What makes a team deep?

I propose a definition something along the lines of satisfying the following conditions, and view the current Raptors roster in this context.

Starters need not log excessive minutes for a team to be effective

This is a fairly obvious one — you can’t have starters play close to 40 minutes and expect to go anywhere, unless that starter is named LeBron James. The general pattern in the NBA is that of substitutes being inserted in the late first quarter, and playing early or midway into the second in a 3/2 or 4/1 split (either 3 or 4 reserves).

This portion of the game, along with its counterpart in the 3rd and 4th quarters is where many a game is won or lost. You might recall yourself lamenting on why Rudy Gay wasn’t brought in earlier, or why Terrence Ross got those minutes over DeMar DeRozan, or any other substitution pattern which causes discomfort in the post-game interviews.

The underlying cause for these substitutions is simply rest. Coaches time their timeouts with TV ones and quarter breaks just to give players that extra breather and prepare them for that key stretch of the game. It’s when the need for rest consistently conflicts with trying to win the game that a team’s depth is up for question, i.e., reserves must be trusted to handle the early part of the fourth quarter, and if key starters must play those minutes, then it’s a losing proposition.

Sustaining quality of play with only one starter out there is something the Raptors will struggle at, only because there isn’t anything close to proven offensive talent on the bench. With Jose Calderon gone, the bench is void of any play-makers or legitimate scoring options, meaning the Raptors are looking like they’ll need to have two of Gay, DeRozan or Lowry to produce any sort of sustainable offense.

Simply put, unless there are some surprises the starters will overreach and compensate for lack of offensive talent on the bench.

The risk of injury to any player (starter or reserve) is mitigated

This is a position-by-position breakdown looking at where injuries can be absorbed without having to play players completely out of position.

Point Guard: Depending on which camp of the D.J Augustin signing you’re on, and how much stock you put into Dwight Buycks’ summer league performance (see the poll on the site right now), your take here may vary. For me, this is a danger-spot for the Raptors because the drop in talent from starter to reserve is considerable. Although the Raptors aren’t short on point guards and injury to Lowry doesn’t result in anybody playing out of position, for me the risk is not sufficiently mitigated. The Raptors are not deep at the point guard, they just happen to have three bodies at the position.

Shooting Guard: Another danger-spot, especially given Terrence Ross’ poor summer league outing. An injury to DeRozan means Terrence Ross starts. Let that sink in.

Power Forward: The Raptors don’t ask a tremendous amount out of their four spot, and whatever Amir Johnson has provided has been seen as a bonus rather than duty. An injury to Johnson would undoubtedly be problematic, but the Raptors have Tyler Hansbrough who can provide the presence of Johnson (last season comparison), only at a lower shooting percentage. If Johnson goes down, it’s a problem, but I don’t think it drastically alters Dwane Casey’s plans. And I haven’t even talked about Quincy Acy and Steve Novak.

Small Forward: Big time problem here, because if Landry Fields is anywhere close to being as ineffective as he was the last two seasons, then the Raptors may as well officially enter the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes. Backing him further is Quentin Richardson and….Steve Novak?

Center: Another problematic area since if this time around Jonas Valanciunas goes down, Ed Davis isn’t around to allow Amir Johnson to move over and play out of position — not that that was a great situation, but this is really bad. We’re going directly down to Aaron Gray, and the gap between Valanciunas and Gray is expanding faster than the universe.

Match-ups can be dictated; perceived mismatches can be negated

This was an area of, dare I say, strength for the Raptors when they had Andrea Bargnani. Leaving aside the mess Dwane Casey made on those long winter nights with 4-guard lineups, there was potential here to cause teams problems. Of course, we rarely did, but technically the opportunity was there. Even Linas Kleiza when healthy could pose some problems, but this time around the Raptors don’t have great versatility in any one player.

You could argue that Amir Johnson is our most versatile player, but his one-on-one offensive game isn’t one that scares a defense into changing or thinking twice. Contemplating versatility further, you’re now in the conversation of moving Rudy Gay over to the four, or DeRozan over to the three. I’d contend these are relatively easy situations for a defense to adjust to; maybe Gay at the four can cause slower big men some issues but then again, there are enough wings on an NBA roster to contend to these kinds of ploys.

On the other side of the coin, the Raptors have enough athleticism in Gay, DeRozan, Ross, Acy, and Johnson, and a defensive-minded coach so they should be able to contend defensively. Things look shored up on the rebounding side, which means playing zone to slow down a team should not be a major issue, and there aren’t inherently awful defenders where a team can zone-in and exploit them (now that Bargnani is gone, although you can argue DeRozan is quite poor).

