Quick one for a Saturday.  I got to thinking how every season there’s always some level of controversy when a bench player steps out of their training camp role and steals a starter’s job, whether be it via injury or strong play.  Scanning the bench this year I don’t see anything that pops up, especially now that Jose Calderon is gone and the starting point guard can look over his shoulder without seeing a rifle pointed at him.

The bench is modestly headlined by Tyler Hansbrough, Landry Fields, Terrence Ross, Dwight Buycks, D.J. Augustin, Aaron Gray, and Quincy Acy.    The only person that I can see “stealing” a spot here would be Tyler Hansbrough, and that wouldn’t be because of poor play on the part of Amir Johnson, but due to Dwane Casey seeking a more balanced attack.  With DeRozan, Gay, and Valanciunas soldered into the starting lineup you can afford to have the ever-efficient Johnson come off in a bench role, something he has tons of experience doing (43 games last season off the bench) and even does better as a reserve in some areas (16.9 ppg vs 16.7 ppg, 58 FG% vs 54%).

The other angle here is protection of Jonas Valanciunas.  Having the big man out there with Hansbrough can be a good mix of skill and brutality, and allows Johnson to beef up the reserve unit along with Landry, while adding some skill at the forward position.  If Jonas Valanciunas does end up having a breakthrough year there’s going to be people gunning for him and Hansbrough would serve as a deterrent for any would-be offenders.  After all, people don’t like taking chances against men who are liable to cross any boundary.

Interesting quotes from Ujiri this morning as he echoes what I said in yesterday’s post about how Dwane Casey stands to have complete autonomy on the court, which wasn’t the case in the Colangelo-era:

“I told him when I arrived, ‘Coach, there’s no snitch here. There’s no one who’s going to come back and tell me anything. There’s only one snitch, and he’s standing here in front of you. If I have anything to say, I am going to come and say it to you myself.”

Any guesses who the “snitch” might have been last season? If we’re looking at the assistant coaches from last season, Tom Sterner was retained and the outgoings were Scott Roth, Eric Hughes, and Johnny Davis.  Of those four, Nori and Roth were were from the Bryan Colangelo/Jay Triano days so…yeah, I’m not saying anything more.

He also comments on the purpose of the season:

“Rather than make some crazy decisions, we want to see what we have,” Ujiri says. “We’re not signing players on long term deals now. We’re going to . . . see how we start off the season and go from there. I know it sounds very simple, but I think right now simple is best for us.”

I don’t exactly believe the “we want to see what we have” line because we know what we have.  This season looks more to be about buying time, hoping Rudy Gay’s option isn’t picked up, banking on Valanciunas, and taking a shot at the playoffs to gain a modicum of respectability.  He is right that the Raptors should not be signing any long-term deals right now, not even for Jonas Valanciunas.  For once I’d like to see this franchise award long-term deals based on certified production rather than potential, and it looks like Ujiri shares that view.

  • JHP

    With just a few days to the beginning of camp, I get the sense this is more of a treading water type of year. Try to stay healthy, get to the playoffs and let the rest of the teams tank. So it’s business as usual and hopefully a few wins will generate a buss around the team. Not tanking for a lottery pick (Celtics – call it rebuilding) is a noble thought but not sure it makes senses in the NBA.

  • [email protected]

    “For once I’d like to see this franchise award long-term deals based on certified production rather than potential, and it looks like Ujiri shares that view.”
    Wait for the guys to merit the contract and they will force their way out..Been there, done that.

  • mountio

    Small nitpick .. but I find it interesting the way that people want to slip LF into being a productive part of the bench .. yet TR is an afterthought after a poor summer league.
    Lets not forget that LF was arguably the worst player in the entire league last year (maybe NBA history) .. and Im not just saying that for effect .. he was HORRIFIC.
    Sure, we can hope that his surgery puts him back in some sort of form .. but to be clear, my expectations on LF are almost nil. Anything useful he brings is all upside to me.
    On the other hand, we have TR .. who, for a 10 or 15 game stretch looked pretty good last year before Casey buried him on the bench post gay (and behind AA .. brilliant). I saw the same shitty summer league that everyone else did .. but my hopes for TR are still higher than any other bench player .. and I would say hes the one bench player most likely to be a starter (although it might be due to trade if MU is smart)

    • arsenalist

      I don’t think TR is an afterthought after a poor summer league. He’s an afterthought based on his rookie-year performance. I’m not expecting much from him this season, but I’m open to surprise.

