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DeAndre Bembry Jersey

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Toronto is nothing if not predictable. Transit continues to be poorly managed at seemingly every level. Bars, restaurants, and venues shutter for the ever-expanding sprawl of condominiums and gentrification. And Raptors fans get geeked at the arrival of an athlete who puts their body on the line in the name of hustle. DeAndre’ Bembry is the newest athlete to bear that mark and if his the few preseason games he’s played are going to serve as any indication of what’s to come, Toronto is going to fall in love hard and fast.

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But who is DeAndre’ Bembry? Raptors fans would be excused if they hadn’t been indulging in the requisite amount of Atlanta Hawks games over the last four years in order to find out, so let’s break down some of the highs and lows of Bembry’s game.

Highs

Defense
DeAndre Bembry is a vintage Raptors player — one who excels on one end of the court while offering glimpses of excellence on the other. Defense has been Bembry’s calling card since his college days at Saint Joseph’s and though his professional advanced metrics don’t jump off the page, there’s only so much someone can do when they share the floor with Trae Young and John Collins.

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This Toronto team will be a stress test of Bembry’s individual abilities vs. his ability to conform to a hyper-aggressive defensive scheme that demands precision execution. Like Aron Baynes, who is also a stout defender and has yet to find his footing, it’s going to take some reps to learn this very complicated defense. With that learning curve, Bembry’s strengths will be momentarily buried in stretches where he looks lost or out of place which will lead to a “time will tell” scenario — will Bembry be able to reign in some of his gambling tendencies in order to stay within the Raptors very tight system?

Hustle
With the departure of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the Raptors were left with a gaping void in the hustle department. This isn’t a knock against current players on the roster, but more of a testament to the prodigious levels of hustle that RHJ brought to the club.

The Toronto Raptors have a tendency to make under-the-radar signings that pay dividends in the long run and DeAndre’ Bembry stands to become the latest example.

MORE: Fast facts on Bembry

 

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According to reports from ESPN’s Adam Schefter and The Athletic’s Blake Murphy, the 6-foot-5 wing is set to join the Raptors on a two-year deal worth the veteran’s minimum, with the second year of the deal not guaranteed.

Welcome to the squad, @fearthefro95. #WeTheNorth 📰 » https://t.co/r8l8ZlZp0a pic.twitter.com/DqbPCc4UvP

– Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) November 29, 2020
It’s a low-risk, high-reward signing as the Raptors get a player that they planned to work out ahead of the 2016 NBA Draft, where he was taken with the No. 21 overall pick, six spots ahead of Pascal Siakam.

Three of Bembry’s four years in Atlanta were impacted negatively by circumstance and injury but the 2018-19 season saw him appear in all 82 games (15 starts), posting averages of 8.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 23.5 minutes per game.

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This past season, Bembry appeared in 43 games for the Hawks before his season came to an early end due to injury. Overall, his season averages took a dip but early on in the season, he put forth one of the best performances of his young career, finishing with 18 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and two steals in a nine-point loss to the Miami Heat.

MORE: What Alex Len brings to the Raptors

It was a quintessential DeAndre’ Bembry performance. Not because of the numbers – it would be unwise to expect a near triple-double from most anyone on a nightly basis, let alone a player on a veteran’s minimum deal – but in doing a little bit of everything, Bembry showed exactly what he brings to a team.

Grit. Hustle. Toughness. Athleticism.

For a team like the Raptors, who led the league in transition scoring last season, an athlete like Bembry can be a very valuable addition. Looking back to his performance against Miami, he first put his athleticism on display towards the end of the first quarter, getting out in the open floor to finish way above the rim, beating the clock in the process.

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– Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) October 31, 2019
He’d get back above the rim later on in the game, too, attacking the baseline for a finish off of a kick out from Jabari Parker.

DeAndre’ Bembry sees the opening baseline! 💥 4th quarter NEXT on @NBAonTNT pic.twitter.com/6zM1tS5UGf

– NBA (@NBA) November 1, 2019
Now, imagine it’s Bembry spacing out in the corner off of a pick-and-roll with either Kyle Lowry or Fred VanVleet as the ballhandler, and picture the possibilities of him having even more opportunities to attack in the half-court. It’s something we’ve seen from OG Anunoby and Norman Powell from the exact same position and with his athleticism, Bembry can execute in a similar manner.

His finishes aren’t just limited to dunks, either. See Bembry put his toughness and dexterity on full display as he contorts his body to score despite a tough contest from Jimmy Butler.

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– Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) November 1, 2019
Rewatch the play and you’ll see that it’s Bembry’s hustle that makes it all possible.