With every minute played, a physical advantage is gained 

This is a reference to minute distribution and stamina — the longer a game goes, the more depth comes into play. This is the San Antonio advantage where you can essentially have guys who have played 15 minutes in the game play heavy fourth quarter minutes, or when a fresher substitute takes over the reins from the star player to lead the team.

This advantage manifests itself when the coach has an option to completely turn the tables on the opposition by forging productive but rarely-seen lineups late in games. Having strong execution is mandatory for this sort of advantage to arise, as the strength of the wolf is in the pack.


The currently constructed Raptors are relying heavily on starters for offensive production, without much insurance on the bench. X-Factors that can make or break this season are Terrence Ross, Landry Fields, and Dwight Buycks, who can, if they play in the higher spectrum of their capabilities, provide the Raptors the depth that they glaringly lack.

Given the departures of Anderson and Kleiza, and the introduction of the out-of-sorts Richardson, Ross and Fields’ role is expected to be increase. If their previous years production is to be repeated (10.3 and 10.4 PER, respectively), then the Raptors are in trouble. The center position remains to be addressed leaving Valanciunas vulnerable, and the one consistent match-up advantage that the Raptors could at least advertise in Bargnani (on paper), is gone.

It will have to be in their defense that the roster finds depth, which means the pressure’s on Dwane Casey — he doesn’t have the pound-for-pound talent to be truly competitive, leaving him to rely on his wits and of course, hope that under-performers and newcomers shine. Such challenges are part of the deal when you’re a coach in the final year of a contract.

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  • Rebuilding

    I can’t see how C is not the big problem. JV has high potential and now has to play prime minutes against tougher starters. And benching him for foul troubles or injury or because of struggling defence in some way increases Gray’s time (even if Amir slots over). The success this season will fall heavily on JV.

    • Nilanka15

      I agree with this. I love the improvements he’s shown so far, but Jonas hasn’t quite shed the injury bug (he hurt his hand already), and still picks up cheap fouls.

      For the upcoming season to be memorable, Jonas needs to be/stay on the floor.

    • RapsNation

      i don’t think he’s talking about that, but more so if jonas was to be injured there would be a major issue in the centre position because we would have to rely on Aaron gray to fill that role. Which is no good.

      So the author is pretty much saying, for every position (except for pf) there would be a pretty big problem if the starters gets injured.

  • ppellico

    well…not sure how fast the universe is expanding…but again, the funny thing about the excitement over JV’s summer league is silly.

    The rule is good teams and good players don’t even participate…they take the summer off to work on individual stull.

    Not saying I ever would feel comfortable with Gray as a starter…this all depends upon the coach and the team play style set up.

    If fast…forgetabouit!
    If a slower, pondering defensiveded team is designed and played…Gray is a solid player. And I get sick and tired of posters getting into him all the time.
    This team’s issues are and always have been shooting. And I don’t care what anybody says…this team being lead by the crybaby and without any real threats from long range is dead.

    • 2damkule

      ba da ba dap da da…and here’s pellico, reminding everyone he’s the most irrational aaron gray fan alive.

      oh, the universe, according to people who have a clue about this kind of thing, which i don’t, but since i can use the internet, discovered in about 3 seconds, is expanding thusly:

      ‘The expansion of the universe is a weird thing. It isn’t that the galaxies are physically moving outward, it’s that space itself is expanding. This means that although everything appears to be moving away from Earth, nothing is really moving. Because of this, you can’t specify how fast the universe is expanding in something like miles per second.

      Astronomers measure the expansion of the universe in kilometers per second per megaparsec. This is called the Hubble Constant, and its value is somewhere around 70 kilometers per second per megaparsecs. If an object is one megaparsec away (that’s 3 million light-years, or 20 billion billion miles, or 30 billion billion kilometers), it’s moving away at 70 kilometers per second, which is about 150,000 MPH. Things that are twice as far away move twice as fast, if you ignore the effects of gravity and dark energy.’

      since the metaphor was describing the growing separation between JV & gray, that seems about right

      • ppellico

        wow…didn’t know you were a fan.
        but as for you universe expanding thoughts…not so quick. I think the expanding is also of the body masses withing the universe.
        So not only does this explain that JV and Gray are expanding and staying closer than you think…it also explains my ever expanding pants size..

