The Toronto Raptors plan to force the likes of Sam Dekker, Ishmail Wainright, and Isaac Bonga to battle it out with 2020-21 holdovers Yuta Watanabe and Freddie Gillespie for one of the final three spots on the opening night roster. While that plan is still in motion, that group now faces even longer odds of contributing this season thanks to Svi Mykhailiuk.
After putting up some solid scoring numbers with the Oklahoma City Thunder last season, Mykhailiuk agreed to a deal that includes a player option for the 2022-23 season. This is hinting at the strong possibility that Mykhailiuk is a lock to make the final roster, as his ability to shoot and defend has served him well.
The Raptors will almost assuredly start Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. in the backcourt, with Malachi Flynn and Goran Dragic (for the time being) coming off of the bench. Expect rookie sensation Scottie Barnes to handle the ball plenty and second-rounder Dalano Banton to get some minutes.
One player that might get his minutes squeezed away as a result of the Mykhailiuk signing is Watanabe, who played 78% of his minutes last year at the shooting guard or small forward spots Mykhailiuk now looks to occupy. Can Watanabe still carve out some playing time?
Will the Toronto Raptors give Svi Mykhailiuk minutes over Yuta Watanabe?
Watanabe averaged 4.4 points and 3.2 rebounds per game last season, and he improved his offensive game to the point where he finished with efficient shooting splits of 44% overall and 40% from 3-point range.
Still, it’s fair to say at this point that Mykhailiuk is a better scorer and offensive player, and on a team where the offense might have more questions around it than the defense, that could give him an edge.
In terms of both points scored and points allowed per 100 possessions, the Raptors’ best alignment when they had Watanabe on the floor was when he was used as a big shooting guard, per Cleaning the Glass (subscription required).
Watanabe is blocked by Barnes at a handful of positions, either Dragic or Flynn at shooting guard, Mykhailiuk as a wing, and Chris Boucher at power forward, where Watanabe dabbled last year.
Yuta’s best chance at playing meaningful minutes involves the Raptors moving Barnes to a full-time point guard spot and making Mykhailiuk exclusively an off-ball shooting guard. This would allow Yuta to slide over to small forward, using his unique blend of effort and hustle on the defensive end to cause problems while continuing to grow as a shooter.
While Mykhailiuk is likely going to be a part of Toronto’s rotation next year, eating up minutes at the expense of players like Watanabe, he proved last year that he belongs in this league, and if Nick Nurse makes a few changes with how minutes get assigned, Yuta could beat out some of the other “partial guarantees” and stick with Toronto for 2021-22.