Uncut Gems: Scouting the Next Raptors Bench Mob
Since the Raptors made the playoff leap more than half a decade ago, one thing has remained consistent. No, not Kyle Lowry; I’m talking about the bench. From the days of 2Pat, Gravy, and Lou Will to the bench-to-beast pipeline that has served up the VanVleets, Siakams, and Powells of the world, Toronto has always prided themselves on depth. It’s not always easy to spot where these contributions will come from — who would have thought Rondae Hollis-Jefferson would be an x-factor for this team? — but today I’m going to do just that. I’ve identified a few different archetypes the Raptors’ bench mob tend to fall into. There’s the homegrown talent who gradually develops into a competent piece — that’s the Chris Boucher. There are the underrated young role players who thrive in the Raptors’ winning culture. There are the undrafted free agents who contribute above their paygrade. And of course, there’s the late first rounder with tons of upside who turns into something special — the Siakam.
After scouting around the league, and receiving some insight on college hoops from NBA draft expert Richard Stayman (aka MavsDraft), I’ve found some players who could be part of the next generation of the bench mob. Will all (or any) or these players suit up for the Raptors? It’s impossible to say. But these are the kinds of players that have survived and thrived in Toronto, and very well could again.
The Next James Johnson: Oshae Brissett
Raptors diehards are likely already familiar with Brissett, who went undrafted last year and is currently on a two-way deal with Toronto. He’s appeared in 19 games for the Raptors this season, largely in garbage time; his best performance so far was a 12 point/6 rebound effort against the Blazers in what’s now known around the world as the Carmelo Anthony game. The Mississauga native definitely receives outsized attention for his Canadian roots, but a 21-year old undrafted rookie seeing time on a good team is definitely noteworthy — not unusual for the Raptors, but still noteworthy. Brissett is a candidate to have his current two-way contract converted into a standard contract. But the Raptors are fully rostered at present, and the benefit of cutting Stanley Johnson or Malcolm Miller is marginal at best. When factoring in practices, travel days, and DNPs it’s likely he’s used up most of his 45 days of NBA service his two-way contract allows for.
This raises the question of just how well Brissett will be able to stick in the league. Apart from the Portland game, his numbers have been all but non-existent. He’s currently averaging under 2 points per game in his big league contests on a putrid .440 TS%. Granted, much of this can be attributed to usage; he has attempted just 34 field goals in his career, and 15 threes. If he shoots 6/15 instead of 3/15 on those long range makes, his efficiency would be league average instead of bottom of the barrel. Unfortunately, Brissett is not in a position where his underperforming can be overlooked, even if it is a statistical blip. There are definitely reasons for the Raptors to be patient with him though. For one, he’s just 21 years old, having declared for the draft after his sophomore year. For another, it was always expected he would be a project. He shot under 40% from the field in college and was a non-factor from deep, both trends that have followed him to the NBA. On the plus side, he has good size as a 6’8” small forward with a 7’ wingspan. He’s also a terrific athlete to go along with that, often beating opponents down the court in G League games without looking like he’s trying.
This also translates into rebounding, especially on the offensive glass; Brissett can leap to snatch balls off the rim and can gather into a second and third jump very easily.
Granted, there are a lot of ‘if he had a jumper’ guys in the league. But the Raptors’ track record for player development speaks for itself. Given Brissett’s age and relatively minimal polish, it’s not unreasonable to say the Raptors knew what they were getting, and are hoping to develop it into more. Is he the next Pascal Siakam? Probably not. But could he give the Raptors the same kind of play that James Johnson did in 2015? That seems much more feasible, and given his level of effort on the court, it’s easy to believe Brissett is capable of getting there. If the Raptors hang onto him expect to see him playing a role on the main squad sooner rather than later.
The Next Jakob Pöltl: Ante Žižić
After being drafted in the first round in 2016 (four picks before Pascal Siakam), Žižić hasn’t done much to make his mark on the league; at this point he’s best known for being part of the trade that sent Kyrie Irving to Boston. He’s currently struggling to work his way into the Cavs rotation after averaging about 20 minutes/game last season. With Žižić struggling with illness and currently behind Andre Drummond, Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love, and Larry Nance Jr. on Cleveland’s big man depth chart, it doesn’t seem like he’ll see much playing time for the rest of the year. With averages of 6 points and 4 rebounds per game for his career, he seems destined to sign a small contract when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.
Žižić is a pure center who does everything decently but not much well. He is an average athlete with good size, an efficient scorer (despite a somewhat limited offensive game), a solid rebounder, and can do the job as a P&R roll man. His defensive metrics aren’t necessarily what you want from a center getting big minutes, but there’s nothing to suggest he couldn’t be at least average in that department as well.
