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Let’s find some bench options

Four games in a week. Two back-to-backs. Let's find some bench options.

Four games in a week. Two back-to-backs. Let’s find some bench options.

Chris Boucher has been fantastic off the bench for nearly two months now, and Precious Achiuwa has been a consistent positive defensively all season. They’re in the lineup night in, and night out. We have to look a little further.

Dalano Banton

Banton can make a strong case for sneaking into the thick of things as a ‘transitional unit’ bench guy. Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam are on the masthead of the Raptors ‘everyone is 6’9″‘ ethos, but Banton fits in just as well. The question is whether or not you want to tether Banton to Fred VanVleet or Pascal Siakam. With VanVleet, the aggregate of their 319 possessions on the floor together comes out to a very tidy +15 per 100 possessions. They’ve turned teams over a bunch, and Banton is both good at pushing in transition and filling the lane in transition. The only problem? Most of the lineups are relics of the earlier part of this season. They’re filled with Svi Mykhailiuk’s and Khem Birch’s and a version of the Raptors defense that the league (through a tighter whistle and offensive adjustments) grew to understand better. Not to mention, if the Raptors were looking to supplement a player’s minutes with support, one would figure it would be VanVleet’s.

The good news? Banton has found a home in different variations of the Raptors jumbo lineups recently. They might not be the ‘Funk Fest Quartet’, but he slides in really well next to the 6’9″ conglomerate. His aggressive passing lane defense, and proactive rotation pairs well with the rest of the length on the roster and if Siakam or Anunoby is having a plus game as a passer, Banton will make plays as a cutter. If the Raptors are going to lean into the weird stuff, Banton should see minutes.

Malachi Flynn

This is the most ‘normal’ way forward for the Raptors. Of course, they haven’t succeeded at normal all year, but this is the way. Flynn has been somewhat doomed by the Raptors roster context since arriving with the organization. He was the best NCAA pick n’ roll guard and he got drafted to a team that is very short on good ‘pnr’ big men, and a coach that is very hesitant to hand out those possessions to anyone not named Kyle Lowry (Flynn’s rookie year) or Fred VanVleet. The organizational pressure to come through as a dependable 3-point shooter has been placed heavily on Flynn’s shoulders. He’s 63 of 188 so far in his career (heaves not counted), and given that he is ‘against-type’ for the Raptors platonic ideal, he hasn’t shot nearly well enough to justify jumping a wing or a big in the rotation.

The Hornets game was the audition he needed, however. 11 points, 3 assists, and better defense than most young guards bring (although not a major positive), Flynn added a little bit of shot-making pop and heady passing to a Raptors team that was orbiting Siakam. You’re not going to hate every second of his defense on an opposing guard, and if he limits his offense to solid decision making and isn’t asked to create for himself a lot? You can find something there. Flynn makes sense if the Raptors are resting VanVleet’s knee on the second or first night of one of their back-to-backs, but I struggle to see him fitting in otherwise.

Justin Champagnie

Did his ejection with PJ Washington also eject him from the Raptors rotation?? He averaged over double-digit minutes in 8 straight appearances prior to his DNP-CD against the Bulls, and the Raptors have no doubt found utility in his minutes. He rebounds the hell out of the ball, and the Raptors have thrown him at some of the most impressive offensive players they’ve had to face off against. Be it Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, or Devin Booker – he’s guarded some guys. And coming back to the rebounding, if the Raptors are looking to carve out wins in the margins of the possession war – which is a big part of their branding and playstyle this year – Champagnie remains one of the best rebounding wings in the NBA, not just among rookies.

The offensive limitations are a real problem, and maybe Nurse is trying to move away from that to some degree, but Champagnie has been a lightning rod in a lot of the same ways that Banton has. I’m expecting to see him in some games this week.

Yuta Watanabe

Watanabe is never going to give up anything you don’t want on the defensive end. He’s as solid as they come, and the only complaint the Raptors likely have is that he’s very risk-averse so he doesn’t turn teams over as much as they might want – he has 1 steal over his last (roughly) 140 minutes on the court. This makes the calculus for this one really, really simple. Is Watanabe going to hit his threes? Because teams have been running him off the 3-point line enough that he’s wasting ticks on the shot-clock or forcing up a terrible attempt at the rim, where he’s struggled mightily. He’s shooting 45-percent from the corners, which is great, but the Raptors often need spacing from above-the-break. The Raptors need a version of Watanabe that won’t pass up 3-point shots, and that will hit at a passable clip. It remains to be seen if Nurse is willing to roll the dice on Watanabe again, because recently when the ball hits his hands, disaster strikes.

Svi Mykhailiuk

All the promise of his game has remained undelivered so far this season. The potential of a bit of rim pressure has been halted by poor decision making. The 3-point shot that soared above 40-percent in Detroit seems like a fever dream at this point, and the defense has leaned more negative than positive. Over his last 12 games played, he’s shooting 31-percent from the field and 20-percent from three. There’s been little to no positives about anything he’s been doing on the court, and despite Nurse openly commenting that he sees him as ‘kind of like a GTJ type player’, the shot-making really isn’t there. The strength, the balance, the vertical pop, and the promise of a jumper makes Mykhailiuk look like he could be the best option off the bench. That he could possibly fill a role that moves the Raptors off of certain trade candidates. But, he’s been poor. He just hasn’t been able to provide what the Raptors have asked of him on either end.

Goran Dragic

Hahaha, yeah. Listen to the back end of mine and Blake’s podcast to hear about how they might be able to trade him for bench help (there’s timestamps).

Khem Birch

That nose is still broken. We’ll revisit this whenever he hits the healthy side of the docket again.

Have a blessed day.