Skip to main content


Banton making case for role in Raptors’ early-season rotation

Dalano Banton Toronto Raptors Dalano Banton - The Canadian Press

TORONTO – Dalano Banton entered training camp as one of seven Raptors players on a partially guaranteed contract, fighting for his spot on the team, but he might come out of it as one of the eight-to-10 guys in Nick Nurse’s early-season circle of trust.

From the first day of camp, when Nurse credited him as the best player on the floor, the second-year guard and Rexdale, Ont., native has been a preseason standout for Toronto.

“I think the big thing is he just looks so comfortable out there,” Nurse said of Banton, who had another big night in Sunday’s 115-98 loss to Chicago, recording 11 points, five rebounds and two assists in 17 high-energy minutes off the bench.

The preseason has been a mixed bag for the Raptors, who fell to 2-2 in exhibition. Their offensive struggles continued into the weekend, as they shot just 35 per cent against the Bulls, including 8-for-37 from long range. Admittedly, Fred VanVleet, who hit just three of his 12 three-point attempts, is working his way back into game shape, and the same could be said for a few of the team's other regular rotation players.

“Nothing,” VanVleet said, somewhat tongue in cheek, when asked what he’s liked so far. “It’s preseason.”

But if you’re looking for bright spots look no further than Banton. In four games, the 22-year-old sophomore is averaging 10.5 points on an efficient 62 per cent. And, by all accounts, he’s been every bit as impressive behind closed doors – during practice and in team scrimmages.

When he’s at his best, Banton comes into the game and uses his elite combination of length and speed to push the tempo and make an immediate impact on both ends of the floor. With his physical tools and skill set, he checks off a lot of boxes for the ever-versatile and position-less Raptors. It’s one of the reasons he was able to beat out the smaller Malachi Flynn for the backup point guard gig out of camp a year ago.

Now, thanks to his strong play and injuries to a couple veterans on the roster, he’s making a push to earn regular rotation minutes once this season tips off on Oct. 19.

“He’s playing at the tempo he wants to play at and I think he's doing a little bit of everything, not only at the offensive end,” Nurse said. “I think he's playing in transition, he's running the team pretty [well], and he's executing the sets. But he's really been good at the defensive end. He's really noticeable, getting his hands on the basketball and poking it away or reaching in from the weak side or stripping one away. He's done a good job using that length.”

“He just seems to be more comfortable with the reads, with the speed of the game,” said VanVleet. “Obviously it’s going to be hard for a 6-foot-9 point guard not to have success in the NBA just with the size and the lanes that are available to him, being able to finish around the rim. He’s getting more comfortable with the jump shot, so it looks like a guy who has taken that step and feels like a guy that is ready to crack the rotation.”

With so little turnover on the roster – the Raptors have a league-most 13 players returning from last season – Nurse came into camp with a pretty good idea of what his rotation could look like. When healthy, last year’s starters – VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, O.G. Anunoby and Pascal Siakam – seem likely to open games, with Precious Achiuwa, Chris Boucher, Thaddeus Young and Otto Porter Jr. making up the second unit.

Banton and Flynn are the only other point guards on the roster once again, but Nurse has shown he's more than comfortable using Siakam or Barnes as the primary ball handler when VanVleet rests. It appears that the plan was to use a nine-man rotation without a traditional backup point guard. But plans change.

Porter, the team’s biggest addition over the summer, has missed all of preseason with a hamstring issue he sustained in one of the team’s first practices. After taking a hard fall late in Friday’s loss to Houston, Boucher missed Sunday’s contest, also with a hamstring strain. Neither injury is believed to be “super serious,” according to Nurse, but they’re expected to be out for a “little while.” With the opener just 10 days away, there’s a reasonable chance the Raptors will begin the season without one or both of them. Flynn, who has been out after undergoing surgery on a fractured cheekbone last week, should be ready to go by then but will have to play catchup once he's cleared to return, and wear a protective face shield.

It’s a long season and, even in the best-case scenario, this won’t be the last set of injuries that they face. After spending most of last season searching for reliable production off the bench, Nurse knows that he’ll need more than nine guys he can trust.

Enter Banton, who has taken advantage of the opportunity in front of him.

“My confidence is there,” he said following Sunday’s game. “I feel like with these guys looking for me in my spots, helping me play to my strengths, trusting me and being there for me as a young guy, it’s been great for me and my development.”

That confidence has carried over from a strong and very busy summer. Banton was in Las Vegas for Summer League in July before joining his Raptors teammates at Rico Hines’ UCLA runs in Los Angeles. He also made his national team debut, leading Canada to a fourth-place finish at the FIBA AmeriCup in Brazil.

With the program prioritizing the World Cup qualifiers, taking place in Victoria at roughly the same time, Banton was the lone NBA player that represented Canada in Brazil. Given the expanded workload he would carry there, and that he’d be playing for Nathaniel Mitchell – an assistant coach with the Raptors – Nurse thought it would be a good chance for the young guard to get some much-needed reps running an offence. Banton didn’t need much convincing.

“When we first talked about it I was all for it,” said Banton, who averaged 15.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists in six games during the tournament. “I’ve always wanted to play for Team Canada, it wasn’t even a question. So it was very grateful for the opportunity.

“I feel like it helped me a lot. It’s going to help me in the long run and it’s helping me now. Just playing against different competition over there, guys are a lot more aggressive on defence – getting away with a lot more fouling and stuff – it definitely opens up the floor for you when you play [in the NBA].”

Having spent his rookie season going back and forth between the G League and NBA club, Banton has played a lot of basketball since Toronto selected him with the 46th-overall pick in the 2021 draft. At one point last November, he played four games in four days. But all those games, all of those minutes and reps, they’re paying dividends for him now.

“I’m young and I’m loving it, man,” he said. “Whenever I get the opportunity to play in a live game, I’m all for it. I’m just continuing to try and build to have a long career in the NBA.”