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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.
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?
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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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.
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.
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.