The Toronto Raptors are no strangers to COVID-19 chaos. Last season the team went almost a month without a single win after Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Malachi Flynn, and Patrick McCaw all tested positive for the virus and this year the pandemic forced Khem Birch to miss two weeks of the preseason after he tested positive despite being fully vaccinated. It’s why Raptors coach Nick Nurse continues to stress the importance of depth this year.
At any moment, Nurse said, the 13th player on the bench can suddenly be tabbed for major rotation minutes, possibly even a start this season if COVID-19 or injuries strike at the wrong time. That realization has made this year’s final roster cuts so much more important. It’s not just about finding the players with the most future upside, instead, Nurse, Raptors general manager Bobby Webster, and team president Masai Ujiri need to figure out which players have the skills to step into a much bigger role at a moment’s notice.
With just one preseason game to go, here’s where everyone stands for final cuts:
It’s essentially a done deal. Yuta Watanabe is on the roster.
Isaac Bonga entered Raptors’ training camp as maybe the biggest wildcard on the roster. At 21 years old, there may be some untapped potential yet to be unfurled.
“From what we’ve seen, [he’s] very, very coachable, plays hard, makes very few mistakes, does a lot the little things,” Nurse said. “Probably be a good addition.”
It certainly sounds like Bonga will be making the roster. Nurse even complemented Bonga’s play on Monday night, saying he does everything the Raptors are looking for in terms of work ethic, offensive rebounding, and running the floor. Assuming he does make the team, I’d expect him to be on the shuttle to and from Mississauga quite a bit this season. Nurse doesn’t like it when young players just sit on the bench, so I’d assume Bonga gets playing time with the Raptors 905 whenever possible.
Sam Dekker, at least on paper, should bring the Raptors some valuable three-point shooting. He averaged 45% from behind the arc last season in Turkey and was considered a strong shooter coming out of Wisconsin back in 2015. Things, however, haven’t gone so smoothly in his brief NBA career. He’s averaged a measly 29% from behind the arc in his NBA career and is shooting just 2-for-6 from the floor in the preseason with Toronto. That being said, he got playing time ahead of Ishmail Wainright and Reggie Perry on Monday night and may have a slight edge for the Raptors’ final roster spot.
It’s been a very rough preseason for Freddie Gillespie dating back to his disappointing Summer League appearances. He shot 5-for-22 with four turnovers down in Vegas and so far he’s 1-for-4 with three turnovers in the preseason. Yikes. Nurse, however, seems to be happy with what Gillespie is doing everywhere else on the court.
“I thought he really held his own on the glass, he got a couple of extra possessions for us, I thought he screened well tonight,” Nurse said following Saturday’s game.
If the Raptors think they have a need for a third-string center, someone who can fill in for Khem Birch or Precious Achiuwa, then Gillespie should make the roster. But considering how unusual the roster is this season, it doesn’t seem like they are too concerned about a lack of size.
If Toronto wants to double or triple down on defense-first 6-foot-6ish wings, then Wainright fits the bill. He’s built like a tight end, which he happened to be briefly at Baylor. He nailed a couple of three-pointers in Monday’s game, but he’s probably on the outside of the final cuts conversation.
Reggie Perry is certainly the least likely of the group to crack Toronto’s roster. He hasn’t played very much in the preseason and hasn’t popped in his limited action. He is a relatively big body at 6-foot-8, 250-pounds, which I suppose could be an argument in his favor. But I wouldn’t count on him making the squad.