In a scramble back on defence in transition, Bembry initially causes chaos by playing the passing lane on a Bam Adebayo outlet to Kendrick Nunn. Though Bembry fishes and misses out on a potential deflection or steal, he has thrown Nunn off-balance, buying time to recover, which, ultimately results in the forced turnover and transition bucket.

This level of hustle is on-brand for Bembry. Similar to the manner in which fans fell in love with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson last season, they will develop an affinity for Bembry and his tendency to make positive hustle plays like the one above, and one that came earlier in the same game.

Herein lies the highest of highs of DeAndre Bembry’s game. A fixture in the top-50 players in the league in deflections, Bembry’s 6’9” wingspan and, at times, overactive gambling nature means he’s always a threat in the passing lanes as evidenced by his 2.1 steals Per/36 averaged over his last two seasons.

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Passing
While his assist to turnover ratio leaves a lot to be desired, Bembry has shown flashes of being an above average passer, specifically out of the pick and roll where he developed chemistry with fellow Raptor newcomer, Alex Len while playing in Atlanta.

With Fred VanVleet’s emergence propelling him into the starting unit, Toronto has struggled with ball handling off the bench and this is an area where Bembry can immediately contribute. What minutes will be available to showcase these skills remains to be seen with Toronto’s glut of guards.

Lows
Offense
While all of the highs listed above are certainly true about Bembry’s game, there was a reason why he was available on such an affordable contract this offseason. Save for his incredible amount of hustle and willingness to pass the ball with the occasional spot of flair, DeAndre’s offensive game is not pretty. With a 45/27/59 shooting slash, Bembry struggles to shoot the ball from all over the floor. Moreover, his sub-100 offensive rating leaves a lot to be desired, but there is the distinct possibility that, like his defensive advanced metrics, that might have more to do with playing with the Hawks than anything else.

Thankfully, not much will be expected out of Bembry on the offensive end as he will surely be a fourth or fifth option with pretty much whomever he happens to share the floor with. And that — that is where Bembry shines. With the spotlight pointed at every other Raptor on the floor, Bembry’s opportunities will come in the form of loose balls, tipped passes and early clock steals off of the opposing team’s rebound. If he can provide that, then he will more than justify being on the floor on the offensive end of the court.

No Nickname
Possibly most importantly, according to Basketball Reference, DeAndre’ Bembry has no nickname. This is unacceptable for a player who fits so snuggly into the hustle role and, quite frankly, will absolutely not to cut it in Toronto if there is any hope for a lasting impact. A collective effort is going to have to be undertaken by Raptors Twitter, but a pal of mine called him Teen Wolf in a group chat and that’s just too perfect not to stick.

What does all of this amount to for Bembry’s season with the Raptors? With the logjam of guards on Toronto’s bench, Teen Wolf’s (gotta start somewhere) minutes will likely be sporadic as coach Nick Nurse has been known to ride the proverbial hot hand when it comes to his bench players. Bembry will be fighting for that 8th through 12th spot with Patrick McCaw, Malachi Flynn, Matt Thomas and [redacted] so an expectation of around 13 to 16 minutes per game isn’t out of the question.

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Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby.

OK, back to reality.

Few — if any — teams in the NBA are better at developing talent than the Toronto Raptors. In each of the past two seasons, the organization has had players in the Most Improved Player discussion, with Pascal Siakam winning the award two years ago.

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Heading into this season, no player on the Raptors roster looks better positioned for a breakout — Most Improved Player worthy — season than the 23-year-old Anunoby. Vegas has him at 20/1 odds of winning the award, the sixth highest in the NBA, implying about a 5% chance of it happening.

So what exactly does an Anunoby breakout season look like?

Offensive Development

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Anunoby is a modern NBA offensive darling. He averaged 10.6 points per game last season while taking over 90% of his shots either behind the 3-point line or at the rim. He was essentially a highly efficient role player who was assisted on the vast majority of his points.

This year, the Raptors will likely ask a little bit more from Anunoby who should see his usage rate climb from 14%. For him to succeed, it will require a little more offensive creativity, something Anunoby is preparing for.

“Just being more aggressive, looking for my own shot, looking to get other people involved,” he said.

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He said he spent much of the offseason working on shooting off the dribble, ball handling, and passing on the move, the kind of stuff he’ll be required to do with the ball in his hands a little more this year.

In his introductory session with the media on Friday morning, Raptors assistant coach Chris Finch explained what he thought went into a good NBA offence.

“To me, the most important thing right now is to be highly unpredictable,” Finch said.

“When you get to the playoffs, everybody knows who you are and what you do and what you do well. That’s where they start to try to stop you.

