Raptors need more from their bench if they want to make a playoff run

Mar 23 2023, 3:50 pm

As up and down as this Toronto Raptors regular season has been, the finish line is finally, perhaps mercifully, in sight.

The opening game of the NBA play-in tournament is just 19 days away, with Toronto having about a four-in-five shot that they’ll at least have one more game following the conclusion of their 82-game schedule.

And for a Raptors team that’s had no shortage of impressive victories this season, it’s also been far too common to walk away from a game this season with the feeling that the team just needed a little extra juice to pull it out.

There’s a litany of reasons why Toronto has underperformed this season: injuries, clear periods of overall team morale being down, the odd bounce falling the wrong way.

But perhaps the biggest one has been that the team’s substitutes haven’t really been able to put the ball in the basket.

Toronto’s bench is contributing just 27.5 points per game, which ranks a dismal 29th in the league, via RealGM.

If the team has any hope of making noise in the postseason, that’s not going to cut it.

Why is having a strong bench so important?

As talented as some of the team’s players are, none of Toronto’s starters are the type of players to be among the very top leaders in league scoring.

Pascal Siakam, leading Toronto with 24.2 points per game, sits 19th in league scoring.

He’s topped 40 points just once this season, a 52-point night against the Knicks in New York back in December. As good as he can be, he’s unlikely to have the type of playoff series where he wins a series single-handedly — which is totally acceptable, as few players in NBA history can really do that.

Here’s where the last four NBA champions sit when it comes to their bench scoring among their playoff counterparts.

  • 2021-22 Golden State Warriors: 34.8 points/game, third
  • 2020-21 Milwaukee Bucks 23.2 points/game, 13th
  • 2019-20 Los Angeles Lakers 33.8 points/game, fifth
  • 2018-19 Toronto Raptors 25.8 points/game, 13th

Both Golden State and Los Angeles — who had generational talents in LeBron James and Steph Curry — still needed strong bench performances to put their teams over the top.

On the other hand, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard’s otherworldly performances in 2021 and 2019 might seem like they were one-man shows, but both those rosters still had quite a deep starting lineup that made the team’s short benches less of a liability.

Oddly, Toronto’s seemingly awful bench this season would be outscoring its playoff bench from 2019, but it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.

One, league scoring averages have hit an all-time high this season, with faster-paced offences driving up scores on a nightly basis.

And two, perhaps more importantly, bench scoring numbers typically drop in the postseason, with fewer minutes allocated lower down in the rotation. Still, it’s imperative that Toronto get the best out of the minutes they do give their bench.

Toronto’s current bench options

When it comes to Toronto’s current bench makeup, there’s Gary Trent Jr., Chris Boucher, and then, well, everyone else.

Trent Jr., who has spent 43 games in the starting lineup and has only come off the bench 20 times, has 15 or more points off the bench 12 times, while Boucher has done it 11 times.

No other player on Toronto’s roster has done it more than four times.

Malachi Flynn, who is the team’s de facto backup point guard, is averaging just 4.6 points per night.

During last night’s 118-114 loss to Indiana, Flynn made a pair of second-half three-pointers, the former which gave Toronto the lead in the third quarter and the latter which cut Indiana’s 86-80 fourth-quarter lead in half.

“Those were certainly important for us and he worked pretty hard,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said following the game.

But with Flynn finishing with eight total points on the night, it’s still a relatively low bar for what some semblance of bench success means from the Raptors.

Thaddeus Young hasn’t played more than 10 minutes in a game since February 28, while he’s sat entirely in six of the last eight games, playing just 9:18 in that span. He doesn’t appear to be the factor Toronto needs, or at least not one that has the trust of his coaching staff.

Precious Achiuwa hasn’t put up more than 10 points since February 25, which was also the last time he saw more than 20 minutes of action on a night. Expected to be a key rotation player, he’s had a tough stretch for Toronto of late.

New addition Will Barton has not topped five points in any of his first 10 games with Toronto.

Dalano Banton is currently out with a thumb sprain and hasn’t played at all in March.

Long story short, Toronto’s bench is looking, well, thin.

And if the team’s hoping to make any noise in the postseason, they’ll need someone to play above their current level to have a fighting chance at pulling off an upset.

Adam LaskarisAdam Laskaris

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