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.