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“So the more randomness that you can have, the more purpose within that randomness, more structure that you can have, it’s always great but at some point, the game comes down to you playing basketball and some sort of random mindset.

“If you can do that really well from the beginning it’s really hard for teams to guard you. That’s been one of the calling cards of a lot of the teams I’ve been associated with, is that we’ve been able to maintain that type of unpredictability.”

A few hours later, one possible piece of that unpredictability puzzle sat in the same chair and wondered about his future.

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“I think so,” OG Anunoby said about the possibility of having an increased role in the Raptors’ offence this year.

“Just be more aggressive looking for my own shot, looking to get other people involved. Just trying to do more. I think so.”

If good offence is about wrinkles and throwing the unexpected at your opponent, Anunoby might be the perfect candidate for the role. He heads into his fourth season in the league, all of them with the Raptors, with potential still radiating from his six-foot-seven, 232-pound frame.

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It’s funny in a sense that after building a reputation as the team’s top defender over the last three years that it’s a half-a-second of offence that’s attached itself to him. Type his name into Google and the autocomplete instantly tries to take you back three months to the bubble, where his buzzer beater in Game 3 against the Celtics instantly became one of the top highlights of the playoffs.

“It was a cool moment. Looking back on it was exciting, it was fun,” he said.

“But we lost the series.”

At the start of a new season, there’s finally an opportunity to get past that lost series and to start fresh. Anunoby said he’s worked more on his ball handling, shooting off of the dribble and passing on the move. He also may have made training camp history by being the first athlete to say that he hadn’t put on weight over the off-season. He said that he strengthened his core and worked on individual leg strength while keeping his weight the same.

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With the change that’s come with this new season, in Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka going to L.A. to play for the Lakers and Clippers, respectively, there’s room for Anunoby to grow, to take on more responsibility on and off the court. Finishing out the season in the bubble, he started to show signs that he was ready to take those next steps.

In the playoffs, he surpassed his career averages of 7.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, and an assist per game with 10.5 points, 6.9 rebounds 1.2 blocks and assists and one steal per game. He shot 41.5 per cent from three in the playoffs, compared to the 39 per cent he shot during the season. Keep in mind he does these things while often defending the opposition’s best players on the other end of the floor.

A year older and further up the ladder of vets on the team, there’s plenty of opportunity for Anunoby to continue to evolve, to be that element of unpredictability and help his teammates.

“I think every year in the league, I try to be a better leader than I was the year before,” he said.

“I try to show the young guys the way. If they need help they can ask me. I think I lead by example, more than a guy that’ll be yelling and screaming. I just try to do things the right way. I know how we do things, like drills and practice stuff. I just try to show the guys who don’t know. They can watch me and figure it out or they can ask me for help and I’ll help them.

“When I was young and I got here and I didn’t know what to do I could look at Pascal (Siakam) and ask him what to do, or ask Norm what to do and they’d help me figure it out. It’s just passing on what I’m taught.”

“I thought he started to become more of a driver, getting by people on the catch or making a move and getting by people,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of Anunoby’s performance in the NBA’s Orlando Bubble last year. “There’s probably a midrange game in there that he could find, I know he’s working on.”

While it’s unlikely Anunoby ever becomes a 20 points per game scorer, a little more shot creation to increase his scoring to 15 points per game would make a massive difference for Toronto and could vault him into MIP consideration.

Defensive Development

Anunoby is already one of the NBA’s premier defensive players. He’s a true 3-and-D player who can guard almost anyone on the court.

One through four, Anunoby has no issue stopping the opposing team’s best player. This season though, with Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol playing in Los Angeles, it’s expected that Anunoby will see a little more time defending centres.

Last year, Anunoby defended opposing centres on about 14% of his defensive possessions, according to Krishna Narsu. His most notable stretch against opposing bigs came in the playoffs when the Raptors opted to go small against the Boston Celtics, playing Anunoby at the five against Daniel Theis.

It worked pretty well for Toronto, who held the Celtics to just 101 points per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass. It was, however, a bit of a learning experience for Anunoby who gave up some easy lob passes down low to Theis.

“Just gotta be strong, gotta be on my feet, just ready to go, ready to protect the rim, ready to get back to my man because I know [Theis] got some lobs from me stepping up too early,” Anunoby said, reflecting on the matchup. “Just learning from those situations, knowing to stunt, get back, just knowing what to do, reading the situation.”

Anunoby’s ability to hold his own against opposing bigs for extended stretches will likely be an X-factor this season both for the Raptors as a team and for Anunoby’s development into an all-star caliber player this season.