Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Josh Weinstein.
With the Raptors cutting ties with Corey Joseph, Patrick Patterson, and P.J. Tucker, all key contributors to the Toronto Raptor’s top-ten bench unit a season ago, the team’s 2017-18 bench rotation is poised to undergo a major shakeup.
Aside from offseason pickup C.J. Miles – a swingman bound to get heavy consideration for starting duties from head coach Dwane Casey – all of the Raptors new additions have little-to-no experience on the NBA circuit. That means they’re going to be competing for minutes and recognition from Casey and his staff the moment training camp tips off, and that the rotation could be a work-in-progress to start the year.
Casey will test out numerous lineup combinations in training camp with hopes of determining which of his new, unfamiliar reserves work best with the team’s returning bench players. Further tinkering of the bench unit is to be expected throughout the regular season as well. The Jonas Valanciunas-as-bench-anchor experiment could come into play at some point, for example.
Valanciunas proved through his brief stint this past postseason that coming off the bench would be a suitable role for the Lithuanian. Unfortunately for Casey, though, experimenting with the big man off the bench will be challenging this season. Sliding Serge Ibaka to the five would be the corresponding move to pursue if Valanciunas came off the bench, but isn’t realistic at this point given the Raptors lack of depth at the four (especially compared to center). If OG Anunoby can make an immediate impact as a small-ball four once he returns, that Valanciunas bench experiment potentially could be further explored. Valanciunas also remains a productive rebounder and screen-setter and an efficient scorer in his lower-usage starting role.
Unless Casey is tempted to move Valanciunas to the bench,Given the Valanciunas conundrum, here is the bench group that makes the most sense for himy to utilize during the season. (Note: Anunoby is included, even though he’ll be out of action until around late November-early December…Bruno Caboclo could see time at forward until his return.)
PG: Delon Wright, SG: Norman Powell, SF: O.G. Anunoby, PF: Pascal Siakam, C: Jakob Poeltl
The Raptors bench will go as far as Powell can lead them (unless he starts). After all, Powell figures to be the most reliable weapon from long-range on the second unit and has proven himself more than any other player in this proposed group. Only time will tell whether Powell is able to handle more of a responsibility for 82 games. As last year’s postseason shows, the swingman seems to thrive in the biggest of moments when called upon. That’s a factor the Raptors hope carries over into 2017-18.
Powell has so far proven himself as a capable shooter from distance, yet one that can be streaky. Take last year’s postseason for example, where he shot an astronomical 44% from long-range, a far cry from his 32.4% mark throughout the regular season. When his shot is on from deep, Powell’s versatility is that much more enhanced. He’s able to glide to the rim past his assignment when they’re forced to respect his range and close out to the perimeter.
Despite the smaller sample size, the key during Powell’s run of postseason success were the consistent minutes he garnered in Casey’s rotation after Game 4 of the Milwaukee series. With DeMarre Carroll and Tucker gone, the path to more minutes is the most wide-open it’s been for Powell since beginning his Raptors tenure. Expect a much-improved Powell this season. (he could even surpass Miles during the season for starting minutes, or beat him for the spot outright).
As The Athletic’s Eric Koreen pointed out in an article back in July, the Raptors’ subtractions over the course of last season and the offseason took with them over half the team’s three-point makes. Considering that with those now-departed players (excluding Carroll, who was a mainstay in the starting five) the Raptors’ bench ranked 18th and 22nd in three-pointers made and attempted, respectively, it’s going to be awfully tough for Casey and co. to match that production this coming season. Powell’s consistency in that area will help make up for the loss of three-pointers, at least from the bench production side of things.
With Joseph’s departure to Indiana, Wright is now the de facto backup point guard for the Dinos.
Wright, who has moved between the NBA and newly-named G League on countless occasions during his two-year career (to develop as a rookie and to rehab as a sophomore), saw his minutes nearly double in his second NBA season from 8.5 to 16.5, albeit his statistics didn’t improve much. That could be partially attributed to Wright’s shoulder injury and subsequent arthroscopic surgery in the 2016 offseason, which cost him half a season and some development time. When Wright was actually on the court, his production, particularly his shooting stroke and defence, was inconsistent.
Wright’s responsibilities and minutes will increase even more this coming season, which hopefully for the Raptors’ sake will expedite the third-year point guard’s development, making him a more viable option for when Kyle Lowry sits. The 25-year-old’s ability to stay healthy will only help his consistency going forward, as he’s only played 27 games in each of his first two seasons.
Wright, given his experience, stays ahead of Fred VanVleet on the team’s depth chart for now.
The 23rd overall selection of the 2017 NBA draft was widely considered a massive steal for the Raptors, after an ACL tear triggered the 6’8” forward to slide down teams’ draft boards.
Anunoby’s athleticism and 7’5” wingspan immediately position the Indiana University product as a player who can develop into a stellar defensive stopper. His shot is a work in progress (he shot 31.1% on threes and 56.3% from the charity stripe in his sophomore season), yet his defensive acumen alone should have Raptors fans very, very excited.
Anunoby should be a defensive upgrade over Carroll as a go-to defensive stopper, given how the JYD2.0 experience reaped sour rewards. Depending on how much the 20-year-old progresses during his shortened rookie season, it wouldn’t be shocking if Casey considered including Anunoby in his playoff rotation.
Siakam showed flashes of raw potential in the games he started at power forward last season in the absence of Jared Sullinger, but eventually was replaced by a combination of Patterson, Powell and Lucas Nogueira in the starting lineup until the deadline deal for Ibaka was made. Siakam was a DNP for many of the games following his demotion, but wisely was sent to the Raptors 905 to further hone his craft rather than enter a stew on the bench.
During his 905 stint, the Cameroonian big was brilliant. Siakam averaged 18 points and 7.9 boards along with 2.1 steals and 1.4 blocks in seven playoff games, helping the 905 capture its first championship. While thriving against weaker competition was to be expected, it’s the confidence Siakam developed with the development club that stands to help him stay hungry going forward.
Getting yanked out of the starting rotation, then rotation altogether as a rookie couldn’t have been easy, but if his 905 performance is any indication, Siakam has the tools to eventually thrive in the NBA. Developing a reliable jumpshot should be of utmost importance for him.
The player from last year’s draft declared as the most unlikely to be a bust had a decent enough rookie season, considering how much he actually played and what he was expected to contribute.
Poeltl seemed to get a lot more comfortable by the time the last 15 games of the regular season rolled around. In turn, Casey seemed to show more trust in his big as the season progressed, eventually making it clear by season’s end that Poeltl had surpassed Nogueira on the depth charts as the team’s backup centre.
Expect the 7-footer to continue his upward trajectory this coming season. Developing his jumper could go a long way, considering his height allows him to get his shot off against most defenders. Improving his rim protection is to be expected, too, which should be accelerated by an uptick in minutes.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Josh Weinstein.