The NBA Summer League is usually a time for rookies to cut their teeth and make the transition into their new life.
Often, these summer league rosters feature team's first and second-round picks and a host of prospects who have caught the eye of general managers across the league.
However, sometimes the make-up of a summer league roster can be a bit outside the norm.
With no picks in this year’s NBA draft, the Toronto Raptors’ summer league squad is one such roster, in that they lack any first or second-round picks.
While teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers will feature No.1 pick Anthony Bennett, the Raptors’ team will be made up of last year’s rookies as well as some lesser-known prospects.
Despite the lack of big-name rookies and a confirmed roster from which to speculate on, the team, as currently known, has some exciting storylines to offer fans who are following the action.
To add to the intrigue, the NBA has decided to revamp the summer league this year. The league will now consist of three preliminary games, followed by a round-robin style tournament.
Which means players will have more incentive to win games.
The Raptors’ schedule is as follows:
Versus Miami Heat
Versus San Antonio Spurs
Versus Sacramento Kings
How Will Ross and Acy Perform?
Without a big-name rookie playing on the roster, look for the spotlight to be on last year’s newcomers.
With a year under their belt, Raptors management will likely be taking a hard look to see if Ross and Acy have made significant strides from last season.
In last year’s summer league, Ross had averages of 14.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, but he only shot a 37 field-goal percentage and an atrocious 25 three-point field-goal percentage.
Per the Toronto Raptors official website, Ross stated in a video interview that he’s been working out approximately six days a week and has been focusing on his ball-handling, pick-and-rolls and shooting.
Given that work ethic, its a safe bet to say he’ll eclipse that unsightly 25 percent mark from the three-point line.
Ross has a chance to become the total package: He's an extremely athletic guard who can slash, dunk and shoot. Once all three of those skills fall into place with efficiency, he’ll be on pace to become one of the better 2-guards in the NBA.
Acy, the most raw of the Raptors’ rookies last season, has the opportunity to showcase his versatility this summer.
According to a video interview with him on the Raptors website, team management and coaching have been working with him in order to hone his defense against the bigger small forwards in the NBA. To that end, they've had him working on his lateral quickness and strength.
Which makes sense, given Rudy Gay’s lean frame, and Landry Field’s inability to contribute in any meaningful way.
If Acy can demonstrate his new commitment to perimeter defense this summer against bigger wing players such as Bennett, Otto Porter and Shabazz Muhammad, he’ll go a long way toward earning more minutes in Casey’s rotation next season.
Valanciunas’ Coming Out Party
The summer league can be a deceiving time.
Obviously, Selby's 70.6 three-point field-goal percentage wasn't maintainable.
However, when a player truly destroys the competition in summer league and is highly regarded coming in, a la Damian Lillard, you know that player is for real.
Which is why Raptors center Valanciunas needs to crush every opposing big-man he plays against.
After a hot end to the season—11.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.4 BPG with a 58.8 field-goal percentage after the All-Star break, according to rotoworld.com—Valanciunas has had a few months to reflect on his rookie season and understand where he needs to improve.
The summer league should provide him with plenty of chances to demonstrate the strides he’s made in his game.
There’s a lot of pressure on Valanciunas to perform and become one the franchise cornerstones for the Raptors. If he can lead the team through the summer league tourney with averages of 20 points and 10 rebounds, the entire league will be forced to notice.
The Prospects We Know About
As previously mentioned, the Raptors have yet to release their official summer league roster.
Of the three, Taylor and Echenique have the best shots at a roster spot.
Taylor, a Wisconsin product, was named to the Yahoo! Sports All-American second team alongside NBA players Kemba Walker and Kawhi Leonard. He also played for the Atlanta Hawks' summer league team last year.
While he’s an intriguing case given his pedigree and the fact that he plays point guard, he’ll need to really impress the Raptors to get serious consideration for a roster spot.
Echenique is a 6’9” center who lacks great size but is a good defender. In three seasons with Creighton, he had averages of 10 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks a game.
He doesn't appear to be a special talent, especially considering his low rebounding numbers.
However, the Raptors are in the market for big men, so if he can demonstrate a quality that both Acy and Valanciunas don’t have, the Raptors could take a look at adding him.
Barring a monster outing, he’s probably not going to make the team.
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