It usually takes a while for new players to get acclimated to the Toronto Raptors' system.
Nick Nurse and company run a complex hyper-aggressive defensive scheme that involves constant rotating and aggressively helping to slow down star players. That complexity is in part why the Raptors struggled so mightily to start the season, dropping eight of their first 10 games as new players tried to learn the system.
Now imagine trying to do condense that entire process into just 10 days with your NBA future on the line. That's essentially what life is like for players on 10-day contracts.
"It’s weird because you are just kind of like brought into a situation, you gotta learn a lot of stuff kind of quickly," said Freddie Gillespie, the newest member of the Raptors organization who is eight days into his 10-day contract with the team. "It’s just a lot of quick learning."
The Raptors have already gone through two 10-days this season. First, they signed Donta Hall in late February who subsequently failed to play a single minute for Toronto before his contract expired. Then in March, Toronto signed Henry Ellenson to a 10-day before ultimately letting him go once his deal was up.
This time, however, things feel a little different. Gillespie has played 58 minutes over the last four games and a lot of those have been meaningful action. While he's still made his fair share of mistakes, the kind you'd expect from a player who has been around the organization for just eight days, he's certainly caught the attention of Nurse and the Raptors.
"Well, he was interesting. I think that two things really stood out, maybe three, but one was he's a really good screener, man, he was crushing people on screens over and over again which was nice to see and he's got really strong hands," Nurse said of Gillespie on April 10. "Anytime the ball would get near him, he’s got some big hands and some strong hands he gobbled it up pretty quick. And I'd say the last thing was I thought he made some really good defensive rotations both inside and on the perimeter, he just kind of kept playing hard."
Gillespie was a bit of a late starter when it came to basketball, but he said he's always had a knack for getting rebounds. It was one of the ways he could really make a difference when he was first starting out in high school, using his size and body to outmuscle his much smaller counterparts in the paint.
That knack has carried over into his very brief NBA career and it's one of the ways he's made an impact for Toronto. Not only has he shown some rebounding skills, but he's shown an ability to grab the most valuable rebounds, albeit in a small sample size.
Contrary to what NBA box scores suggest, not all rebounds are created the same. Take for example the two rebounds in the clip below.
That first rebound involves absolutely zero skill and if Gillespie wasn't there to grab the ball someone else would have with essentially the same result. On the other hand, that second rebound involved a relatively high degree of difficulty. Gillespie had to box out and grab a contested offensive rebound before passing it inside for an assist.
That's what has made Gillespie's brief Toronto tenure impressive. Although he's only grabbed a total of 14 rebounds in four games, eight of those have been contested rebounds, per NBA Stats. Essentially 57% of his rebounds have been contested compared to uncontested rebounds. For comparison, no other Raptors player save for Jalen Harris has contested rebounds make up over 50% of their rebounding total and Chris Boucher has the second-highest ratio on the team at 42.6%. On a per minute basis, again, small sample size caviats aside, Gillespie is leading the Raptors in contested rebounds grabbed.
This isn't to say that Gillespie is going to be a star with Toronto and frankly he might not even be around next week, but he's certainly showing the kind of effort and hustle that helps players in his position stick in the league. He's a hard-nosed rebounder and on a team that has been so abysmal at rebounding this season, it's refreshing to see a player like Gillespie getting some playing time.