The Toronto Raptors are playing in the Las Vegas Summer League, and this article searches for signs of development during the Vegas action.
The dust has likely settled on the Raptors off-season regarding major roster moves. Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka are back on 3-year deals. Demarre Carroll and Cory Joseph have new homes, while PJ Tucker and Patrick Patterson are searching for greener pastures in the West. Many are clamoring for a Jonas Valanciunas shipment out of town, but the market for traditional centers is non-existent, and I don't see Masai Ujiri dealing JV for peanuts. Even though the roster is unbalanced, Toronto finds itself facing a tight salary-cap situation. The safe money is that any moves going forward are more cosmetic over structural. With that said, Ujiri does have the option of reinforcing the team by trading another small salary to open up the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception.
Growth from within
The four departing Raptors were all valuable contributors (if I am kind to DeMarre Carroll), and the only real player added was swingman CJ Miles from Indiana. His quality 3-point shooting (2.2 3-pointers made on 41% last season) and versatility on the wing is necessary for Toronto, but the reality is that internal growth from the younger players will be needed. Lowry and Demar DeRozan should be able to shoulder most of the load, but others will need to contribute for the team to maintain its status as a good team that is distantly behind LeBron's Cavaliers in the East.
Norm Powell is foaming at the mouth for more minutes, and deservedly so. Powell has rescued the Raptors twice in desperate post-season situations and is ready for significant minutes in search of his first payday next off-season.
Delon Wright has shown an intriguing enough game that the organization feels safe giving him keys to the backup PG position. After that, there's a lot of uncertainty on the roster, which is why I tuned into Summer League in hopes of seeing a bit of light. Here is what I gathered:
Summer League Thoughts
Pascal Siakam has been a monster! Through three games, he has lit it up for 18 points per game on 56% shooting from the field. He has been the Raptors most exciting player to watch. On offense he has looked explosive, going off the dribble and looking too quick for other bigs. He has worked on his 3-point shot, and it's evident: Siakam is 4-for-9 on treys, showing an ability to knock it down on open looks. Defensively, Siakam has been active by switching on the perimeter and demonstrating the capacity to stay in front of his man with his athleticism. During the broadcast of the Raps-Timberwolves, 905 coach Jerry Stackhouse was singing Pascal's praises, saying:
"To me, he's the best defender on the Raptors team right now."
For Stack to say that is interesting, and he may not be wrong. The Raptors are not exactly flush with defensive talent after the summer exodus, and we won't see anything from their potential rookie stopper OG Anunoby until the winter. Obviously, the competition in Vegas is a far cry from the NBA, but Siakam looks to have enough tools to be considered a backup four. With his motor and new-found range, is it crazy to think he might get some burn at the three from time to time?
Jakob Poeltl has looked solid, posting double-doubles in all three games in an efficient manner (14.7 points and 10.0 rebounds per game on 69% FG). Poeltl is doing his job as a big, finishing well around the rim, diving on pick and rolls, hitting the glass and playing steady defense. Poeltl also looks physically stronger. In the first game against the Pelicans, there was one play where he finished with an excellent reverse after fighting through contact. That is a welcome sign for the second year Austrian, and Poeltl looks as if he is progressing nicely for a safe top ten pick.
Fred Van Vleet looks very motivated. He has been a floor general on offense, creating for others in pick-and-rolls, while also using his short/stocky frame to get his around the net. FVV has shot over 50%, throwing up close to 6 assists a game, and is 5-for-11 from downtown. It is his scrappiness that's stood out though, digging in on defense and fighting for loose balls. FVV will always have to overcome physical limitations at the highest level, but he brings a great approach mentally. He will be the third string PG, but I wouldn't be shocked to see Dwane Casey try and get him some minutes in the fall.
You should always be cautious about a Summer League performances, but they are an outcome. Last year Powell was excellent and cemented himself as a legit rotation player. There have been similar positive omens for the Raptors in Vegas this year, and hopefully, those can translate into the regular season. For now, they are 3-0 and head into the playoffs on Thursday with some confidence.