Raptors 905 begin their quest to repeat as G League Champions on Friday when they host the Grand Rapids Drive in the first round of the G League Playoffs. Here’s everything you need to know.
The game tips off at 7 p.m. at Hershey Centre on Friday. Tickets are already on sale for as low as $14.
2018 Playoffs are here!
Round 1: Mar 30 | 7:00pm | @hersheycentre
— Raptors 905 (@Raptors905) March 27, 2018
The New Format
The G League expanded their playoff format this season to include four additional teams, two from each conference, for a total of 12. The top two seeds in each conference receive byes through the first round, while the other four teams compete in a one-game series. Both the second and third (Conference Finals) rounds are one-game series, as well, while the G League Finals are a best-of-three.
That means the 905 are in a one-and-done situation on Friday. As the fourth seed in the East, the 905 earned the right to host the game. If they win, they’ll have to travel to Westchester for a second-round series on Monday. The schedule for the rest of the postseason is still to be determined.
Your #GLeaguePlayoffs bracket!
— NBA G League (@nbagleague) March 25, 2018
How They Got Here
Raptors 905 finished the season with the third-best record in the G League at 31-19. Only the Westchester Knicks and Austin Spurs were better at 32-28, and the 905 now have the second-most wins in the G League (93) since they entered in 2015-16. The 905 are also one of just four teams in the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
They are not, however, the second seed in the East despite owning the second-best record. The top three seeds go to each division winner, and the 905 finished one game behind the Knicks. (The Atlantic Division had the highest winning percentage of any division this season.)
The Drive, meanwhile, tied Fort Wayne atop the Central Division with a 29-21 record but lost the tiebreaker, placing them in the fifth seed.
The 905 and the Drive squared off three times this season. Grand Rapids won both meetings that took place in Grand Rapids, while the 905 won the lone meeting in Mississauga. All three games took place within the first few weeks of the season, before the 905 turned things around in mid-December.
Grand Rapids 101, Raptors 905 87 – Box Score – Derek Willis scores 25 points and Landry Nnoko posts a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double in the season opener. Malcolm Miller, Lorenzo Brown, and Davion Berry are all inactive for the 905, and Kaza Keane steps up in their absence with 16 points and eight assists.
Raptors 905 119, Grand Rapids 83 – Box Score – Alfonzo McKinnie scores 18 points with seven rebounds, Shevon Thompson posts a plus-33 with Kennedy Meeks sidelined, and the 905 shoot 44 percent on threes, opening up a double-digit halftime lead and pulling away for good in the fourth quarter.
Grand Rapids 112, Raptors 905 106 – Box Score – Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard combine for 54 points in the lone game they’ve been assigned together for this year, and that boost proves too much as the Drive get ahead by as many as 19, holding off multiple 905 pushes. Six 905 players score in double-figures, led by Lorenzo Brown’s 24 and Davion Berry’s 20.
This is the ultimate matchup of styles, with the 905 and the Drive taking very similar approaches to the game. Both teams rank near the top of the league in defensive efficiency, near the bottom of the league in pace, and are the league’s best rebounding outfits. Outside of the similarities, the 905 hold an edge in the turnover department, while the Drive shoot better from outside.
Offensive Rating: Grand Rapids – 105.1 (14th), 905 – 104.3 (17th)
Defensive Rating: 905 – 99.9 (1st), Grand Rapids – 102.5 (4th)
Pace: Grand Rapids – 99.9 (25th), 905 – 97.6 (27th)
Offensive Rebound %: 905 – 30.0 (2nd), Grand Rapids – 27.6 (5th)
Defensive Rebound %: Grand Rapids – 78.0 (1st), 905 – 77.6 (2nd)
Turnover %: 905 – 17.0 (20th), Grand Rapids – 17.2 (23rd)
Forced Turnover %: 905 – 17.9 (2nd), Grand Rapids – 15.6 (19th)
True Shooting %: Grand Rapids – 55.4 (19th), 905 – 54.2 (25th)
3-Point %: Grand Rapids – 36.3 (8th), 905 – 33.6 (24th)
Assist %: 905 – 58.2 (7th), Grand Rapids – 54.3 (14th)
Free Throw Rate: Grand Rapids – 0.24 (24th), 905 – 0.24 (25th)
The 905 have relied heavily on their two-ways and NBA assignment players, while the Drive have had a little less of the up-and-down and instead relied primarily on their full-time G Leaguers. The primary battle comes in the post, where each team boasts two of the league’s best rebounders. There are also fun battles at the point with two of the league’s assist leaders and on the wing with a number of players carrying NBA experience.
