The Toronto Raptors weren’t able to retain Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, but the reigning champs did move quickly to supplement the roster.
The overall approach towards rebuilding the rotation was clear: The Raptors went after undervalued players who were young, defensively sound, and with great length for their positions. Toronto established an identity as a defensive juggernaut in last season’s Finals, and it will look to build upon that even without Leonard.
Here are the scouting reports on the latest Raptors signings.
Bio: 8th pick (2015), 23 years old, 6-foot-7, 7-foot wingspan, 245 pounds
Strengths: Johnson’s best asset is his defensive versatility. His physique allows him to comfortably guard every position short of center, and he pairs excellent athleticism with a pride in tackling the toughest assignments every night. Johnson famously declared as a rookie that he was in LeBron James’ head during the 2016 playoffs, which should tell you everything about his self-confidence. And while Johnson isn’t on the level of stopping James, he can definitely make life difficult for the best players in the league, as he demonstrated against Leonard early last season. Johnson also shows flashes of promise on offense, as his handle and playmaking can pleasantly surprise.
Weaknesses: Johnson needs to improve offensively. Despite being a great athlete, he often prefers finesse to force when finishing in traffic. His three-point shot also lacks consistency, as he has failed to crack even 30 percent from deep in four seasons. But the biggest knock on his game is that he needs to change his approach. What frustrated Pistons fans in recent years was that Johnson rejected the 3-and-D role in favor of working on becoming a lead playmaker, when it was beyond obvious that Johnson wasn’t on that level. Perhaps a midseason swap for Thon Maker, a pitstop in New Orleans, and a shortage of suitors in free agency will reset his perspective. The tools are still there, but Johnson needs to be receptive to growing the right parts of his game to carve out a career in the NBA.
Projection: Second-string small forward backing up OG Anunoby, with some occasional minutes at power forward. Johnson will find more minutes if he embraces his role.
Bio: 23rd pick (2015), 24 years old, 6-foot-7, 7-foot-1 wingspan, 220 pounds
Strengths: Much like his former Arizona teammate in Johnson, Hollis-Jefferson’s best trait is defense. Hollis-Jefferson even occasionally played center for the Nets last season, and was tasked with guarding 7-foot behemoths in Joel Embiid and Boban Marjanovic in the playoffs against the Sixers. What makes Hollis-Jefferson unique is his drive — he plays with an all-out hustle that will quickly endear him to fans. Hollis-Jefferson also has a scorer’s mentality, and his lefty approach coupled with his shifty handle will often throws defenders off on his violent forays to the rim.
Weaknesses: Hollis-Jefferson’s shot is flat-out broken. It looks awkward coming out of his hand and the trajectory is random. It needs to be completely reworked because it’s hurting the rest of his game. The inability to shoot forces him to play up a position, and defenders often just sag back to contest at the basket, which detracts from his ability to finish down low since he’s almost always playing through traffic. Hollis-Jefferson’s take-no-prisoners style of play also borders on reckless, which has led to injury issues throughout his career.
Rondae's a nice defender and he really hustles but making it work on offense will be difficult pic.twitter.com/hkU6gt5LOo— William Lou (@william_lou) July 9, 2019
Projection: Second-string power forward behind Pascal Siakam. Finding minutes for Hollis-Jefferson will be difficult just based on a general shortage of shooting throughout the roster, but he will have standout games without necessarily being consistent on a nightly basis.
Bio: Undrafted (2019), 22 years old, 6-foot-4, 6-foot-8 wingspan, 192 pounds
Strengths: Davis, like the two aforementioned players, is a plus defender. His size at the point guard position gives him an advantage, and he’s opportunistic in jumping passing lanes. Offensively, he’s fairly well-balanced and spent most of last season in a dual-point backcourt so he’s comfortable playing with or without the ball. He developed into a strong off-the-dribble shooter, and hit 37 percent from three-point range at over five attempts per game last season. He’s also a decent slasher, and can play above the rim. Overall, his game is reminiscent of Spencer Dinwiddie, while his story of being an undrafted senior betting on himself draws obvious parallels to Fred VanVleet.
Weaknesses: Davis is late bloomer, so there’s not a long track record of success. Davis was lightly recruited in high school, and it wasn’t clear if he could shoot at an above-average level until last season. Davis also struggled in finding a balance between being aggressive and being foul-prone earlier in his collegiate career.
Projection: Third-string point guard, with an outside shot of winning the backup shooting guard position. Will spend some time in the G League. Davis should shadow VanVleet as much as possible, as that’s his best case scenario.
Bio: Undrafted (2017), 25 years old, 6-foot-5, 6-foot-5 wingspan, 200 pounds
Strengths: Thomas is a lights-out shooter. According to Synergy Stats, he was one of the best shooters outside of the NBA and posted an effective shooting percentage (which accounts for the extra point on threes) of 82 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers, and 99 percent when left open. Thomas can handle the ball and hit a decent share of pull-up jumpers, but he is best as a spot-up option. His cutting and ability to reposition for open looks is highly advanced for a rookie.
Weaknesses: Getting his shot off will be a challenge at the NBA level. Thomas does have good size for a shooting guard and he isn’t afraid of being physical, but creating space will be infinitely more difficult. Thomas will also be challenged defensively, although that’s less of a concern than his contributions on offense. Simply put, he’s a bit one-dimensional, so that one skill must pop for him to stick as an NBA player.
Projection: Backup shooting guard behind Norman Powell. Will likely serve as a floor spacer in a limited role, but could be featured more in lineups involving Marc Gasol. Can challenge for more minutes based simply on the fact that the Raptors are mostly short on shooters. He signed a three-year deal, so the Raptors must be fairly confident in Thomas.
Bio: 59th pick (2019), 22 years old, 6-foot-10, 7-foot-2 wingspan, 233 pounds
Strengths: Hernandez is a fluid athlete for someone of his height. He posted the second-highest lane shuttle run among centers at this year’s draft combine, and also ranked second with a 36-inch vertical leap. Hernandez’s size and athleticism should give him a shot at being a rotation player, but it will take some work to get there. Right now, he doesn’t appear to have a particular standout skill.
Weaknesses: After sitting out all of last season, it’s clear that Hernandez is rusty. Through three Summer League games, Hernandez often made poor reads and forced his shots, but there’s hardly a definite conclusion to draw from a week’s worth of play. Defensively, Hernandez isn’t always engaged, and doesn’t protect the rim as well as his size otherwise dictates, although he does show good versatility in sticking with smaller guards.
Projection: If the Raptors sign him, Hernandez will almost assuredly spend the season in G League. Hernandez needs to get his touch and conditioning right, before honing the basics of his game. He’s not that far away from being an NBA-level player, but he lacks polish.
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