Raptors' opening night roster takes shape

Yahoo Sports Canada

It’s onto an opening night featuring a championship banner and shiny rings from here as the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors closed out their four-game preseason with a 123-107 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

Head coach Nick Nurse involved all his key players, with Kyle Lowry playing his first preseason game and the team following his lead right from the jump. Terrific ball movement and unselfish decisions saw the Raps finish the game with 31 assists and 24 three-pointers.

With several players not figuring at all in the first half, there’s a fair idea of how the roster should shake it out from here. There are currently 20 spots to account for, but that number needs to be whittled down to 15 on the parent club and two players who can sign two-way deals which will see them primarily with the Raptors 905.

Here’s a look at how things should play out:

Terence Davis and Chris Boucher figure to be in the mix. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
Terence Davis and Chris Boucher figure to be in the mix. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

Starting five

With Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam likely to be permanent fixtures in the starting lineup, it’s the shooting guard and center positions that will likely have the most variability. Fred VanVleet started alongside Kyle Lowry in the backcourt against the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night, and with the New Orleans Pelicans trotting out Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday as their starting backcourt through preseason, it makes sense for the Raptors to lean this way out of the gate. The Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls will follow, and with both teams likely to present more of a size issue, it will be interesting to see if Nick Nurse sticks with VanVleet or takes a look at Norman Powell.

Marc Gasol started at center, and with him cementing that spot over the final stretch of the 2018-19 regular season and for the duration of the playoffs, it looks like he will see the majority of his time as a starter once again. Serge Ibaka — who has looked great all preseason — will undoubtedly receive his fair share of starts as the team looks to manage Gasol’s fatigue following his busiest 12 months of basketball.

8-man rotation?

Nurse said over the course of the squad’s back-to-back practice days that there are two spots in the rotation up for grabs for “whoever wants them.” Terence Davis II appears to have earned one of those spots. He was terrific in his final chance to make an impression and it would be a shock to see him not make the 15-man roster now. Davis just plays like he belongs. He’s not intimidated and takes the game as it comes to him when he doesn’t have to be the primary ball handler. Nurse referred to the latter at practice when he mentioned that there’s probably too much responsibility at the NBA point guard position at this stage in the youngster’s career.

In the play below, much of the credit deservedly goes to Siakam for the excellent push and spin before recognizing he’s done his job and kicking out to Davis. The element here that impresses about Davis is the complete lack of hesitation on his part.

Here again, the key is him playing off the ball. VanVleet plays facilitator on this occasion by penetrating and getting to the rim before kicking out to Davis in the corner.

Davis recognizes the poor closeout by Caris LeVert and easily attacks the rim undeterred. More teams than not will dare him to make the outside shot, but his hot start in this game explains why the defender raced out to him.

Stanley Johnson checked into the game late in the third quarter, before Malcolm Miller and Chris Boucher also saw the floor in the fourth quarter. Patrick McCaw and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson were ruled out for this game due to knee cap soreness and groin soreness, respectively. Miller appeared to hurt his knee while contesting a rebound with under nine minutes remaining, but did walk to the bench for a timeout on his own strength and then returned to the game.

All of these players should make the 15-man roster.

Fringe spots

With the aforementioned players joining the top seven, we’re brought to a total of 13. Dewan Hernandez, the 59th overall pick by the Raptors this season, should make the roster, but spend the bulk of his time with the 905. Ditto, Thomas. Mississauga’s very own Oshae Brissett seems to have made enough of an impression with his excellent defense and rebounding acumen to land a two-way spot. As with most wing players on the bubble around the league, the three is the key.

That leaves three cuts to be made by Tuesday with just one more two-way contract available. Cameron Payne has presented very little in actual game time, despite some positive reviews from training camp and preseason. He’s most likely gone. Even with his enticing length, Devin Robinson simply doesn’t have anywhere near enough strength and figures to be cut. Matt Morgan was signed only a few days ago, but will follow the Exhibit-10 and waive route. An Exhibit-10 contract is a one-year non-guaranteed deal that serves as a training camp invite for all intents and purposes. What the contract allows the Raptors to do is waive the player, while still designating him as a G League affiliate player. Morgan impressed with his shooting stroke when representing the Raptors in Las Vegas at summer league, and will likely bide his time and work on his craft with the 905.

And we’re down to Isaiah Taylor. The 25-year-old played 67 games for the Atlanta Hawks in 2017-18, but failed to make an NBA roster last season. He was battling for the final roster spot with the Cleveland Cavaliers last year when a stress fracture in his left leg saw him waived. Toronto typically leans toward depth at the point guard position, so it would make the most sense for Taylor to land the other two-way spot and only be called up from the 905 in an emergency situation.

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