With the Toronto Raptors now officially eliminated from play-in contention, the organization has fully shifted its attention toward evaluation and development.
Toronto knows what it has in its top four or so guys who aside from Kyle Lowry will all certainly be back next season and contributing for the Raptors for the years to come. What the Raptors now what to see is who deserves a spot alongside Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam, and more importantly how good can those players become.
The biggest thing Raptors coach Nick Nurse wants to see from those depth players is some development of their best traits. He's not asking for these less talented players to become off-the-dribble marksmen or multi-talented stars, he just wants them to take the things they're good at right now and improve them a little bit.
"Most of the time, it's let's make sure you're doing what we see as your strengths and staying away from your weaknesses so you can play well and you can play well for the team," Nurse said. "And then you kinda keep inching forward with some other things."
We'll take Yuta Watanabe for example, Toronto's defence-first wing who has a non-guaranteed contract for next season. With Watanabe, Nurse wants to see that defence continue to stay strong with a little more offensive development as a tertiary.
"Can they be an effective part of an offense? We can't play 4-on-5 down there. Can they knock down shots when they're totally left and they're double-teaming off ya? Can you not make mistakes in the offense? You've gotta be limiting turnovers," Nurse said. "Do you understand the offense? Are you keeping the rhythm going of it?"
For Watanabe, especially lately, the answer to most of those questions has been yes. He's learned to be less hesitant with the ball and he's begun letting it fly when open shots and advantages present themselves. For the season, he's shooting 41.9% from behind the arc, but that number has jumped to 51.1% over the last 16 games.
Watanabe's development and that of a few other bench players has allowed Nurse to find some joy in these strange times even as the losses continue to mount.
"I’m extremely optimistic," he said Monday. "I think we have an incredible group of talented young guys and we’ve got a group that’s growing day by day."
Four games isn't a lot of time to develop and frankly playing well in these last few relatively meaningless games doesn't move the needle too much for the Raptors going forward, but it can't hurt to end the season on the right foot and head into the summer feeling a little bit better about the future of the organization.