Delon Wright steps up in new role as leader of Raptors' second unit
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TORONTO — Early in the second quarter of Toronto's opening-night win over Chicago, Delon Wright pump-faked then drove to the hoop, tossing up an acrobatic basket that landed him on his back side and drew a whistle. Hitting the court with a thud, he flexed his biceps and grinned.
It was part of a 15-0 run by the Raptors' young bench that would prove to be the game-changer. It was also just one of numerous crafty plays by the 25-year-old, who will play a huge role for the Raptors this season. There was also his shifty zig-zag to the basket that ended in a sneaky pass to rookie OG Anunoby for a dunk.
"He just has an unorthodox gait about him that helps him," coach Dwane Casey said of his backup point man. "It kind of keeps you off balance . . . that unorthodox style really helps him with that.
"He's still growing, he's still going to be better, physically he's going to get stronger as he continues to get older. The young man is going to have a bright future in the NBA."
The Raptors showed their confidence in Wright when they shipped Canadian backup guard Cory Joseph to Indiana in the off-season. Wright was clearly ready for the responsibility. He had 13 points and five assists in 23 minutes on Thursday, and his glimpses of greatness certainly showed there was plenty more to come from the young player.
Wright credited 30-year-old veteran C.J. Miles for his constant encouragement.
"If I make a drive he says keep being aggressive," Wright said. "The more aggressive I am, the more shots (Miles) gets, the better the offence flows, things like that. I kind of need that sometimes for people to tell me to stay aggressive, sometimes I look to pass too much."
Toronto's season-opening victory came against a thin Bulls squad that had just nine active players at their disposal. The Raptors face what should be a much more difficult task on Saturday when the host the Philadelphia 76ers.
The young Sixers pushed the Washington Wizards to the wire in their opener. While they lost 120-115, centre Joel Embiid, who'd been angry about the team's plans to limit his minutes, exploded for 18 points and 13 boards, and rookie Ben Simmons gave the Wizards fits all night with his ability to get to the rim.
"There's going to be nights you have (mismatches)," Casey said about facing Philly. "They're going to have nightmares matching us, also. It goes both ways.
"What we want to do is offensively is be that nightmare matchup for them, to say: 'How are we going to guard that with DeMar DeRozan bringing the ball down the floor? So it works both ways. But we understand the size differential, Embiid out on the perimeter playing . . . the shooting four (power forward). But I also want to see them match up with us and see how they're going to guard certain situations for us."
DeRozan looked out of sorts Thursday night, finishing with 11 points and five assists. Perennially the team's top scorer, DeRozan is adjusting to the team's new offensive system — once the predictable plan of giving the ball to DeRozan or Kyle Lowry and letting them do their thing, it's now all about free-flowing ball movement.
"It's going to be maybe ugly early for those guys, and I know the thing is you lose a couple games and it's 'Why are we playing this style of play?' Naw," Casey said. "In the long run, it's going to be good. And DeMar is smart enough to figure it out as far as where his opportunities are.
"For him to be able to pass the ball the way he passes, the threat of him being able to score. . . it'll take a little while to get that rhythm, to get the reps in certain situations, to get into a sweet spot. We've just got to be patient."
The Raptors will be able to gauge their new offence against two of the best when it comes to ball movement next week. After Saturday, the team heads west for a six-game road trip that opens in San Antonio. The second game sees them face reigning NBA champion Golden State.
Said Casey: "It's going to be a different animal next week."