    • one relaxed guy

      The thought that Gray is a solid player is just ridiculous. I agree that there’s too much hype towards JV, but Gray is “in case shit happens” type of player. In case of injury, in case of foul trouble. He’s very slow, he’s bad at reading the game (did you even see his defense inside and his slow motion waaaayyy too late type of reactions?) and on top on that he’s a terrible shooter. He’s getting 2,5 mil per year and the reasons why he still is in this roster is because of poor former management and the fact that there were guys like Kleiza with 4,6 mil per year. I’m more than sure that this fella will not be here next season. And I will be glad, because Ujiri will find a better fit for a back up C with that kind of money (if not less). And that guy will contribute much better. End of story.

      • ItsAboutFun

        No, he’s paid 2.6M because he’s a legit 7 footer that can bang with the big boys. You’re wrong about his ability to read the game. He’s not there to be a “shooter”, but his career FG% of 51 (53 last year) doesn’t hurt the team, and his career 11 RBs/36 and 10 Pts/36 is very serviceable in the limited minutes he asked to play.

        “Ujiri will find a better fit for a back up C with that kind of money (if not less)”
        Maybe, maybe not, but can you name one 7 foot C, that can bang with the big boys, in the league, not on a rookie contract, that makes less?

        • SR

          Here’s a hilarious stat – there are 70 males aged 20-40 years in the United States who are 7 ft. or taller. 17% of them play in the NBA. (Forbes.com – not sure where their numbers came from.) There just aren’t that many Aaron Grays out there – he’s a serviceable backup on a reasonable deal.

        • Samir

          Greg Stiemsma, Andray Blatche, and Chris Andersen all make less than Gray

          • To be fair, both Blatche and Andersen were amnestied by their former teams, so it wouldn’t have mattered how much they got paid, since they don’t end up making any more unless it’s more than their original salary. In fact, Blatche purposely took less money with New Jersey in order to screw the Wizards, who he still felt bitter towards for amnestying him.

            And Stiemsma just signed a contract with the Pelicans for basically the same as Gray is making…

  • Colin

    Great read on the situation. It makes me very nervous that we can’t afford a substantial injury to a starter and those starters include Kyle Lowry and a 2nd year big man.

  • SR

    It would be nice to have a better backup C than Aaron Gray, but honestly – how many teams have a better backup C than Aaron Gray? Very, very few. My first thought is that you’re underrating (although you mentioned it) the coach’s ability to make lineup & schematic adjustments to compensate for injuries. You could play any of the Raptors bigs at the 5 for stretches. Several very successful teams played with 1 big (often not even a C) and 4 perimeter players fairly frequently last year (Miami, Denver, Golden State, New York).

    More and more I think depth is overrated in the NBA. How deep were Miami, San Antonio, Mempis, and Indiana? Indiana’s bench was monumentally awful, and they came within a win of the finals. At the same time, if anybody loses a key guy (OKC – Westbrook) you’re screwed anyway, so what’s the point of depth? Denver was one of the deepest teams in the league, but they sure missed Galinari in the playoffs when they needed that “next level” punch more than they needed to play a full 10 man rotation.

    Depth will help you cope with regular season injuries, which is basically what this post is about. I guess I’m not nearly as concerned about the Raptors depth as I am about their need for elite talent. Once you’ve got those 2-3 core all-stars, then you fill out the roster around them.

    • SR

      That said, you need backups and role players not matter what stage of team-building you’re at. So far I like Ujiri’s ability to fill out the roster much, much better than Colangelo’s. BC blew the budget on middling talent, but Ujiri’s already been able to acquire legit roster filler with NBA experience for pretty much the lowest possible price. That’s key for keeping your options open down the road.

    • Rebuilding

      Depth lets team qualify for playoffs as their 2nd rotation is superior to teams with on strong rotation. But come playoff time, when the 1st rotation is largely played depth is not as useful (barring an injury)

      • Statement


  • Bendit

    One of the major reasons for Denver’s 57 win season (last) was their tremendous depth. Replication please MU.

