The Toronto Raptors have some gaping holes to fill on their roster after the July exodus to Los Angeles of two of their starters. They’ve taken fliers on some young, second-draft worthy prospects like Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in the hopes that their renowned player development can help mold these new additions into capable rotation players.
Thus far, it is a work in progress. And that’s putting it mildly.
When asked about how Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson have adjusted to being Raptors so far, head coach Nick Nurse did not mince words in his response.
I asked Nick Nurse about how the new guys are fitting in, namely Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. This was not exactly a ringing endorsement: pic.twitter.com/GqAsHTCISc
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) October 16, 2019
The Raptors lost two All-Defense wings from last season’s team, including two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard, so they have a high standard to live up to. That’s the side of the ball, however, where Hollis-Jefferson was supposed to make an impact. The former Net was one of the least effective offensive players in the league last season (per Cleaning the Glass, he ranked in the 1st percentile among bigs in points per shot attempt), but he was a meaningful contributor on defense. Hollis-Jefferson had the third-best defensive rating on the Nets last year, and he has the physical tools to be a stopper on threes and fours.
Johnson, another Arizona product, has also struggled mightily on offense during his NBA career. The Pistons have desperately needed offensive wings throughout his tenure to surround Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, and Reggie Jackson, but Johnson hasn’t been able to produce. Like Hollis-Jefferson, he’s rated above-average as a defender. However, neither former Wildcat seems ready for primetime in Toronto.
Even if Hollis-Jefferson and Johnson have been struggling in practice, it’s rare to hear a head coach be so brutal in a public assessment of his players. Nurse has been slightly unorthodox as a coach thus far by employing sliding starting lineups and breaking out a box-and-one defense in the postseason, but this level of honesty may be his most surprising turn yet.