A look at the new emergency call-up Raptors

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The Toronto Raptors are signing four G League players to short-term contracts.

With Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, Precious Achiuwa, Dalano Banton and Malachi Flynn all in the league’s health-and-safety protocols, the Raptors are adding Brandon Goodwin, Juwan Morgan, Nik Stauskas and Tremont Waters on 10-day contracts.

This is supposed to be an article I write in August, when the team is filling out their training camp roster with Exhibit 10 contracts who will represent the core of the Raptors 905 roster. It’s not supposed to be an article written here in December, as NBA teams scramble to add replacement players amid a major COVID outbreak around the league. But with over 100 players entering the league’s health and safety protocols in December, the league has allowed for teams to add players.

This is done via a hardship exemption, where teams can give out 10-day contracts that will not count against the salary cap or their luxury tax situations. Normally, these exemptions require teams to be a certain degree of short-handed for multiple games. As the NBA looks to insure against more game postponements, they’ve expedited that process, and subsequently mandated it – the Raptors also have an open regular roster spot they can use if they so choose, however, with their proximity to the luxury tax line, they will likely use the exemption route for as long as allowable.

The new rules, which will be in effect until at least Jan. 19, allow a team to add one hardship exemption player for each player who enters health and safety protocols. That “allowance” becomes mandatory if a team has multiple players in those protocols. Under the temporary roster rules, the Raptors, with seven players in protocols, have to add six players (two of which are yet to be announced yet) and can add up to seven.

Players are signed for 10 days at a time, earning the prorated minimum salary for their level of experience (that can range from $53,176 to $151,822 over the 10 days). The Raptors can wait until Wednesday to sign them officially, which would keep them on the roster through their Dec. 31 game.

In addition, two-way players Justin Champagnie and David Johnson are no longer capped at 50 games active on the NBA roster. That’s relevant for Champagnie, who has been on the fringe of the NBA rotation but is now out with a non-COVID illness, while it’s less relevant to Johnson, who is dealing with a calf injury bad enough to put him in a walking boot recently. Raptors 905 are not currently in action, as they pulled out of the G League Showcase in Las Vegas this week due to health and safety protocols.

Goodwin, Morgan and Waters are all players who might be familiar to NBA fans, or the G League die-hards, while Stauskas is, of course, a well-known Canadian player. What follows is a little bit about what each player could bring to the table these next 10 days. At least two more players could be added ahead of tip-off Wednesday.

Brandon Goodwin

Age: 26
Most recent team: Westchester Knicks (G League)
Position: Point guard
Height: Six feet | Weight: 180 lbs
Key 2021-22 stats: PPG: 15.3 | RPG: 5.1 | APG: 7.0 | SPG: 1.9 | 3FG%: 34.1 | TS%: 53.5
Key NBA stats (career): GP: 97 | PPG: 4.7 | RPG: 1.5 | APG: 1.7 | 3FG%: 30.6 | TS%: 48.3

Goodwin was the first name to surface for the Raptors, and it tipped the hand as to their strategy with these fill-in spots: Get players with a decent amount of experience who can acclimate quickly.

Goodwin has spent NBA time with Denver and Atlanta, Summer League time with Denver and Memphis, G League time with four different franchises and played at UCF and FGCU in college. He should be as adaptable to new situations as they come.

He also offers what the Raptors hope will be a steady pair of hands. Goodwin didn’t exactly pop in his NBA cups of coffee, but he was a regular member of the Hawks’ rotation and even saw some spot starts the last two years. The ability to create turnovers with ball pressure fits the Raptors’ defensive ethos, and while Goodwin’s limited size hurts him inside the arc, he’s shown real growth as an outside shooter in the G League, hitting 38.4 per cent on a significantly larger sample than he has in the NBA.

The task for Goodwin here will be to quickly adjust to a very supplementary guard role. He’s been a ball-dominant piece in the G League, and that’s come with turnover issues, but he’s generally protected the ball well in his NBA opportunities playing a more modest-usage role.

Initially just a depth addition with Banton out, the loss of VanVleet and Flynn on Tuesday could vault Goodwin into the actual rotation.

Juwan Morgan

Age: 24
Most recent team: Maine Celtics (G League)
Position: Forward
Height: Six-foot-seven | Weight: 232 lbs
Key 2021-22 stats: PPG: 12.6 | RPG: 7.0 | APG: 2.4 | SPG: 1.2 | 3FG%: 38.8 | TS%: 68.9
Key NBA stats (career): GP: 50 | PPG: 1.4 | RPG: 1.1 | 3FG%: 33.3 | TS%: 58.3

My favourite prospect on this list, Morgan is a great reminder that a G League box score line isn’t nearly as important as how that line may translate to an NBA role.

