The Toronto Raptors are looking forward to Kawhi Leonard staying up North in the hopes of creating their own dynasty as we head into the offseason. While his decision is currently in limbo and plays a role in the free agency decisions of Marc Gasol and Danny Green. In the event that he stays, chances are Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster would try to bring back a roster that is almost, if not completely identical to what we had last year.
And in all fairness, you can’t blame them. The team would have absolutely no cap space whatsoever and would be forced to sign free agents to minimum contracts to fill the rest of the roster. Who could we get for a minimum contract, you may ask? Well, in my dream world that would be someone along the lines of Austin Rivers. A big guard who can handle the ball, be a scoring threat from all over the floor, defend at a high-level, while making a number of smart and high-energy plays.
But chances are getting someone like him doesn’t happen. However, recently ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski had reported that Frenchman Nando De Colo is looking to make a return to the NBA after a five-year absence where he has been showing out overseas. Many of you may remember him from his time with the San Antonio Spurs in the earlier half of the decade, or from his brief 2014 stint with the Raptors after he was acquired in a trade that would send Austin Daye to Austin.
So, what does this mean for us? It’s been five years and he’s a free agent, right? So why would we have any reason or chance at getting him again? Well, yes. But, our front office has ensured to retain his rights each and every single year since acquiring him, which shows blatant interest in what Nando has to offer. With that being said, we have the ability to extend a qualifying offer so they can match any offer any team may throw at him. Although Wojnarowski himself believes that Toronto would likely allow De Colo to walk and be a UFA, likely due to how hellish our cap is at the moment.
Nonetheless, in a sense that seems a little questionable. Toronto has kept his rights for five years and now have the chance to bring him on to the team. On top of this, it comes at a time where the Raptors are hoping to be repeat champions, and at a time where the North could truly use another guard off the bench, especially with Kyle Lowry set to be 34 years old come next postseason. But what makes Nando so special that our front office would be interested in bringing him back?
Well, simply put, one could argue that Nando De Colo has been the best player across the entire Euroleague over the past few seasons. In the 2018-2019 NBA GM survey, 29% had dubbed the 2009 53rd overall pick as the best basketball player not in the NBA. in 2017-2018, 28% had said so. In 2016 he was the Euroleaue MVP, All-Europe player of the year, and just last season he was able to lead his CSKA Moscow team to that stage for the second time. These are just a few of the many accolades that you will find associated with his decorated trophy case.
When it comes to breaking down his game, you would be hard pressed to not be impressed by his scoring. His shot is quick, stiff, yet efficient and effective. He can finish a little off balance and seems to have minimal trouble shooting contested shots. During his time in the NBA, some people had referred to him as timid and passive. Nowadays he is clearly very confident, which is important for execution. Since returning to Europe, he has shot .445% from three on 3.5 attempts per game. Now, it is hard to assume his shooting would be that good at the next level for a number of reasons, number one being the difference in distance between threes overseas and in the NBA.
That being said, he will still be a big threat. His .934% success rate from the free throw line overseas is very promising on just how tuned his shot is, but the .363% he did manage to shoot from deep in his time in America (and Canada) is very reassuring. Despite that being on only 135 attempts, his shot definitely looked like an effective one, and he has only improved since then. But his scoring game is more than mere three-point shooting too. He is extremely comfortable at taking contested mid-rangers and is very crafty when finishing at the rim which makes up for a lack of athletic ability.
While that lack of athletic ability may hurt in the NBA, as they have bigger, stronger, longer, quicker, players, his ability to maneuver his body and the ball to fake someone out, to find proper angling or positioning, or to create some room for himself (even if it’s minimal) will and has gone a long way for him. Plus, being a 6’5” guard is always useful as it allows you to finish over the smaller matchups with more ease, and makes fighting through traffic easier in theory. De Colo being an efficient and effective scorer from all over the floor will make him a threat in the NBA, and so will his ability to create opportunities for himself.