In terms of fit, Žižić slots into at the lower end of a big man rotation that is still a little murky. With the Raptors eager to maintain salary flexibility for the 2021 offseason, the futures of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka in Toronto are very much in flux. But even if either or both re-sign, Žižić still fits in nicely as a 4th or 5th big man, possibly replacing Chris Boucher if he leaves the Raptors in free agency this offseason. He just turned 23 years old in January, and clearly hasn’t been given a lot of opportunity to show what he can do. If the market for him is cool, he could be a contributor in the vein of Pöltl or Amir Johnson.
The Next Delon Wright: PJ Dozier
After going undrafted in 2017 and bouncing around the league, Dozier has started to carve out a place for himself in the NBA. While on a two-way contract with the Celtics last season, he was on the G League 3rd Team. Currently with the Nuggets, Dozier has seen some playing time of late with Jamal Murray out injured, but hasn’t shown quite enough to stick, putting up a 6/2/2 statline in just under 15 minutes/game. With Murray returning from injury, he will likely be the odd man out with Monte Morris continuing to shine.
A 6’7” combo guard with a 6’11” wingspan, Dozier has terrific measurables at his position. His combination of size and versatility brings to mind former bench mobster Wright, as well as fellow big point guard Michael Carter-Williams. Much like Wright, Dozier has a lot of upside, but seems to lack an elite skill outside of his physical tools. He doesn’t have great quickness or ballhandling ability, but moves fluidly with the ball and is solid on drives to the rim, even if he doesn’t do it with straight line speed. He has consistently shown himself to be an able playmaker, usually looking to pass first and using his drives to create for others. He also has a solid basketball IQ and is a strong team defender, with the ability to use his length to disrupt passing lanes for steals. If there is a standout weakness for Dozier it’s his jumpshot, which has a slow release and is not particularly fluid.
Denver seems to like what they’ve seen from Dozier, and will likely try to keep him in the offseason. But the Nuggets already have over $100 million in salary committed next year, and it’s entirely possible that a 3rd point guard of Dozier’s caliber is a luxury they can’t afford. If Fred VanVleet ascends to the starting lineup, or — bite my tongue — leaves in the offseason, he could be an ideal target in a backup role. The bench mob has historically shared the ball well and had good size to bother opponents defensively, both attributes that fit Dozier to a T.
The Next Terence Davis II: Desmond Bane (Senior, TCU)
Now we’re in real sleeper territory. One of the Raptors’ greatest achievements over the last several years has been their success with undrafted free agents. This year alone, no fewer than four undrafted players — Fred VanVleet, Terence Davis, Chris Boucher, and Matt Thomas — have cracked the Raptors’ rotation to varying degrees. And Bane certainly fits that bill. He ranked #100 on The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie’s draft big board from January 24th. He’s #99 on ESPN’s board, #77 on NBADraft.net, and it’s hard to find him most other places because they don’t go much past 50. Suffice it to say, Bane is not on most people’s radars. Digging into him as a player, however, and it’s not too hard to see the next Terence Davis in him.
Bane is, in large part, a prototypical NBA shooting guard. He has solid size for the position (6’5”), although one of his most glaring weaknesses is his wingspan, which is roughly equal to his height; this is normal for most human beings, but if you’re ‘most human beings’, you’re behind the curve in the NBA. However, Bane has other tools to make up for his shortcomings. He has great athleticism, even by NBA standards, but doesn’t explode on drives in the manner of a Rose or Westbrook; he moves smoothly with the ball in a way that evokes players like Eric Gordon or Brandon Roy. You won’t see him throwing down a ton of dunks (although he’s been getting up since his high school days, but he’s quick enough with the ball to beat his man off the dribble and finish strong at the rim, even through contact.
His handle isn’t anything special, but it’s enough for him to get by on when he’s slashing. But the real boon to Bane’s inside game is what he’s capable of as a shooter. His efficiency has dropped slightly in his senior year, but he’s still near-elite in that regard while being one of just 7 players in the Big 12 averaging 15 points per game. I won’t show you too many clips of him knocking down jumpers, although there are plenty to choose from; he’s made the most 3 pointers in the conference and is top 5 in shooting percentage from deep. But it’s quickly clear from watching him that he is an NBA-calibre shooter, capable of splashing from both corners and wings, even well behind the college line. He’s also more than capable of shooting off the dribble and on the move, even when contested. And since he’s such a threat from the outside, a simple show-and-go drive is enough to leave defenders in the dust as they are forced to respect his range, even from well behind the line.
Bane’s well-rounded offensive game has continued to develop, as his dribble moves and stepback have looked more and more refined over the last year or so; however, his handle can still cause difficulties penetrating against quicker defenders. He has also improved as a playmaker, regularly bringing the ball up for TCU and showing some very nice vision as a playmaker, although he isn’t stellar at creating off of drive-and-kick action. His wingspan does limit his defensive upside, but he moves his feet and plays solid team defense, which is probably good enough for an off guard. Apart from some minor things that could use improving, Bane doesn’t have any serious weaknesses as a player. He will be used more as a spot-up man and off-ball threat in the NBA, allowing him to focus more on his strengths rather than having to shoulder lead guard responsibilities. His shooting could well be elite at the NBA level, and unlike a lot of great college shooters he passes muster athletically as well.
