In the 2017-18 NBA season, the Toronto Raptors achieved the greatest single-season record in franchise history with a record of 59-23. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors seemingly dominated opponents for the full 48 minutes of play. While the stars get the due credit, the Raptors bench were 5th in the league in terms of points from the second unit. Highlighted by 2018 Most Improved Player nominee Fred VanVleet, the Raptors’ “Bench Mob” averaged 41 points per game. However, the Raptors bench has been inadequate and has become a glaring issue on the court.
Toronto Raptors Bench Depth a Growing Concern
Eastern Conference Quarter Finals (vs. Orlando Magic)
In a five-game Gentleman’s Sweep against the overmatched Orlando Magic, the Raptors collectively bounced back from a forgettable loss in Game 1. It would be unfair to blame the loss on any one player; even Kyle Lowry, who ended the game with a doughnut in the scorer’s column. This was a textbook example of underestimating an opponent who had seemingly nothing to lose.
In Game 1, the Raptors’ bench naturally took a backseat to the starters as rotations tightened. VanVleet had a great game off the bench; providing 14 points in 27 minutes. Sadly, this would be VanVleet’s best statistical performance during the playoffs so far as he has yet to match this performance. Serge Ibaka also left much more to be desired with his 5 points, 8 rebounds in 19 minutes as well. Norman Powell and Jodie Meeks also chipped in with 4 and 3 points respectively.
After Game 1, the Raptors found their stride and won the next four games against the Magic. Led by Leonard, Lowry and budding superstar Pascal Siakam, the bench was not relied upon to bail the starters out in tight situations because, frankly, there weren’t many. However, while the starters quickly dispatched the Magic, the production of the Toronto Raptors bench remained a relevant concern.
Raptors Bench Game 1 Against the Philadelphia 76ers
In an Atlantic Division playoff matchup, the Raptors were able to carry over the wave of momentum established in the first round in Game 1 against the Philadelphia 76ers. With a 45-point, 11-rebound performance from star Kawhi Leonard and 29 points from Siakam, the forwards were able to carry Toronto to an impressive 108-95 victory.
While Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Danny Green facilitated the offense of Leonard and Siakam, the Raptors bench performed heinously. In 24 minutes, VanVleet finished the game with 3 points (1/2 FG, 1/4 FT), 3 assists. VanVleet’s production has been disheartening due to the consistency and steady pace his game usually provides the Raptors.
Despite providing two spectacular blocks, Ibaka must also be held accountable for his performance. In 19 minutes, Ibaka provided 7 points (3/9 FG, 0/2 3PT) and 6 rebounds. In the case of Ibaka, he is still adjusting to coming off the bench. Prior to the Jonas Valanciunas trade, Ibaka was a consistent starter who often benefited from the play of Lowry and Leonard.
With the stars running all over the 76ers in Game 1, the Toronto Raptors bench could not afford to have another 10-point collective output.
Raptors Bench Struggles Continue into Game 2
Following the 13-point loss, the 76ers came out showing more fight in Game 2. Philadelphia was able to contain the Raptors for nearly three quarters. Despite a valiant effort by Leonard, once again producing a 30+ point playoff performance, the Raptors fell to the 76ers 94-89.
In a season highlighted by “load management”, Raptors Head Coach Nick Nurse played Leonard a heavy 42 minutes of action, 4 more minutes than Leonard played in Game 1’s 13-point victory. Leonard looked game for the challenge, posting a stat line of 35 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists. The Raptors have proven that they don’t need to have Leonard’s minutes in the high-30s in order to win games so this is a direct cause of the Raptors bench inability to provide support.
After only scoring 10 points in Game 1, the Raptors bench was once again completely missing in action in Game 2. In a 5-point loss, the once famed “bench mob” put up a disgraceful 5 total points. For VanVleet, Ibaka, Powell and Jodie Meeks (who saw 2 highly questionable minutes of playing time) to collectively shoot 2/11 hindered the Raptors in many areas.
With the 76ers being a top-heavy team, the Raptors were expected to have an edge with their bench play. That has not happened and, frankly, if it weren’t for Leonard and Siakam, the Raptors could have well been down 0-2 heading into Philly.
The Raptors bench needs to wake up before it devastates the team’s real opportunity to reach the Eastern Conference Finals and even the franchise’s first NBA Finals appearance. Although it would be unfair to expect him to radically transform the play, the bench sorely misses the versatility of OG Anunoby.
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