Photo Credit: John Peterson

Padding the Stats: Summer League, Dalano Banton and Making Dreams Come True

August 18, 2021

The NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League wrapped up on Wednesday night as the Sacramento Kings blew out the Boston Celtics in the championship game.

The Toronto Raptors, featuring former Husker Dalano Banton, wrapped up their run in Vegas on Wednesday as well with an 86-72 win over the Brooklyn Nets. Toronto had a strong showing, finishing 4-1.

Individually, Banton stuffed the stat sheet but also showed the weaknesses that held him back in college. He averaged 7.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.4 blocks in 22.4 minutes per game. His best performance, oddly enough, came in Toronto’s loss: 10 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks in 23 minutes against Golden State.

On Wednesday, Toronto’s second-year point guard Malachi Flynn sat out after running the show as the primary ball-handler in the first four games. In his absence, Toronto handed the keys to Banton as the starting point guard and ran a lot of stuff through him. That allowed him to do things like this:

And this:

“I feel like just getting better game by game was a big thing for me coming into Summer League, and not having the great start that I wanted, just kind of showing everything I can do all around,” Banton said during the postgame TV interview. “Coach is putting me in positions and the game’s translating to a position-less game so kind of just having me out there playing a lot of positions, trying to get other guys involved, using my length to rebound and stuff like that. So just trying to show an all-around game of what I can do and just being a taller guard that’s very versatile.”

While Banton stuffed the stat sheet, he wasn’t particularly efficient while doing it. He shot just 36.2% from the field including 0-of-12 from deep and 41.7% (5-of-12) from the free-throw line. He also averaged 3.0 turnovers.

Banton is very clearly still a project. He has a lot of work to do in the weight room building up his body and in the practice gym refining his jump shot before he’ll be ready to make an impact at the NBA level. Heck, if the shot never develops he may never be an NBA rotation player. But he showed enough to have Toronto fans excited about what he might become.

The Raptors’ brass seems to feel the same way. I was told Toronto promised him before the draft, and they gave him a multi-year deal as opposed to sliding him into a two-way slot (which allows the player to split time between the NBA team and it’s G League affiliate and the pay structure depends on which team the player is with at the time). Toronto’s second second-round pick, David Johnson, went 47th (one spot behind Banton) and he did sign a two-way contract. I think that indicates the level of investment Toronto has in Banton.

Looking at the second round, there were two players drafted ahead of Banton that signed two-way contracts instead of multi-year NBA deals and there are three players who haven’t signed at all to this point. Of the last 15 picks in the draft, Banton is one of just three players to sign a multi-year contract. The rest signed two-way deals or haven’t signed at all yet.

That doesn’t mean we should expect to see Banton playing real minutes from day one. Outside of Banton, Toronto has 10 players with guaranteed contracts and five players with non-guaranteed deals. Toronto will either need to trade somebody (Goran Dragic may or may not be in Toronto once the season rolls around) or cut somebody from that non-guaranteed group to get to the limit of 15.

If Dragic remains with the Raptors, Banton will have Fred Van Vleet, Dragic, Flynn and Gary Trent Jr. ahead of him in the backcourt and OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam as rotation wings/forwards. Banton will likely be battling with whichever of Yuta Watanabe, Sam Dekker, Isaac Bonga and Ish Wainright make the roster for the leftover minutes. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Banton log more minutes in the G League as an assigned player than he does in the NBA this season.

Oftentimes, when a player leaves school early to enter the NBA Draft, particularly one who wasn’t an All-American (or in Banton’s case, even an all-conference-caliber player), a lot of fans declare that the player has made a mistake and should have gone back to school.

Regardless of how many minutes Banton plays this year, based on everything that has happened since he declared it would be hard to say that Banton didn’t make the right decision. He’s living out his dream and got a chance to make history as the first native of Toronto drafted by the city’s NBA team.

“Kind of just growing up in Toronto, in a neighborhood like Mount Olive, you don’t see it happen in your neighborhood,” Banton said. “Being the first kid to see it happen, I know a lot of kids are chasing their dreams. A lot of kids told me that, they’re going to pursue their dreams more just because I did it. Not seeing a lot of people make it to the NBA from where we’re from and then to be able to share that with Toronto, with the city is great for my community and my whole family. I’m very grateful for it and any way you can make history is a big thing.”

In the end, Fred Hoiberg got just 27 games out of Dalano Banton as a Husker, and the 6-foot-9 point guard was a shell of himself for about half of them thanks to COVID-19. That seems like a meager return on investment in terms of the time Hoiberg spent working with Banton, first during his redshirt year and then during the 2020-21 season, but players leaving early for the NBA is the best problem a coach can have in college basketball. It means he did something right in terms of evaluation and development, and now he gets to show that to the next wave of prospects that are considering Nebraska.

In 2019, Isaiah Roby (by the way, shoutout to Isaiah for becoming the first member of his family to graduate from college over the weekend; turns out you can go pro early and still get your degree) ended a two-decade-long drought when he became the first Husker to get drafted since Venson Hamilton in 1999. It took Hoiberg just two years to recruit and develop an NBA draft pick, and if Bryce McGowens is everything that he appears to be, Hoiberg might make it two years in a row come the 2022 draft.

That’s a long way off, though. For now, the focus is on coaching his guys up and trying to take big strides in the wins column.

As for Banton, while he’s accomplished a lifelong dream, the work is just beginning. Only the first year of his contract is guaranteed and he needs to give the Raptors a reason to keep him around beyond 2021–22. More time in Lincoln with Hoiberg may have been beneficial to him, but now Banton’s getting paid and can spend as much time as he wants working on his game. His future lies in his own hands.

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