prince is a great experience for him. So that’s what it’s for. No more, no less.”
Casey has been through the very rough patches that come with developing very young players and as the returning Atlantic Division winner with an available rotation of young and not so young veterans, he isn’t going to have a lot of patience for guys that he expects to make a lot of mistakes.
Guys like guard Norman Powell, who plays with a lot of energy and aggressiveness, but has a lot to learn. Powell has earned more playing time in the preseason than anyone else not expected to crack the rotation, averaging 16 minutes per game and 7 points on 44.4 percent shooting. It’s impossible not to notice him on the court, but as far as the Raptors rotation goes, he’s behind DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Cory Joseph. However, Powell is someone to watch this season, especially if Toronto runs into some injury problems with a couple of guards.
Wright has averaged 10 minutes a game so far in preseason and those veteran guards he’s gone up against have – on occasion – given him the rookie treatment. Wright looked great in summer league, but preseason play is well below the level of the regular season and it’s shown he still needs some more seasoning before being turned loose in a real game.
Caboclo has averaged 15 minutes in four preseason games and has looked a lot better than he did at the end of last season. He is showing more confidence and a better understanding of were he should be on the court. If the Raptors were a rebuilding team, he’d see a lot of minutes, but on this team, he needs to get his experience down the road in Mississauga.
Unfortunately, Nogueira is hurt again and that has to be a concern. The sophomore has a history of hamstring and groin injuries that have prevented the athletic 7-footer from displaying his potential. He needs to get and stay healthy, if only to work on his game with the Raptors 905.
Casey has made it clear not to read too much into anything you’ve seen in preseason to-date. These are not necessarily the combinations or rotations he’ll use in the regular season. “Normal” rotations won’t really be in effect until the final two preseason games against the Cavaliers in Toronto and the Wizards in Washington.
“I wouldn’t look at anything as far as rotations go,” Casey said. “We are just trying to get guys some minutes on the court more so than combinations or anything like that.
“Last couple of games (you’ll see real lineups), I’d say. We probably do it more in practice than in these games.”
Nothing here is really a surprise. Preseason is longer than necessary. Veteran players use the preseason to try out some things and shake off the rust. Coaches use the preseason to get a look at the young players under contract and guys on training camp invites they might need later in the season, next season or just to keep tabs on them.
As expected, none of the young guys has taken a spot in the rotation away from from a veteran during preseason and their chances for doing so are fading fast, but there’s a long regular season coming. Someone, at some point, for some yet to be determined reason, is going to get their shot.