The scoring load doesn’t pop, but Morgan has been exceptionally efficient as a play-finisher and an emerging shooter, including a 6-of-11 performance beyond the arc over a pair of games against Raptors 905 earlier this month.

If the shooting is remotely real – always an if with small-sample G League growth – Morgan becomes interesting in a 2019-20 Paul Watson-ish sort of way.

What’s one more six-foot-seven, switchable defender with a seven-foot wingspan at the forward positions, right?

Morgan fits the Raptors bill in that regard, with good hands and a nose for weak-side help, and the ability to guard inside and out. He’s flashed interesting playmaking capability, too, making good reads attacking closeouts or even running the odd pick-and-roll. He’s a natural fit for the team’s transition game, too, as a hard rim-runner who forces defensive attention away from the ball-handler.

There’s a lot to like here. Had he not been slowed in Celtics camp by a hamstring injury, it’s possible he would have carved out a two-way deal somewhere. We’re not far removed from Morgan starting a pair of playoff games for the Jazz. While redundant on this roster when it’s healthy, he’s the most Raptors-y of the bunch, and the closest to being an NBA contributor, here or elsewhere.

Nik Stauskas

Age: 28
Most recent team: Grand Rapids Gold (G League)
Position: Shooting guard
Height: Six-foot-six | Weight: 205 lbs
Key 2021-22 stats: PPG: 21.3 | RPG: 5.8 | APG: 4.4 | 3FG%: 35.2 | TS%: 64.3
Key NBA stats (career): GP: 335 | PPG: 6.8 | RPG: 2.1 | APG: 1.5 | 3FG%: 35.3 | TS%: 52.7

It feels like Stauskas has been “A Potential Raptor” since entering the league in 2014.

He never came close to delivering on his lottery-pick stature, but he hasn’t strayed far from the NBA radar, only playing one season in Spain and then spending last year with Raptors 905 in the one-year-only veteran exception slot.

While Stauskas was excellent for the 905, the book on him remains fairly similar to when he was last in the NBA: He’s a shooting specialist who doesn’t shoot at an elite level.

In fairness, Stauskas has subsisted on a diet of difficult shots over two partial G League seasons, often creating for himself, all while carrying a larger share of lead-guard duties because of his experience and relatively low-turnover play.

Still, we’re talking about a nearly 1,500-attempt sample over the NBA, G League and pre-season/Summer League over which Stauskas has hit at a very average 35.4 per cent rate on threes.

He still fills an obvious need for the Raptors as a shooter with some size and another pair of hands who can initiate and create a bit for others. He’s improved in every non-shooting aspect of his offensive game over the last couple of seasons, and he was lethally efficient overall for the 905 and the Herd despite average outside shooting.

Stauskas vs. Kevin Pangos on Boxing Day is the stuff of early-2010s RealGM forum legend.

Tremont Waters

Age: 23
Most recent team: Wisconsin Herd (G League)
Position: Point guard
Height: Five-foot-10 | Weight: 175 lbs
Key 2021-22 stats: PPG: 17.2 | APG: 6.0 | SPG: 2.7 | 3FG%: 36.4 | TS%: 56.0
Key NBA stats (career): GP: 37 | PPG: 3.8 | APG: 2.1 | SPG: 0.7 | 3FG%: 30.6 | TS%: 48.3

Waters is a player I’ve loved in the G League over 2019-20 and 2021-22. He profiles similarly to Goodwin, if a bit younger – he’s (very) undersized and has shown the necessary three-point growth he’ll need to stick in the NBA, but only at the G League level.

Given his stature, finishing at the rim is never going to be a strong suit, and Waters needs the 35.7-per cent mark he’s hit on threes in the G League to be legitimate.

As a fill-in candidate, though, the Raptors’ attraction to Waters is easy to see – and not just because he’s a very small point guard. He is annoying defensively, with a monster penchant for steals. A former SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Waters has turned opponents over on 3.4 per cent of his defensive possessions at the NBA level and 3.1 per cent in the G League, after being one of the most prolific ball thieves in the nation over two seasons at LSU.

Don’t let one very bad game against the Raptors when he was with the Celtics sour you on Waters, Nick Nurse will likely use him to pressure the ball full-court, if he plays, and he’ll fit the transition attack the other way.

There’s not a ton of half-court scoring punch here, but we’re now talking about the 20th man. In that role, Waters could – and should, if opportunity knocks – play his way back onto the two-way contract radar for other teams.

Wednesday vs. Bulls

The Raptors will have something resembling the following available for Wednesday’s game against Chicago:

Guard: Stauskas, Goodwin, Waters
Wing/Forward: Anunoby, Mykhailiuk, Watanabe, Bonga, Morgan
Big: Boucher
Questionable: Birch
Out: VanVleet, Barnes, Siakam, Anunoby, Trent, Banton, Champagnie, Flynn, Johnson, Dragic

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