Oshae Brissett stood along the Toronto Raptors’ sideline in Tampa shaking his head in disbelief. Who could have imagined that the final cut from Toronto’s preseason roster would be the one standing with the smile on his face having put the final dagger in a disastrous 2020-21 season for the Raptors?
“It’s crazy, it’s crazy,” he said his smile grew wider across his face. “Everything I’m going through now I give [the Raptors] full credit. From the day I stepped on training camp with them they’ve been nothing but helpful teaching me ways to stay in the NBA.”
At the time it seemed somewhat like a fluke. How much stock can really be put into one 31-point performance against a Raptors team with no interest in competing? It was just a few nights earlier that Toronto had seen Jalen Harris and Stanley Johnson go off for 30-plus point nights and nobody was about to name them legitimate NBA starters. But Brissett’s night was no fluke. The 22-year-old Canadian started the final 16 games of the season for Indiana and then on Tuesday night he led all scorers with 23 points in a Pacers play-in tournament victory over Charlotte.
Now it appears Brissett is the one that got away.
The problem for Brissett during training camp was his health. He was still recovering from knee surgery and was held to just 14 minutes played in the preseason.
Even so, Raptors coach Nick Nurse said he recognized a fairly significant improvement in Brissett’s game, specifically in his 3-point shooting.
“One thing he’s done in the time short time we’ve had or seen him is he’s busy he’s really making shots,” Nurse said on December 8. “He had a really diligent offseason, as far as, you know, continuing to work on the shooting things that we started to work on. … And in practice, he’s starting to see some dividends. He’s stepping in and making a lot of a lot of 3s.”
What Nurse and the Raptors clearly didn’t realize is just how much better Brissett’s shot had become. He had improved from a player who shot 26% from behind the arc in 30 G League games in 2019-20 to a 38% marksman in his 33 games played this season across the G League and NBA.
“After the Bubble I was in Toronto the whole time working,” Brissett said prior to the season. “Just a lot of shooting, a lot of weight training, getting my vision, and wind back up, it was kind of, there were able to see my whole progression from where I was in the bubble to where I am now.”
When it came time for the final cuts Toronto opted to go with Paul Watson Jr. and Yuta Watanabe over Brissett. It was a defensible position at the time and even now it doesn’t necessarily look like a catastrophe. Watanabe was good enough to earn a full contract and Watson looked good in his limited chances, although injuries and COVID-19 issues plagued him down the stretch.
But the longer the Pacers stay alive and the better Brissett looks in these big-time the worse things will look for Toronto. At least it’s another Raptors developmental success story. Unfortunately for Toronto it’s one paying dividends elsewhere.