Despite this not being a trait of his he showcased overseas, as his role was to handle the ball quite often, De Colo is an exceptional off-ball mover. Looking at his time with the Spurs especially, his ability to navigate screens, and his brilliance cutting to the basket is something anyone should want out of any player. And this was not something that he was devoid of showing with CSKA Moscow, as he actually seems to have gotten better in his ability to find openings for himself.
While Nando is a decent ball handler, he is nothing too great. In the Euroleague, it appeared evident that he would not be able to get away with as much as he did there in the NBA, and I’m sure he is aware of that. This still does not mean he is incapable handler that can’t make shots for him or his teammates, as he is surely someone who can be a secondary handler on the court and someone who will be able to create in a few ways at the next level. But let’s focus on his ability to craft looks for his teammates, though, because De Colo is an extremely talented passer.
He is capable of making perfect impossible passes in the smallest windows, while also making trick passes in a smart and efficient manner. However, these traits are not necessarily useful if he doesn’t pass the ball, or even worse, doesn’t have great court vision. Well, luckily, he is a pretty willing passer when you factor in his role as a first-option score-first player overseas, and he possesses court-vision that allows him to not only know/predict where his teammates are positioned and moving but an ability to play the defence in ways he wants. He uses his gravity to attract defenders towards him and spark good looks for anyone on his team. It also helps that he is an adequate pick-and-roll handler, and he often uses picks to carry out all sorts of creative plays.
Now, let’s focus on that little word, “creative,” a bit, shall we? Thanks to handles that don’t stick out and a lack of impressive athleticism, De Colo’s creativity tends to elevate both him and his team greatly. His ability to create looks for both him and his teammates while doing some of the stuff he does is often awe-inspiring. Even if he is to mess up on a play, it is not odd for one to feel a relatively entertained instead of feeling really frustrating. De Colo is a true offensive craftsman of the sport, and to a level that you don’t see in many other talents.
I assume many of you are now wondering about his defence, which is fair. The Raptors defence is something that plays a humongous role in them going as far as they did, even more so than offence perhaps. Well, standing at 6’5, De Colo has the size to work against both guard spots. In a switch-heavy defensive system like Nick Nurse’s, that is something very useful as it allows us to have a pretty sizable player that can go against three different positions on the court to increase difficulty when it comes to the opponent hunting down mismatches, right?
Wrong. De Colo won’t be immune to that. Due to relatively poor athleticism, the quicker guards and wings of the league will try to exploit him. However, thanks to his size and effort, and in theory, being surrounded by a number of elite, experienced, and intelligent defenders in a system where they all excel, De Colo shouldn’t be dangerously detrimental on that end of the floor, if at all. However, he may not be a huge positive either. Realistically, he would be a switchable guard who puts in effort and plays the passing lanes well, but gets beat off of speed and agility.
I would expect De Colo to be there to play alongside one of Fred VanVleet or Kyle Lowry, allowing one of the two to get some rest (especially Kyle considering his age). He could serve as a secondary ball handler in the backcourt, but likely third or fourth considering Pascal Siakam and or Kawhi Leonard would be on the court as well. Thankfully, most of his damage would be done with his off-ball movements and passing, so him being an off-ball talent is something we should all feel comfortable with.
Yes, he has an ability to make contested shots all over the court, his level of gravity won’t be elite, but it will be enough to keep a defence honest, and an ability to make the toughest passes with great vision, not only will he keep the defence honest, but the offence fluid. The ability to do that is something that could undoubtedly go a long way for this team, as the offence often became stagnant in the missed games and sat possessions of Kyle Lowry throughout the entire season, and said stagnation even lost us some games.
While he is not Kyle Lowry, and far from him, De Colo is a player that I am sure most NBA teams would want, and if he’s not a Raptor he will still be in the league. When he was last playing in North America he was a 26-year-old who seemed to lack confidence and a proper feel for the game. Now he’s 32 and possibly the best player overseas, and we have the chance to bring over. There is no doubt in my mind that De Colo would be a positive for this team.
We are limited to what we can do if we run it back this year, and with teams in both conferences improving one way or another, we can’t expect to magically win with the same formula. Another guard off the bench would be huge, and the easiest quality piece for us to acquire is this man right here, and that’s why I think Nando De Colo could be the key to repeating.