With the re-signing of Jeff Dowtin Jr. on a partially guaranteed contract, it’s time to revisit the biggest little story from April 2023. Why didn’t the Raptors convert Dowtin to a main roster contract?
Three and a half months after it had the slightest chance to make a difference for last year’s doomed team, Dowtin is a Raptor and Joe Wieskamp is not. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference to the 2022-23 team, but it’s a fun little note to end such a bizarre saga of niche interest.
It’s actually more revealing about what’s coming next. Dowtin is the 15th player to take a spot on the main roster, joining Markquis Nowell, Ron Harper Jr. and Javon Freeman-Liberty fill the three two-way roster spots. The Raptors still have some room to maneuver, but it would now be more complicated for them to pull off a trade that sends out a big-money star and adds depth — the type of trade that would make sense with, say, Pascal Siakam. Based on how they have performed in the past, the Raptors will likely bring in some players signed to lightly guaranteed training camp deals to battle with Dowtin for the final roster spot. However, the roster is now full, making a big trade going down for the rest of the offseason, if not impossible, then far less likely.
That means one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league from last year will return without the guy who made 47 percent of their pull-up 3-pointers and took 42 percent of their pull-up attempts, Fred VanVleet, and not much to make up for it. Problematically, considering spacing and shooting is critical to a functional offense in the modern NBA.
Darko Rajaković will have to be imaginative in how he approaches this group if not much changes between now and the start of training camp. Some growth on his roster would help. Here’s what he, half-reasonably, can hope changes.
1. Scottie Barnes’ ball handling
Back in Las Vegas, Rajaković said he wants the ball in Barnes’ hands much more often than he has in the past. In the Nick Nurse era, Barnes was pressured to become a scorer when he got touches, the thinking being that becoming a threat in that sense would open up passing lanes. Barnes still needs to be a threat in that sense, but it sounds like Rajaković will encourage Barnes’ passing creativity.
Check that out, as you want your most important long-term piece to be happy with his lot on the roster. Barnes hasn’t been overly dangerous as a front-up driver, though, because he struggles to get around his defender. Part of that is because teams can respect his jumper, and it would be nice if his stroke improved; part of that is because his long wingspan means Barnes’ handle needs to be tight to limit turnovers. He has a very good assist-to-turnover ratio — 3.69 assists for every turnover in his career — but not much of that has been because he’s been single-handedly collapsing defenses.
Without VanVleet, Barnes will obviously have more opportunities to handle the ball in pick-and-roll sets. (He’s already proven he can be a very effective passer as a roll, and it’ll be interesting to see if he and Siakam can thrive in both roles together in lineups without a non-shooting center.) Can Barnes create space for himself in small spaces so defenses have to respond to him? If so, he’ll have a lot of simple kickouts available. If not, things will get tough.
2. Pascal Siakam’s pull-up
Oh, Eric is back on his bullshit again. There is no way around it. I have to do it. In 2019-20, when Siakam still counted VanVleet and Kyle Lowry among his teammates, he hit 51 pull-up 3s. In the three seasons since then, he has topped 43.
Siakam has said he is working on the shot. At least he took it a little more often last year compared to 2021-22, when he largely gave it up. Even if he only connects 34 percent of the time like he did in 2019-20, the Raptors need him to commit to it this year. If not him, it’s hard to say who will be the threat from deep for the Raptors. It’s hard to live without one of those guys.
We’ve already talked about Barnes’ safe hands. Siakam is also reliable with 2.2 assists per turnover over the last two seasons. That has been his biggest area of growth as a top option, as he had been at 1.6 assists per game. turnover in the two previous seasons.
Anunoby hasn’t taken that leap yet. Maybe it’s a lack of options, but it’s also fair to say that Anunoby isn’t exactly fluent on his drives. He averages just 1.2 assists per turnover in his career and had one more turnover than assist last year.
Part of it is just cutting out the easy stuff. His footwork in transition has improved, but he’s still prone to some ill-timed slips on the fly in traffic. However, the rest see the floor more holistically. Anunoby does not play selfishly at all, and he has flashed the ability to pass well. The flashes have not turned into more than that.
You can be an effective wing scorer without being a huge plus as a passer; Jaylen Brown has a worse assist-to-turnover ratio than Anunoby. With the Raptors’ lack of high-volume, high-percentage shooters, however, they need all three of their bigger wings to create positive looks for others.
4. The Raptors’ marginal shooters’ marginal shooting
The Raptors spent veteran minimum roster spots on Svi Mykhailiuk and Juancho Hernangomez the past two years, OK shooters the front office hoped would emerge as catch-and-shoot options. They didn’t, nor stuck in the rotation as a product.
This year, the Raptors dove into the slightly splashier semi-annual exception waters and signed Jalen McDaniels. McDaniels brings more potential and athleticism with him than any of the previous signings, but his career 34.5 is enough to match the combined numbers of Mykhailiuk (35.2 before his last season) and Hernangomez (34.2).
The Raptors have taken bets that some of their so-so shooters will have good seasons from deep, and they need a few to connect. McDaniels is a candidate. Precious Achiuwa dropped nine percentage points last year from 2021-22. More and more, Chris Boucher’s 38.3 percent success rate seems like the outlier.
In short: If two of these three guys surpass their career numbers, it would mean a lot to the Raptors.
The Raptors rookie shot 29.6 percent from 3 in summer league, which is less than ideal. He also took 27 shots. I’m going to go ahead and trust that his 40.3 percent accuracy on 203 attempts at Kansas and his 46.7 percent hit rate in his senior year at Sunrise Christian Academy, closer, mean a little more to his long-term potential as a shooter than the small test in Las Vegas.
Dick will have to get on the floor to stretch it for the Raptors, and there’s the potential problem. Dick has the IQ to play in the NBA, but he’s a beanpole. Even though he knew where to be, he was outmuscled by wings that looked like him – not necessarily taller, but just bigger and stronger.
It is unrealistic to expect that to change in October. If Dick can get extra work in the weight room as the year goes on, however, it could pay dividends around Barnes and company in the second half of the season.
(Top photo by OG Anunoby: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)