The Second Unit

  • Thinking realistically: Jack, Wright, Nesterovic, Evans, Belinelli
  • Question: Where’s the scoring going to come from and why the hell is Belinelli in there?
  • To keep in mind: Rarely do all five play together so it’s not like we’ll be relying entirely on the bench. And Belinelli’s in there because we don’t really have anyone else to put in there.
  • Counter question: But still, don’t you need the second unit to produce offense without needing Bosh and Turkoglu?

Yes, yes we do.

Deploying a 9-10-man rotation is standard in the NBA and when evaluating a bench you don’t have to look at all 15 roster spots and extensively evaluate the likes of Banks and O’Bryant to get a grip of the bench quality. Barring major injury, a solid 9-man rotation is sufficient to get you through an NBA season in flying colors and have an impact in the playoffs. For example, the Lakers, Nuggets and Magic used nine men the majority of games. I’m not comparing those teams to the Raptors, just pointing out that being 13 or 15-deep is a ‘nice to have’, not a definite requirement. Injuries can change everything and those spots are there to safeguard against situations like Calderon or O’Neal going down for half the season, a misfortune we suffered last year.

The sub-pattern that we saw Triano use last year was based on certain dynamic events and some fairly static occurrences, for example:

  • Give Calderon a breather late in the first.
  • If Bargnani picks up two early fouls, sub him out.
  • Counter PG exploitation by putting in a bigger guard.
  • Give Bosh a breather at the start of the second.
  • Starters start the third.
  • Give starters a breather at the start of the fourth.
  • Have energy guy like Pops try to make an impact in the fourth (often using him over one of Bargnani/Bosh).
  • There are obviously others.

Based on last year’s patterns it’s safe to presume that that we’ll have a mix of starters and bench players on the floor late in the first and early in the second quarters, often playing midway through the second until the starters return in full to finish off the half (hopefully strongly). Wholesale changes like 5 for 5 subs don’t happen in the league so it’s logical to think that our “second unit” will be something like: Jack-DeRozan-Turkoglu-Evans-Nesterovic or Calderon-Jack-DeRozan-Bargnani-Nesterovic or some other flavor involving two starters and three bench players. A team which is two-deep in every position can mix and match their second unit any which way they like and even has the luxury of having their starters ride the bench during crunch time. We saw this with Forderon a couple years ago. When thinking off the bench we shouldn’t be doing it by considering 5 on 5 situations, but selectively mix and matching.

As long as we keep a good pick ‘n roll option and a couple decent shooters in either lineup we should be okay offensively. With the goal being to be two-deep in every position, let’s look at our depth chart:

PG: Calderon, Jack
SG: Wright, DeRozan
C: Bargnani, Nesterovic
SF: Turkoglu, Belinelli
PF: Bosh, Evans

What stands out here is Belinelli, and what is open to be questioned is whether Wright and DeRozan are good enough to command responsibility at the SG. Belinelli is no doubt a weakness and I don’t feel comfortable at all with him being the first wing off the bench, Colangelo needs to address that before training camp. I also don’t think PG is an issue because as much as Roko is being ripped apart these days, it’s not inconceivable to see him play 5 minutes a game as a third string point-guard. The wrench in the rotation comes in when we ask Jack to step-in at the SG for offensive reasons (Calderon playing poorly, Wright/DeRozan not picking up the slack). Keep in mind that it’s going to be a rare occasion that we ask Jack to play the SG for his defensive work since Wright is clearly a better defender and DeRozan has a big size and athletic advantage. However, if we ask him to play significant minutes at the SG, that means that we’ll need a PG like Douby and Ukic to play more minutes at the point – that is a cause for concern.

To sum it up, I see two holes in the rotation:

  • The first wing off the bench is currently Belinelli who hasn’t proven a thing.
  • If Jack is moved to the SG, it exposes us at the PG.

The one thing you have to say about Belinelli is that he’s a 40% 3-point shooter which is a suit that we got weaker in this summer by trading away Kapono and letting Parker walk. In fact, looking at Belinelli and Parker’s PER48 numbers from last year you’ll see that we’ve replaced Parker with a very comparable, if not better, offensive player:

AP	80 	33.0 	15.6 	5.8 	4.9 	1.82 	0.27 	2.1
MB	42 	21.0 	20.2 	3.9 	4.8 	1.96 	0.05 	3.2

Advanced comparison:

  	TS%  	eFG%  	TRB%  	AST%  	STL%  	BLK%  	TOV%  	USG%  	ORtg  	DRtg
AP 	.524  	.488  	7.1  	15.7  	2.0  	0.4  	12.2  	16.3  	105  	111
MB  	.547  	.524  	4.4  	15.3  	2.0  	0.1  	14.8  	19.3  	104  	116  	

The issue lies on the defensive end where Parker’s defense was arguably better. I’m not advocating that Belinelli is the solution, just saying that on the offensive side of things it’s just like retaining Parker in a bench role. I concede that an upgrade is needed. However, if these issues remain unaddressed, it’s going to be up to Triano to find a way to hide this weakness by spreading out the impact of the starters across the 48 minutes by figuring out combination of players that gel together on the court while keeping in mind their minutes capacity. After all that’s a big (biggest?) part of being a coach. Last year Sam Mitchell was tasked with this duty concerning the PG spot and it seemed unfair at the time and is the same today; I don’t think Triano will be dealt an unfair hand if he takes the current roster to training camp, certainly nothing close to what Mitchell had to deal with.

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