Over the past four seasons, the Raptors have always been praised for their depth. Last year this was apparent, when earlier on in the season minutes for Norman Powell were scarce due to the players ahead of him in the depth chart. Despite that great depth, the Raptors overworked their star players. Kyle Lowry, at age 30, played 37.4 minutes per game, second most in the league to LeBron James at 37.8 minutes per game. DeMar DeRozan averaged 35.4 minutes per game, 13th in the league. The reliance on the dynamic backcourt put a strain on some of the players down the stretch of the season, most notably in the playoffs.
Even though the depth was there, the minutes weren’t being distributed in the right areas. Norman Powell rarely saw court time, playing behind players who aren’t the same caliber player as him. Some of Lowry/DeRozan’s minutes could have easily been distributed to players like Powell or Delon Wright.
Entering the 2017 season, one of the main concerns from Raptors fans was the bench’s lack of experience, and if the bench could keep up with teams offensively. Through ten games, the young bench has blown away expectations. The lack of veteran bench pieces, forced the Raptors coaching staff to expand the roster of players who get consistent playing time, and play the youth as much as possible. The results have been impressive, player development will continue to be a key moving forward for the rest of the season, but the early results are showing some interesting trends.
Through ten games, the Raptors lineups aren’t very consistent. A lot of new players being worked into the correct spots in the rotation, plus a minor injury to Jonas Valanciunas switched up the front court for a while. The Raptors second most used lineup is their “Kids + Miles” lineup, consisting of Wright, Fred VanVleet, C.J. Miles, OG Anunoby, and Jakob Poeltl. Other than Miles, this lineup consists of players who have played less than 82 games in their NBA careers. This lineup may have only played 57 minutes together thus far, but it shows some interesting trends/changes to roster usage than we have seen in years past.
The two point guard lineups have been a consistent trend with coach Dwayne Casey’s rotations since he came to Toronto. Most of the time, we were used to seeing it with the famous “Lowry + Bench Unit.” when Lowry would play alongside Cory Joseph. This lineup was one of the more effective lineups in the NBA last season, but it continued to extend out Lowry every single game. Now, this two guard lineup is utilizing the Raptors third point guard on their roster. In previous years the third point guard on the lineup had been relegated to garbage time, or the odd backup role when Lowry rested. Now that third string point guard is getting consistent time and it’s huge. VanVleet continues to develop, and impress at the NBA level, and might be a very reliable backup in the future, but it also gives the Raptors the ability to rest players like Lowry and DeRozan more down the stretch of the season without a huge drop off in productivity.
This lineup definitely comes with it’s flaws. Yes, the lack of shooting/spacing in the lineup makes it difficult for even Miles to get shots off. The bench unit has a offensive rating of 100.9, basically league average. It’s production is coming on the defensive end. This lineup has an astonishing 89.1 defensive rating, for an overall net rating of 11.8. When this lineup gets on a role on the defensive end, teams can’t score. The active hands of Wright, and Anunoby can handle most scoring guards/wings. The rim protection and foot speed from Jakob Poeltl has definitely improved this season. Thinking back on games this season like the one against the Portland Trailblazers, the Raptors got on a huge role due to the defensive play from this second unit.
While it may struggle to score/shoot at times, the defensive prowess this lineup shows, allows for a lot of easy transition opportunities. Which bodes well for this young lineup as they are playing to a 103.42 PACE at the moment. Compared to last year, the Raptors five most used lineups all played at a PACE under 100. With players who can score in the open floor at the rim like Anunoby and Wright, the youth bench plays with a PACE that fits their offensive strengths.
The youth is one of the more fun parts about watching this years Raptors team play. Besides this five man lineup, other youth pieces like Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell are making the Raptors youth movement a promising future for this team. The bench unit will continue to have to find ways to score effectively as teams scout and game plan for them, but if the defense this unit plays continues, it could be one of the Raptors most used lineups.