With a little over a dozen games into the NBA season, the Toronto Raptors have already notched the equivalent of a quarter of last season’s wins here in 2021-22. Periphery critique of the roster, rotation decisions, bench play etc makes it easy to overlook the clear fringe improvements the team has shown.
The numerous storylines already emerging within the Raptors, which include, but aren't limited to, Pascal Siakam’s return, Fred VanVleet’s dominance, Scottie Barnes's premature Rookie of the Year campaign, and Precious Achiuwa’s offensive rawness. But Toronto’s point guard rotation has emerged as an unexpected question mark on a team starved for more traditional playmaking and spacing.
This season’s Raptors have, thus far, been defined by their length, defensive versatility, and ample ball-handling, but the backup point guard options in Dalano Banton and Malachi Flynn present two opposing stylistic options— both with their own pros and cons.
It’s fair to say that Flynn is better than what he’s demonstrated in his minutes so far, and his dynamic, energetic burst against the Portland Trail Blazers— in which we saw him pressure the defence with a brand of speed and intensity he hasn't always flashed at the NBA level— was proof of that. The six-foot sophomore experienced his rookie season behind the backdrop of the cursed Tampa Bay season, a year where even the most seasoned Raptors looked uncharacteristic on the court.
I look at the current year as Flynn’s rookie rerun, and in the last few games, he’s been finding a more comfortable stride with the second unit— increasing his pace, taking his open shots, and bringing a more relentless defensive energy.
As a draft prospect, Flynn was arguably considered the best pick-and-roll orchestrator of his class, a skillset desperately needed for Toronto’s rotation. Despite this need, there’s been a hesitancy to shoot and drive in the guard’s game this season— effectively erasing the abilities that make him so valuable to the roster.
On the opposite end of the the spectrum is Banton, a six-foot nine former Nebraska guard and Toronto native who has erupted onto the scene as a pleasant surprise and necessary spark plug for any lineup he’s thrown into.
Even though Banton possesses a uniquely contained handle for his height (which teams have only just begun to pressure), in addition to his driving ability, his lack of shooting has a tendency to shrink the floor for a team boasting a plethora of interior threats in OG Anunoby, Barnes, and Siakam. Regardless, Banton has shown his undeniable value in four consecutive nights of professional basketball, which included an easy breezy 30-point night with the Raptors 905.
Head coach Nick Nurse has made a concerted effort the last several games to ensure both guards receive playing time, while not trying to hide his adoration of Banton. As Nurse stated in late October, “he's come out and played outstanding every minute he’s been out there and the offence gets really easy when he's out there and he's played, like, eight minutes a night. You should be all over me for not playing him more."
It’s understandable, Banton’s energy in transition and willingness to penetrate on the drive adds a wrinkle to an offence in desperate need of variation. With a front court packed with talented interior passers, a point guard that can optimize this can be a game changer.
With the starters scoring 101 or the Raptors’ 113 points against the Trail Blazers, it’s obvious that whichever one of Flynn or Banton finds his stride first will be tasked with the responsibility of coordinating Toronto's bench offence. This healthy competition between two very talented and very different players is a subplot definitely worth keeping an eye on.
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