COLUMNS Raptors 905, Jerry Stackhouse commanding league-wide respect
BY VIVEK JACOBS, RAPTORS REPUBLIC
The Raptors 905 have become a model G League franchise.
They are the defending champions, regularly transition players to their parent club, and have now hosted the G League Showcase for the second straight year.
This is Masai Ujiri’s dream realized. The Toronto Raptors as an organization have prided themselves on stability since his arrival, showing undying faith in those they believe in, without ever doing so at the risk of hijacking the future.
That the years ahead already appear so stable despite not having a draft pick in 2013 and all but one (Jakob Poeltl) of their six picks higher than 20 since is a testament to their commitment to development. In the case of the Raptors, they’ve made it imperative that you can’t spell development without the G League.
OG Anunoby is the only draft pick since 2012 to have not played a game for the affiliate team, and for good reason. Small forward has been a position of weakness for the Raptors for at least a decade, and his play through a bit over half the season has more than validated his starting spot over the likes of Norman Powell and C.J. Miles.
By normalizing assignments to the G League, what the Raptors have done better than anyone is remove the negative stigma of being “sent down.” Instead of riding the pine and trying to learn through osmosis, players are able to participate in game situations and improve on their individual games with usage rates that allow them to make mistakes and grow from them.
Elton Brand, a 17-year NBA veteran who starred for the Los Angeles Clippers, is now the general manager of Philadelphia’s affiliate club, the Delaware 87ers. He was effusive in his praise of the 905 and the way they’ve managed their youth.
“There are a few teams we look at and learn from and the 905 is certainly one of them,” Brand said. “When their young guys are not playing (for the Raptors), they’re in the G League working. When they come up, they’re contributing to the club. We see that and take note. You can also point to it and say, hey, this guy was drafted here, this guy was drafted there and still played X amount of G League minutes.”
One area of the 905 that makes it hard to look at being assigned to the G League as a demotion is the man who stands tall as the head coach. Jerry Stackhouse has brought a work ethic and discipline to the 905 system that pushes players to their limits, and when you’re at that highest point of resistance, that’s when you can achieve growth.
New York Knicks legend Allan Houston is currently the general manager of the Westchester Knicks, and he broke down what he thinks has been the key to Stackhouse’s success.
“The G League is about forming a structure that the players can build their talent around and he’s been able to do that,” Houston said. “A lot of it, too, is about building a level of discipline. That’s the kind of player he was. You’re dealing with players who are here, but don’t see themselves here. You want to play as long as possible when you’re in the NBA, but here, you have to find a level of structure, discipline and motivation — which is probably the biggest — to get them to want to do the things you want them to do.
That’s essentially where he’s formed a niche.”
During the 905’s championship run last year, there was plenty of talent on hand. Axel Toupane has had a couple of cups of coffee with NBA teams, Brady Heslip is one of the best shooters the G League has ever seen, Edy Tavares was a commanding presence in Stackhouse’s defensive system, while VanVleet and Siakam also found time to contribute. Bruno settled into his role as a 3-and-D guy, but took every inch given to him in the clinching game and turned it into a 31-point, 11 rebound performance to bring home the trophy.
With all those options, the 905 still employed an egalitarian style of play as well as minutes distribution. 10 players who played a minimum of 30 games last season played at least 18 minutes per game. 16 different players had the opportunity to start a game, and Stackhouse consistently communicated with players over DNP-CD’s which were designed to not only manage rest, but maximize the players’ opportunities when they were given the chance to play.
Malik Rose, the former San Antonio Spur and NBA champion is GM of the Erie Bayhawks, and he knows Stackhouse too well to expect any different.
“I know Stack personally and I know he wouldn’t coach it any other way,” Rose said. “All his stops have been like that. He was lucky enough and talented enough to separate himself as the best player on many teams, but he’s coaching that acronym that together everyone achieves more — T.E.A.M. — it helped him, it really did.
This year, they’ve won 10 in a row now, and no one really wanted to see them coming into the Showcase, and it’s going to get a lot worse (for opponents) in the second half of the year as they continue to get better.”
As the 905 learned over the course of the summer and early into the 2017-18 season, though, success at the G League level does come at the cost of your best assets becoming more sought after. Only Bruno Caboclo and Negus Webster-Chan remain from the championship winning roster of last season. Toupane, Tavares and Heslip all got deals in Europe and others found new homes as well.
The Mississauga club had to rebuild without those centrepieces, and after taking some time to figure things out, they’re starting to fire on all cylinders. While Stackhouse has shown he’s able to squeeze out every last drop from his rosters, what he and the front office have done this season in getting in pieces that he can work with and slot into roles that don’t ask the players to step outside their bounds and continue the team ethos is another feather in his coaching cap.
Brand, for one, feels it’s only a matter of time before it’s not just 905 players who are scooped up.
“I expect Jerry Stackhouse to get a professional coaching job or a top head coach college job if he wants it very soon. His players respect him, he knows how to win. I know executives are aware of him and they’re taking note.”