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The Raptors 905 Are Slowly Carving Out A Team Identity

Kelsea O'Brien /December 4, 2022

In a league where rosters change like the tides, there is a fine line between consistency and adaptation. A team that played shorthanded one night could have an entirely healthy roster, plus NBA assignees and two-way players the very next night. In an instance unique to the Raptors 905 this season, a key piece of the rotation could be called up by a different NBA team in the middle of a series, leaving a Saben Lee sized hole in both the roster and the game plan. The ability to adapt to new teams, new rosters, and new situations while relying on a specific set of team fundamentals is the key to longevity in both the season and individual careers.

If we are to think of the hardwood as a kitchen, we can apply the old adage that cooking is an art, and baking is a science. When preparing a bouillabaisse, it is important to use the freshest ingredients, but the rest of the recipe is open to interpretation; it can be spicy or earthy, the same way an offence can push the pace or slow it down. What works for one dinner may not work for another, and it falls on the chefs - the coaches - to perfect it in their own way. For a pastry chef preparing a creme brulee, one small mistake or deviation from the recipe could prove disastrous. If a play is run and a player misses their rotation, the play, like the creme brulee, no longer works. The balance between innovation and homogeneity can make or break both a meal, and a game.

Through ten games the Raptors 905 have tweaked and rewritten their recipe for success. Their offence is not always spicy or fast-paced, because some teams handle spice better than others. What worked against the Delaware Blue Coats, waiting for the ball handler to kick it out to the left before attempting the steal, did not work against the College Park Skyhawks, whose points came almost entirely from inside the paint. While the 905 came up short in both games, they learned a valuable lesson about continuity and fundamentals.

In his short tenure with the Raptors 905, Saben Lee established himself as a player who can glide through traffic to attack the rim. At worst, he would manipulate his body, drawing the foul and sinking the free throw. At best, he would make the shot and draw the foul, resulting in an old-fashioned three point play. His recipe worked, because rather than alter it, he perfected it. When Lee was signed to a two-way contract by the Philadelphia 76ers after just seven games with the 905, the offence lacked the paint points or free throws that Saben scored so effortlessly. Lee’s absence caused the 905 to reevaluate what was working and what wasn’t, and to tweak the ingredients that made them successful.

Standing at 6’9 and weighing in at 250 lbs, Reggie Perry’s powerful frame is the salt in any recipe. It can be both his most important tool, or can ruin a dish completely. Saben Lee’s departure left the paint points in a deficit that needed to be rectified immediately, and Reggie Perry did not hesitate to step up. Reminiscent of Chris Boucher during the 2018-2019 G League season, the Raptors 905 established Perry as a post threat, opting to keep him on the interior on both ends of the floor with minimal outside shooting. Perry bought in and adjusted his game in order to elevate the team as a whole, and the results were a resounding success. Though the game itself was a loss for the 905, Perry flourished in his new role. His 24 points were matched by his 24 rebounds, setting not only a personal career high, but a new team record for rebounds in a single game. He reprised this role just two days later, and using the same method, recorded four blocks, a new career high, against the College Park Skyhawks. Reverting a new recipe back to a classic proved successful, and Perry was the main ingredient.

To become a Michelin star restaurant, or a championship calibre team, the Raptors 905 must take vintage recipes and modernise them. What works for fish won’t always work for beef, and what works against one team won’t always work against another. Being receptive to change while sticking to their tried and true playbook is the mark of a true chef, and of a team that can go all the way. Some traditional techniques may work, some new ingredients may not, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.