      I realize he’s young so there’s not much criticism off him around these parts, except for summer league when he’s going up against guys he should be doing well against. If he just did what was advertised coming out of college, which is shoot the ball and drill his open looks, I’m happy. He needs to play better defense, and although I’m an outside, I just feel that it’s an area of his game that he doesn’t focus on nearly enough.

      I agree that Landry Fields is in the same boat, we’re just somehow counting on him not to be has horrific as last season. Surely he can’t repeat that year?

      • mountio

        I agree that TR struggled last season (thanks in large part to Casey killing his confidence and putting AA out there for no apparent reason .. but none the less) – but you cant honestly think he was anywhere near as bad as LF? In all seriousness, it wasnt even close. Throw in that T Ross was a rookie who got extremely inconsistent minutes and the strong benefit of the doubt has to go to TR this year compared to LF.
        I agree .. LF should improve (only one direction to go!) … but Id be shocked if he is anywhere near as productive for the raps this year as TR

      • hig dale

        Yes you are an outsider.

    • hig dale

      Clearly you’ve never played in the league.

    • Jonathan Mac Lean

      Come on… worst player in the league (maybe NBA history)? Sounds like personal vendetta (did he steal your lunch money in school?)
      Jokes aside, yes, last season was a huge disappointment especially when you look at how much $$ he’s getting paid (cap space is valuable…). However I don’t think he was that bad. He got better as the season progressed and does the little things that don’t come up on stat sheets. I know we hear that a lot, but what does it mean? Good screens at the right time, staying in front of your man, positioning yourself in the right spot, hustling, etc… We often get so focused on who is scoring, rebounding, assisting, we forget there’s so much more to this game.
      But if he does have another bad year, I hope it’s adios Mr. Fields.

      • mountio

        Nothing personal .. he actually seems like a great dude (super hot wife doesnt hurt), and I do love the “little things” he brings. Unfortunately .. he is so historically awful at the “big things” .. its like we are playing 4 on 5 when hes out there. He shot 14% from 3 (for a SG/SF!) last year .. and not much better on longer twos.
        So no .. he didnt steal my lunch money .. but he sure as hell stole $18 mm from the raps. I hope he plays better for sure … but I have absolutely zero confidence that he will.

  • Take it in

    The thing here is not to get to far ahead everything you need is right in front of you there are good pices here players who can do the job as rudy said computer can judge talent and Masi knows that we could have four break out players this year rudy big val derozan lowry and i also think amir is going to have a good season so what i am saying is don t sleep on the raps cause of computer data

  • Jonathan Mac Lean

    I only partly agree with your last paragraph. Yes we are waiting to see what Rudy decides to do with his contract, and waiting for Jonas to develop more, but I don’t think we know what we have 100%.
    – Lowry will be looking to redeem himself after last years up-and-down season, that he can be consistent.
    – DeRozan will want to show he’s got a 3-point game
    – Gay will want to prove he IS an elite player worthy of All-Star debate (which he’s been on the fringe of for years, but never made the step)
    – Augustine/Daye are going to want to start fresh and hopefully reboot their careers
    We know what we have from last season, but we have a group of guys wanting to show considerable improvement in many areas. I know all players want that, but these guys are still young enough to accomplish it, and in the case of Lowry and Gay, they are getting close to the point where it’s now or never.
    But either way, Hansborough is our bench player who is most ready for the starters job, but I don’t think he’ll get it. Johnson has become such a big part of the Raptors name, and rightfully so. He deserves it.

  • ebrian

    I’d say anyone who backs up Lowry has a pretty good shot at taking over his job.