Pressure is something that every NBA player has to deal with throughout their careers, but rarely is it more prevalent than when a hometown kid has to fight for his contract.
Dalano Banton entered Las Vegas Summer League with a lot of pressure on him as the starting point guard and the team leader, especially after Justin Champagnie went down with a thumb injury. Banton was given an opportunity to stand out and showcase what he has worked on since the last time we saw him playing for the Raptors 905 back in April, doing all that for his hometown team at just 22 years of age. Considering that Banton has an non-guaranteed contract heading into next season and that the fight for the final few roster spots is going to be super competitive, Banton had a lot of pressure on him in order to get a head start in the race for a vaunted NBA contract.
Banton wasn’t perfect at Summer League, but there were more moments when he looked out of place as a result of being too good for the competition rather than looking out of place as a result of lagging behind, and that alone is pretty good for a second-year point guard who was selected 46th overall in the 2021 NBA Draft.
Banton averaged team-highs of 16.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 4.8 turnovers, and two steals in 29.2 minutes per game over four Summer League contests, leading the Raptors to a 4-1 record (he didn’t play in the fifth and final game). He looked comfortable running the team and did a good job balancing his own aggressive scoring with the ability to get his teammates involved and put them in good positions to succeed, which is always a difficult balance to manage for point guards transitioning to the pros.
Most importantly, Banton showed real improvement when it comes to his two most important “swing skills,” which are skills that prospects need to correct in order for them to reach their potential and succeed in the NBA. For Banton, who came into the league as a tall point guard with sneaky athleticism and brilliant playmaking chops, his swing skills are ball-handling and three-point shooting, as he would have to improve at least one of them in order to unlock the best version of himself — the handle for success on the ball, and the shooting for success playing off of it. In Summer League, both of those skills looked dramatically improved.
Let’s explore Banton’s Summer League performance in more detail, using clips to help break down his strengths, weaknesses, and what we can expect of him heading into next season.
It’s always difficult for a 6-foot-9 point guard to get low enough to dribble into tight spaces without getting their pocket picked because the amount of time it takes for the ball to travel from the floor to their hands leaves lots of room for smaller defenders to knock it loose.
Ball handling is something that Banton struggled with last season, preferring to turn his back to the basket in half-court settings because he didn’t have the confidence to face-up his defender, limiting his ability to survey the court and drive into the paint. When he did face-up, Banton turned the ball over far too often, averaging 2.7 turnovers per 36 minutes with the Raptors and 3.1 turnovers per 36 minutes with the Raptors 905 last season, culminating in a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio with both the parent club and the development team, a number that isn’t good enough for a backup point guard, especially on a team that values winning the possession battle as much as the Raptors do.
Fortunately, Banton looked significantly more comfortable handling the ball in Summer League, facing-up opponents instead of turning his back to them and using his burst and athleticism to drive into the paint at will. Banton can still get turned over once he drives into tight spaces — more on that later — but it was promising to see him get so many paint touches because it unlocks so many aspects of his game that Banton is already really good at, including his finishing at the rim, his ability to draw contact and get to the free-throw line (4.5 times a game), and his ability to make plays for teammates as he dished out 4.3 assists per game.
Banton’s handle isn’t yet at the point where he can drive into multiple bodies without a plan, but it’s come a very long way since getting drafted just one year ago, and ball-handling tends to be a skill that takes many years for taller players to develop, with Pascal Siakam being a good example of someone who came into the league with a raw handle and has worked on it to the point where he knows exactly what he is capable of and what he isn’t. Banton will get there, and the progress he has already made is promising and should enable him to succeed with the ball in his hands at the NBA level.
Succeeding with the Raptors as an on-ball player is one thing, but considering the amount of more experienced players they have who are better and can make more plays with the ball in their hands than Banton can right now, it’s crucial that Banton figures out how to succeed off the ball if he is going to play with the Raptors as soon as next season. Realistically, he figures to be one of several ball-handlers on the court at any given time, and given the lack of spacing at the other positions, the biggest thing that Banton can do to prove that he can play off-ball is knock down open threes.
While Summer League head coach Trevor Gleeson said that Banton is still more advanced on the ball than off of it, Banton is getting better at affecting the game when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, and a big part of that is his improved shooting. After taking just 2.6 three-point attempts per 36 minutes with the Raptors, hitting 25.5 percent of them, Banton worked on that aspect of his game with the 905, attempting 4.3 threes per 36 minutes and splashing 39.3 percent of them. He continued that development into Summer League, attempting 4.0 threes per 36 minutes and hitting 36.2 percent of them.
Banton mixed it up by hitting some pull-up threes when his defender went under a screen and in transition, and he looked way more confident and comfortable getting set and shooting catch-and-shoot threes, sometimes from really long distances. Given where Banton’s shot was when he came to the Raptors, this is a huge improvement and proof of all the hard work he has been putting in behind the scenes.
There are other things besides shooting that Banton will need to do in order to succeed off the ball with the Raptors — things like cutting and passing and defence— but those are things that the heady Banton is already good at and that the Raptors have in spades. The outside shooting is his biggest swing skill for Banton to improve if he is going to succeed as an off-ball player for the Raptors, but his unique skill set gives him the versatility to theoretically play either on ball or off of it, which is something the Raptors value.
Giving and taking possessions
One thing Gleeson mentioned multiple times during Summer League was that while Banton has an innate ability to get past his man into the paint, he has to improve his decision-making once he gets there. And that’s borne out by the numbers, as Banton averaged more turnovers than assists in the tournament, totalling 19 turnovers to 17 assists.
To be fair, Banton is naturally a risky playmaker who tries and often succeeds threading the needle with some of his passes, and that can be refreshing on a team with a lot of risk-averse passers. Plus, some of Banton’s turnovers were due to a lack of team chemistry and his teammates simply not being ready for some of Banton’s passes, which caught newer players like Christian Koloko off-guard.
But as the film below will demonstrate, a lot of Banton’s 19 turnovers were on him, either as a result of his handle not being advanced enough to drive into multiple bodies or as a result of the bad decisions he made after picking up his dribble.
Banton will have to make better decisions with the ball if the Raptors are going to feel comfortable giving him more opportunities to run the team. After all, the Raptors value winning the possession battle maybe more than any other team, and a huge part of that involves taking care of the ball themselves, which Banton has struggled to do throughout his career.
Still, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has talked about Banton’s ability to become more of a defensive specialist, using his length and speed to disrupt the game on that end. And Banton did just that in Summer League, hounding ball-handlers, getting in passing lanes, and attacking the glass to average two steals and two offensive rebounds per game, helping the Raptors win back some of those possessions that he coughed up with his turnovers. That defensive playmaking is one way that Banton can make up for some of his risky playstyle with the Raptors, especially considering how much Nurse values defence and length on that end.
With all the pressure on him, Banton stood out at Summer League, improving in the two areas of his game that matter most when it comes to reaching his potential and succeeding in the NBA. Banton will need to continue taking steps forward as a ball-handler, shooter, and decision-maker, but the Raptors should be pleased by the progress he has made, and that should put him in a prime position to win one of the final few roster spots with his hometown team.
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