  • elkabong

    i look at depth from the point of 9-10 deep and absatootly love the way Thibedeau handles his roster year in year out.even without Rose they ran a 9-10 man core last season and the rest of the bench picks up scrub minutes. i don’t see a problem asking your 5 starters to perform for 36 minutes a game and as pros making a boatload of coin they should be in shape and be expecting their employer to be asking that of them. our roster at the end of the season looked to me to be 5 deep and i think the Hansboro signing put us at 6 but he’s a long way from what you’d want as a legit 6th man, i’m fence sitting on Augustine but hoping he can be a legit PG2 which puts us at 7 , Novak might be able to hold the fort but has limitations so we are in the 7.5 range perhaps but really with blanks at 6+7 the rest should be put into the scrub minute category at this time in my estimation. we’d like Fields to bounce back but that looks a fair sized reach,Ross has the hops but lacks the Bball IQ to be a force it appears at least thus far in his young career and the rest are mostly here because their contracts say they are here and likely difficult to move until those contracts expire. improving that top 10 will be the focus at least in the short term seems to be what Ujiri is delving into

  • Roarque

    The key will be the off season acquisitions of Hansbrough and Augustin. Both of them were drafted high and then never developed into starters. If the Toronto coaching staff can make that conversion then these two guys along with the re-emergence of the real Landry Fields could ( did you read could, not would?) make the Raptors a deep team.
    Hansbough as a starter allows Amir to play center if JV gets into foul trouble. I like Amir off the bench at the 4 or the 5 depending on the opponent and the situation on any given night.

    BTW Is Quentin actually planning to show up?

    • Nilanka15

      At this point in their respective careers, I don’t think we should be realistically expecting any serious leaps in Augustin or Hansborough. They are what they are (i.e. serviceable backups).

  • robertparrish00

    Depth matters, but depends on the coach the extent it matters. I think our team lacks depth and our coach over relies on his bench.

    About Gray, I have no problems with him as a back up centre and having a bigger role/getting more minutes. But the big thing is consistent minutes. Want a laugh, look at a sample of his minutes per game during a streach in October. 8 min, 15 min ,1 min, 4 min,18 min, 14 min. That’s crap coaching.

    • 2damkule

      uh, maybe it’s a reflection of exactly who/what gray actually is? is it at all possible that maybe – JUST MAYBE – his minutes fluctuate due to match-ups?

      • ppellico

        um…maybe not. that is the point.

        • SR

          With Gray it’s all about matchups. He’s big and slow. They don’t need him against small teams (half the league these days) and he’s useless against quick players, regardless of size. He got minutes when they needed a big body, and he’ll continue to do so. Nobody is concerned with “developing” (is that what’s being argued for here?) a 28 year old bench player who’s averaged 12 mpg for his career.

      • robertparrish00

        2 points
        1) Players are better with consistent minutes
        2) Gray doesn’t get consistent time because of Casey’s match ups.

        • johng_3

          So if Gray played 20-25 minutes against quicker bigs each night, he would be effective? No, he would get destroyed. Certain players in the league are meant for their purpose. When Jonas struggled with bigger guys, Gray did an admirable job with the limited minutes he was given.

          • robertparrish00

            I would never suggest 20-25 minutes, but a minimum of 6 minutes/game would be good. If he has it going leave him in. If you look at last season about half the games he didn’t play 1 full minute. You are just feeding someone to the wolves when you give him a handful of dnp’s then throw him against say Dwight Howard.

            • johng_3

              The problem is, when he throw him against quicker guys like Dwight, he is done and you have to take him out. He is too slow to guard the screen and roll and guards will expose him every time. Look at the Lakers overtime game with Gray on the floor, Kobe just went right by Gray with ease.

              • ppellico

                i guess I agree with his use in limited terms…or mintes at around 10 to 12 a game.
                But using Howard as an example is wrong becuase historically…Gray does a number on the Big Pouter. In fact to me Howard is one of the more over hyped players there is. His recent time in LA exposes his bullcrap a lot.
                And a lot of times, its not the quickness…but the solid D that is needed. The ability to hold your inside is his gift.
                I still say many of our bigs will show poor numbers due to our lack of outside threat.
                The fact that we can’t spread the defense of hit from outside will kill Jonas as well. He will get beat up over time from big players clogging up the inside.

              • robertparrish00

                Kobe makes most of the league look terrible. Plus I still believe giving him at least minimal minutes per game will help his mobility and motivation. Look at the 3 games before LA….he didn’t hit the court in two of them. The game he did play against Golden State, Casey put him in for 4 minutes (even though the previous meeting against GS he scored 22 in 32 minutes). I am just saying he is a serviceable back up, so play him and play him regularly.

                • johng_3

                  So giving Gray more minutes will make him move faster lol. He is just a hard worker who is big and meant to stand his ground and make a layup or two.

    • johng_3

      Now thats unfair to use Gray as an example. Gray is more of a big for matchup purposes. He was used primarily during times when Jonas struggled with bigger guys.

