With 2:16 remaining in the first quarter on Wednesday, Tyler Hansbrough entered the game for Jonas Valanciunas.
With the Toronto Raptors up 24-17, Dwane Casey had seen enough from his starting unit. At the end of the quarter, Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson would have their days deemed complete, while noted ironman DeMar DeRozan lasted all the way until the 10:43 mark of the second quarter.
Yup, your starters, save for Valanciunas, played between 12 and 13 minutes.
Sporting a blue Vin Scully t-shirt after the game (and asking about the outcome of the Los Angeles Dodgers game), DeMar DeRozan quipped that he didn’t realize how long NBA games were.
But it was by design that the starters played so little, even with Wednesday marking the team’s lone game in an eight-day stretch. That’s because Casey largely knows what he’s got with his top unit, but who comprises the second unit and how that unit will play is up in the air.
“We have a good feel for what they can do,” Casey said of the starters after the game. “We’re nowhere near being where we need to be as a whole entire team. It wasn’t any disrespect to Boston, we need to find out what our second unit can do.”
The unfortunate thing was that with two exceptions, nobody took the extra playing time and leveraged it to stand out.
The three point guards battling for backup duties didn’t look bad but didn’t look particularly sound, either. D.J. Augustin appears to be who he was in 2012-13, not his earlier years; Dwight Buycks looks like the player most capable of adding and taking away; and Julyan Stone showed some nice defensive versatility but doesn’t seem completely comfortable yet after knee and hip injuries this summer.
There will be more on Stone later this weekend, in depth, but consider this: in 53 preseason minutes, he’s attempted just six field goals and made three turnovers. One of those attempts was a missed breakaway dunk with about eight seconds left last night, one that nearly gave the Celtics a win (or tie – thanks for missing that bunny, Jared Sullinger).
Teammates were dogging him for that after the game, and he said that even his 7-year old nephew had already texted to get on his back.
“He’ll be in the squat machine tomorrow,” Casey said of Stone’s punishment.
Buycks, ostensibly Stone’s competition for the PG3 role (but not really, since Stone seems to have a good shot at cracking the roster as a 15th man even though he would be a fourth point guard thanks to his ability to guard twos and small threes) has taken 35 shots in 95 minutes with 12 turnovers. That’s an enormous disparity in aggression, and while it could eventually look like a fault of Buycks, right now it highlights how Stone has been too passive at times.
Buycks might be taking things off the table with his somewhat erratic play, but he’s also been the most productive of the guards. Raw, yes, but able to make things happen. It seems Buycks is the best offensive weapon, Stone the best defensive, Augustin the…I don’t know, safest?
But perhaps the second guard won’t need to do quite as much as anticipated.
At least, if the Landry Fields that showed up Wednesday is around on a permanent basis, the second unit could be one with a point forward at the helm.
Fields looked great against Boston, basically hitting the points on the scouting report people were expecting when he was initially brought in. His 14 points and seven rebounds (plus he hit a three!) in 17 minutes were great, but it was his ability to initiate the offense with the ball that made him stand out.
His handle was a little slippery at times, leading to a couple of crazy baskets that may not have happened if he kept it tight, and he only had one assist. Still, he looked capable of running the offense for short spurts, which is important as the point guard depth chart sorts itself out.
Also impressing was Terrence Ross, who had 19 points in 26 minutes, including three monster dunks. The 3-point stroke still wasn’t there (1-of-5) but he did a great job attacking and using his athleticism to beat defenders.
We know Ross can score a little against other teams’ benches, and Casey indicated post-game that they’re putting far greater emphasis on Ross’ defense and decision making with the ball.
“We know he can score,” Casey said of the sophomore. “He’s gotta make decisions; if I don’t have a shot, what do I do now?”
To his credit, Ross did well in this regard and played solid defense, but of course the necessary preseason caveats apply. The bench desperately needs Ross to become capable of productive five-minute stretches, and this was a nice step in that direction.
Can a second unit with Fields at the point forward and Ross as the primary scorer be a stable one? Probably not; it worked on Wednesday, but both players need to develop a consistency to those roles and a point guard needs to emerge as the best backup candidate.
The second unit was showcased heavily Wednesday night out of a desire to sort those roles out. Instead, the only certainties that emerged were Chris Wright’s position on the depth chart (low) and Austin Daye’s ideal position on the depth chart (off of it).
With four straight days of practice, now, it will be interesting to see how the playing time shakes out when the Raptors play three times in five nights next week.
- The Raptors warm-up jackets look great this year.
- The Raptors opening video song is that Fall Out Boy Light a MUP MUP MUP song which is the greatest thing ever. If you’re not a part of hockey twitter (or postseason baseball twitter), you’re in for a treat if Mups are getting Lit across the NBA this year.
- Quincy Acy was himself, grabbing eight boards in 23 minutes and playing solid defense. The shot wasn’t there, but he can be productive in small minutes even without it.
- Aaron Gray entered the game with 2:30 left and immediately got whistled for an illegal screen. Midseason form.
- Minor rant: Valanciunas ended up playing 27 minutes, which is fine. He took two field goal attempts and six free throws (on three trips), however, which is borderline criminal. Sure, the second unit was the focus and maybe the staff had Valanciunas focusing specifically on off-ball elements of his game, but it seems silly to not feed him the rock for reps in this kind of game.