Guards: Lorenzo Brown is the head of the snake on offense for the 905, leading the G League in assist rate and leading the team with 18.8 points per-game. Davion Berry is the team’s offensive leader off the bench, while Aaron Best has seamlessly oscillated between starter and reserve, bringing his trademark defense in either role. Kaza Keane and Kethan Savage provide gritty defense as the backup point guards, as well…Kenneth “Speedy” Smith wasn’t far behind Brown as a playmaker, averaging 7.8 assists. Kay Felder also looms as a potential assignee, and he averaged 16.6 points and 5.9 rebounds in his 17 appearances. Reggie Hearn, if assigned, Jamel Morris, and Bronson Koenig offer strong shooting threats at the two.
Wings: Head coach Jerry Stackhouse leans on a deep wing rotation with a number of looks to throw at Grand Rapids, including Malcolm Miller (the team’s best perimeter defender), Fuquan Edwin (a 3-and-D specialist who saw starts down the stretch), and Alfonzo McKinnie (who slides to power forward quite often thanks to his size and rebounding). All three can even see the floor together in long, defensive lineups, and all three have emerged as at least reasonable shooting threats…K.J. McDaniels is a familiar face on the other side, as the former Raptor is averaging 16.2 points and 7.2 rebounds, playing a bruising, physical style at both ends.
Bigs: Kennedy Meeks and Shevon Thompson make up a center pairing that few teams can match, with both ranking in the top 10 in most per-possession rebounding categories. Meeks can also make plays for teammates from anywhere on the court, while Thompson is a threat for a put-back or rim-run dunk at any time…Landry Nnoko, Derek Willis, and Jon Horford make up just about the only frontcourt that can match up with them, with Nnoko in particular ranking among the league-leaders in rebounding and shot-blocking.
The nature of the G League is such that most five-man units don’t end up with a ton of familiarity together, even after 50 games. Both of these teams have also lost players to trade, release, or overseas signing, but they have a good sense of how they’ll look.
The 905 have two lineups in particular worth watching for. The first is a Miller-led bench unit with a robust plus-21.6 net rating in 97 minutes, a group that may not see much time if Kaza Keane isn’t the backup point guard for this one (Keane-Berry-Edwin-Miller-Thompson). That fivesome has bottled up opposing benches in their 12 appearances together. The other group to watch is the projected starters (Brown-Best-Miller-McKinnie-Meeks), who have a plus-6.9 net rating in 64 minutes over nine games together.
The Drive likewise have a highly effective projected starting five (if nobody is assigned), one that owns a plus-13.6 net rating in 86 minutes together. That group five (Smith-Morris-Koenig-Willis-Nnoko) has been almost impossible to rebound against, and they move the ball better than any other Grand Rapids unit. Hearn has occasionally started in Koenig’s place when assigned, and that lineup is similarly effective, posting a plus-22.2 mark in a small 33-minute sample over four games.
A Quick Look Back
Last year’s playoffs saw the 905 sweep their opening two rounds 2-0 and then defeat Rio Grande Valley 2-1 in the finals. Pascal Siakam was named Finals MVP, while Fred VanVleet and Bruno Caboclo also made big contributions from the Raptors. That experience has been paying off as Siakam and VanVleet are major parts of the Raptors’ rotation this year.
— NBA Canada (@NBACanada) April 28, 2017