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Trimming down: The fight for the final roster spots

Photo Credit: Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

It’s almost time, folks. The Raptors are finally back in Toronto after a year and a half hiatus from Canada, and will hit the courts at the OVO Athletic Centre when training camp kicks off on Tuesday.

The new-look Raptors side, that will include 11 fresh faces in pre-season, will be eager to make the most of their homecoming and bounce back after a rough season in Tampa.

Masai Ujiri and the Raptors’ front office are hosting a busy training camp, with 20 players set to partake in preparations for the regular season. Six of these players – Yuta Watanabe, Ishmail Wainright, Freddie Gillespie, Sam Dekker, Isaac Bonga and Reggie Perry – have non-guaranteed or partially guaranteed contracts for the upcoming season, meaning that they are eligible to be cut if they don’t make the opening night roster.

As Josh Lewenberg of TSN mentions in the tweet above, Toronto only has two or three spots left on their roster, and a handful of players to choose from. The battle in training camp will be fierce between players who want to keep their NBA dreams alive after a rocky start to their careers. Here’s our assessment of the fight for the final roster spots.

In pole position

Yuta Watanabe

Watanabe came into the Raptors as a relative unknown last season, but quickly made a name for himself with impressive defense and a high effort level in limited minutes. He offered Nick Nurse a spark off the bench; one that the coach turned to more and more as the season wore on. While his skillset is fairly limited, he proved last season that he fits the Raptors’ system pretty well and has the trust of the coaching staff. I’d say he’s as close to a lock as possible to make the team.

Freddie Gillespie

Gillespie was signed midway through the 2020-2021 season after consecutive ten-day contracts, during which his energy and hustle convinced Toronto’s front office to sign him on. He became a fan-favourite with his goofy and charming personality, as he lived out his NBA dreams. Freddie was a member of the Raptors’ 2021 Summer League team, in which he struggled for large parts. While the organization is familiar with him and his abilities, he may now be redundant with the offseason addition of Precious Achiuwa. He’ll need to put together a strong pre-season if he wants a chance at staying on the roster.

Ishmail Wainright

After signing a two-year, non-guaranteed deal with the Raptors in August, Wainright will be taking his first shot at cracking an NBA roster after spending the first years of his career bouncing around Europe. The 6-foot-6 is built like a football player – he played tight-end for Baylor in college – and is a solid perimeter defender, as shown in the NBA Summer League in August. His versatility and defensive acumen put him in a good position to make the team if he has a strong camp.

On the outside, looking in

Sam Dekker

Since he was drafted 18th-overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, Sam Dekker has failed to cement his place on an NBA roster, appearing for four different teams in his five-year career. The 6-foot-9 forward has averaged 5.5 points per game and 47.8 per cent shooting from the field in 200 career NBA games. He spent the last two years overseas, playing a season each with Lokomotiv Kuban in Russia and Turk Telecom in Turkey. He’s coming off a solid season with the Turkish club, averaging 15.4 points and 45.2 per cent shooting from three. If he can prove to be as good of a shooter in the NBA, he can stake a strong claim to stick around with Toronto.

Isaac Bonga

The 21 year-old Bonga has struggled to live up to his potential since he was taken 39th-overall in the 2018 NBA Draft. In three seasons split between the Lakers and the Wizards, the German guard/wing has averaged only 3.3 points per game and 2.4 rebounds, shooting 44 per cent from the field and 30.2 per cent from three. Touted as an “extremely unique prospect” with a “rare combination of size, creativity, instincts, feel for the game and defensive intensity”, Bonga has not yet been able to put his skillset to good use and craft a decent role for himself on an NBA team. While he is an enticing prospect, he might not be the right kind of player to round out the Raptors’ roster.

Reggie Perry

Reggie Perry is the latest player to be signed by the Raptors for training camp, agreeing to an Exhibit 10 deal this week. The 6-foot-8 big spent his rookie season with Brooklyn after being taken 57th-overall in 2020. The 21 year-old averaged three points per game and 2.8 rebounds in 26 appearances with the Nets last season. While Perry is a long-shot to make the opening night roster, his Exhibit 10 contract can be converted to a two-way deal, which would mean he can get some meaningful playing time with the Raptors 905 in the G League. Don’t expect to see him figure among the 15-man team come October 20, but he can be a standout with the 905 if he has a strong pre-season.

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