The knocks against him are those that apply to a lot of second round and undrafted players: he’s a 4-year college player (the 2020 draft will take place on his 22nd birthday), he only has one truly standout NBA skill, he plays for a smaller school that probably won’t be playing in the NCAA tournament. But watching tape of him it’s hard not to feel like people might be missing the boat on Bane. He’s a great shooter, has few holes in his game, and by all accounts scores well on intangibles like toughness and leadership. And the Raptors have been the gold standard for giving overlooked players every opportunity to succeed. There’s a good chance Bane won’t hear his name called come June — if he doesn’t, perhaps his path to the league could run through the Six.
The Next Pascal Siakam: Paul Reed (Junior, DePaul)
Paul Reed was one of the players recommended to me by the great Richard Stayman as a possible ‘Siakam’ type — a player projected to go in the late 1st round with strong athleticism and room to grow as a player. In the course of doing research on these players, I discovered that Ethan Strauss of The Athletic had written a feature on Reed and his draft prospects. The title of that piece? ‘Searching For Siakam’. Bingo.
There are a few reasons why it’s easy to peg Reed as a Siakam type. The first is his size. Even on a college basketball court, it’s easy to pick him out: tall, broad-shouldered, and athletic. He’s billed at 6’9”, with a wingspan of 7’ or more. The second is his growth, both literally and figuratively. He began his college career as a lightly-recruited 3-star recruit, being billed as a 6’5” wing before a growth spurt. After averaging 4 points and 3 rebounds as a freshman, he won the Big East Most Improved Player award in 2018–19 putting up 12/9, both numbers he has improved on as a junior. After going largely overlooked on draft boards before the start of the college season, he has steadily climbed into the late first round in most mocks. He doesn’t quite have the Siakam story, but the will to improve and the potential for more is something the Raptors have been able to capitalize massively on over the last several years.
As a player, Reed has also drawn Siakam comparisons for a number of reasons. The two have comparable size and frame, and Reed has drawn questions about what position he will play in the NBA, just as Siakam did. At 6’9” he could be considered a combo forward in the big leagues, but his jump shot is still a serious question mark. Much like Siakam, he’s also a prolific rebounder for his size, ranking 2nd in the Big East in rebounding while Siakam led the Western Athletic Conference in the same stat. His ballhandling isn’t exactly guard caliber, but he moves smoothly on drives with the ball in his hands. Where Reed really shines though, perhaps even more so than Siakam, is his defense. He is #2 in the conference in both blocked shots and steals, averaging 2.8 and 2 per game respectively. Reed is a disruptor on the defensive side of the ball, a versatile defender who can terrorize opponents on the wing and in the post. He’s not quite ready to defend 1–5, especially in the NBA, but the DNA is certainly there. His size and leaping ability make him a prototypical shot blocker, perhaps comparable to Serge Ibaka; his ability to stay in front of guards and skill as a help defender bring Draymond Green to mind as a comparison.
If there’s anything not to like about Reed, it’s his jumper. On paper, he projects as a two-way stretch 4 in the NBA, but his jumper is too slow and inconsistent for him to be considered a genuinely good shooting big. He has shot over 75% from the free throw line in his last two seasons, suggesting that the stroke is there, and he is a willing shooter. But shooting just 28% from three on 2 attempts/game after making 40% as a sophomore doesn’t quite cut the mustard.
Naturally, one would hope he would make strides in that department, but his comparables like Siakam and Green have shown how dangerous a power forward with size and skill can be, even without a consistent outside shot. I’m far from the only person who has picked up the scent on Reed. In addition to Strauss’ feature on him, HoopsHype called him ‘one of NCAA’s most underrated prospects’ in a December article. And as I was working on this article, John Hollinger mentioned Reed as an undervalued draft prospect. His athleticism also means he’ll likely impress teams at the combine, and it wouldn’t be a shock if his stock keeps trending up.
However, despite Reed’s great year and likely All-Conference 1st team, there’s still a chance he could fly under the radar. After starting the season 12–1 DePaul has gone 1–12 in conference play, and aren’t a sure thing to make the NIT, much less March Madness. Reed’s profile as a player also means that he isn’t necessarily the type to break out on his own, meaning teams that lack strong player development or are hunting for a star might overlook him. Don’t count on seeing Reed in a Raptors uniform next year, but if he’s still around in the late 1st round when the Raptors are picking, he could be a perfect fit for Toronto — and Toronto could be a perfect fit for him.