  • marc

    What about Oden as a backup

  • vino

    “Such challenges are part of the deal when you’re a coach in the final year
    of a contract.” – such challenges are part of the deal when you’re a coach in
    the NBA. Period. In general, every team’s talent level drops when you go to the
    bench. Of course, there are exceptions (like Harden in OKC). Every team has
    under-performers and newcomers and usually both categories are expected to step
    in. In Raps case, where the expectations are undetermined (Ujiri: “whatever the
    team does is a win-win – either we build on this roster or blow things up”), so
    there is no urgency for the bench to shine, as opposed to teams built to
    contend – there is a definite need for multiple bench players to perform (and
    sometimes a hope to over perform!). It’s got nothing to do with Casey being in the
    final year of his contract either…

    As for the Raps this coming season, taking into consideration that the
    roster stays as-is – I actually believe they will be ok. I’d really like to see
    Buycks play, instead of Augustin… simply because he has the potential to
    develop into something more than a 3rd string PG, whereas Augustin
    has peaked (with Bobcats) in mind. I’d also like to see Fields learning to
    shoot and not being a liability of offense. Finally, I think Hansborough was a
    solid pick up for Ujiri. With Jonas out for a breather (hopefully a swift one),
    Amir and Tyler can play together, especially against teams without a double low
    post threat. Valanciunas is young and should be counted on to play a lot.
    Hopefully, the image he’s gaining will build him a rep with refs and they don’t
    call too many questionable calls against him.

  • Van Grungy

    Jordan had a career 38.3 minutes per game

    the truth is that most NBA players are exhausted because they are athletic hacks

  • T

    Agree that small ball won’t work for us. A smart coach could just hide one of their bigs on Derozan.

  • TheDowJones
  • pran

    I think it is absolutely great news that the pressure is primarily on the starters, who else do you rely on more heavily as you get deeper into the playoffs? It should be a good gauge of whether we need to blow this shit up, or add another key player.

  • Curious

    Someone please tell me how these 2 trades I thought of sound. These trades have to be done together to get both the players to sign on, I think. So we all know that Lamarcus Aldridge wants to be traded, and also know that Brandon Jennings is still in free agency. So I was thinking about trading Rudy Gay and Aaron Gray plus a draft pick or two (if necessary) to the blazers for Aldridge and then doing a sign and trade for Brandon Jennings and trade Landry Fields and the Knicks 1st round draft pick plus another piece (if necessary) which we got. This trade could work for the salary cap and will make raptors more of a playoff ready team. I was thinking if this trade does go down our starting 5 will be: Lowry, Jennings, Derozan, Alridge and Jonas, and our 2nd line up would not be so bad either. Anyone agree/disagree with this?

    • Well, I wouldn’t take Brandon Jennings if he would sign for the minimum. He’s a chucker with a horrible shooting percentage that gambles WAY too much on defense and makes horrible decisions. And a backcourt of Lowry and Jennings would be horrendous. They both are poor decision makers who take bad shots and gamble too much on defense. Plus, neither can guard the SG position.

      That lineup would be worse defensively AND offensively, quite frankly.

      Plus, I don’t see Milwaukee taking on Fields’ contract just to get the Knicks pick.

      I also wouldn’t trade a draft pick away to get either Jennings or Aldridge, at this point.

  • bob

    lol gray is not the team

  • maputo88

    Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors
    Role: Starting shooting guard

    From ESPN Insider – Bradfor Doolitte
    Terrence Ross
    Incumbent in danger: DeMar DeRozan

    There is no doubt in my mind that Ross is a better player than DeMar DeRozan. He also might have more natural talent. DeRozan is a great athlete, but he has compiled more than nine wins below replacement level over his four seasons and has yet to sniff break-even. He’s the ultimate empty-stats player, one who is too often overrated because of his scoring average and highlight reel dunks. Ross may have more natural talent than DeRozan anyway. After a mostly uneventful rookie season, Ross isn’t exactly a darling of analytics, though his .423 projection is far better than DeRozan’s .354.

    There are a couple of reasons I like Ross with Toronto’s first unit, with DeRozan serving as an instant-offense player off the bench. First, Ross has a lot of potential as a deep threat, though he’s yet to make good on his potential in that regard. Ross can make an impact without the ball on his hands and space the floor. He also works the baseline well, both off screens and on the bounce against closeouts. With Kyle Lowry and Rudy Gay in the lineup, Toronto doesn’t need a third high-usage perimeter player.

    That ties into the main reason I like Ross here: He won’t eat up as many touches that could be going to Valanciunas, who looks ready to become the focal point of the Raptors’ rebuilding plan.







    Bradford Doolittle