Is the Raptors bench lacking talent or opportunity?
Imman Adan and Asad Alvi evaluate the state of the Raptors' up and coming talent as the team searches for depth off the bench next season. Listen to the full podcast on the 'Raptors Over Everything' podcast feed, where we hand out grades to each bench player.
IMMAN ADAN: Who's going to come off the bench, right? OG, Fred VanVleet, Norm Powell, who turns into Gary Trent, Jr. All of these guys slowly became starters. And so you lost what you had there. And the Raptors, their idea is to sort of refunnel and get those young guys to develop and come into-- become Siakam 2.0s, and so on and so forth. And the Raptors just not been able to do that.
So my question to you is, is that because there is no real young talent to the level of a Fred VanVleet that the Raptors have been able to find? Obviously, Pascal is an All-NBA player. Fred VanVleet is an All-Star. So maybe these heights are too high.
But have the Raptors just not been able to find great guys? Or do you think that it's a development issue, and the Raptors just haven't given these guys a chance? I know that's, like, a really long-winded way of putting it. But before we get into the nitty-gritty, I just wanted to get an overall sense--
ASAD ALVI: Before we get into that, again, like, the Raptors in that championship season, the season before, they had a bench full of, like, first round picks coming off, right, whether they were, like, 15th or 20th picks. Like, outside of Norm Powell, like, you're talking about Delon Wright--
IMMAN ADAN: I mean, Fred is undrafted.
ASAD ALVI: Yeah, that's fine. Norm and Fred are--
IMMAN ADAN: Norm is a second round guy.
ASAD ALVI: --second round and undrafted, but that's two guys over the course of, like, six years that you're talking about that are coming--
IMMAN ADAN: Malachi is a first round pick.
ASAD ALVI: Yeah, and that's the thing, right? But Malachi is the only-- like, Malachi and Scottie are the only two first round picks that you have since the championship that are on the team. That's because you obviously-- like, it's just, you know, championship equity. You paid a lot of first round picks to get that championship team in. You needed to get Marc Gasol and whatever.
But at the end of the day, it's just like, OK, now, moving forward, how do you kind of restock that? So the Raptors tried to go the route of undrafted guys and second rounders, and tried to hit there, or tried to do-- redraft guys like Rondae and Stanley. Neither of those worked out.
And then they just-- you get unlucky with a Yuta and Oshae, who were just injured--
IMMAN ADAN: I forgot about Rondae and Stanley.
ASAD ALVI: Yeah, like, Yuta and Oshae were brought in, and they were here for a year or two. But they spent most of those years injured and couldn't really build any type of-- right, because of injury. So at a certain point, like, as management, you have to kind of reroll it.
And you get unlucky. They go somewhere else, they're able to stay healthy and perform, which is unfortunate. But again, you give someone two years, and they can't stay healthy, you can't go, I think-- especially for those end of bench spots, I can understand why management would reroll those spots for younger guys.
I will say, though, these past two years especially, where we've really seen basically, the Raptors were ahead of schedule because Scottie Barnes came in a lot better than he was projected. Suddenly it was like, oh, we can actually win and get into the playoffs. But we have to play a certain style.
So we're playing a-- we're playing a different style of basketball. We're playing very starter-heavy to try and grind these wins out so that way, we are able to maximize our top-end talent, even though the Raptors don't have any--
Like, the Raptors have first-stringers and third-stringers. And they have very few guys that are in that second-string category. Like, there are very few teams where Chris Boucher or Precious Achiuwa will be your sixth and seventh man. They will likely be your eighth or ninth man. But they're your sixth or seventh man.
Like, your sixth and seventh-- your sixth and seventh roster spot is usually someone who can be a starter, who can be someone who can give you 25, 30 minutes if someone goes down. And the Raptors have, up until this Jakob Poeltl trade, just not had a sixth starter.
Like, we can say Precious Achiuwa showed glimpses of that in his first season with the Raptors. But he struggled mightily this season, which is, again, development. Like, you have a young player. You're going to have ups and downs. It is what it is.
But he wasn't a starter-level player this year. Meanwhile, Gary Trent, he struggled. He had his struggles with health throughout the season as well. But you could still say that he was at least the one guy who could be a starter-quality guy coming off your bench. Well, who's the next guy, right?
And I think when you look at some of the best teams in the league, it's not just that they have starters, but they'll have one or two guys on their bench who can legitimately come in and give you starter minutes, right? And again, that's something that you have to develop with the bench, whether it's like--
And now, you get into the philosophy, like, if guys deserve minutes or not, or if you actually give them more minutes, they can carve out a role. But what happens is, when you have that type of talent dearth where the falloff is pretty sharp-- like, Malachi Flynn is a first round pick, but act like-- have we seen a lot of him? No, but we have seen a fair bit of him. And the fair bit we have seen, I personally say, is a very struggling NBA player.
Like, he struggles to be a backup point guard. And we can go into it when we get into grading him. But again, it's like, if you-- like, these are players that have significant flaws in their game. So when you play them more minutes, your margins are just so much smaller when they make big mistakes.
So it's like even when people talk about the Raptors this season, like, the Raptors underperformed this season. Well, why did they underperform? Well, some of their big minute guys just underperformed.
And you can talk about Fred underperforming, and Pascal having a slump, or OG being injured or whatever. And those are fair criticisms for them. But also, the Raptors did play Precious Achiuwa significant minutes. Like, Precious Achiuwa's minutes more or less tanked them two or three games in the stretch run of the season because he came on for 10 minutes and completely bottled the game, right? But you play him because those are development minutes.
So Scottie at the beginning of the season came out, didn't have the right focus, couldn't figure out his game. But you play him through it. You play him the 30, 35 minutes because those are the development minutes. You eat those bumps. And eating those bumps is going to cost you two or three wins in a season, right?
And it just becomes a point it's like, well, you can eat those bumps with, like, two guys who are playing big minutes. But now, are you going to then also tack on bumps of trying to see-- like, Dalano Banton played a lot of minutes in the early part of the season. And he was also not good at any point.
Dalano Banton did not have any good minutes outside of when the team was down 20 or up 20 in garbage time. And that is a significant problem, right? And that's where you can look at, like, we from the outside will have no perspective on what their development system is behind the scenes. But how are these-- like, what's happened there?
You have a talent drain from your best years to now, where all the guys who headed that department are more or less-- whether with Golden State or Orlando or LA, wherever they might be. And are they still developing talent the same way? Like, do they still have the-- Like, they're getting worse talent in the door because they didn't have first round picks the last few years to really hit on.
And then you also have a question of maybe they don't have the same development power. So that's something that-- and Masai brought it up in his presser as well as something that they legitimately need to look at moving forward.
And it did mean something to me that the names that Masai mentioned, like, he personally named Christian Koloko, Malachi Flynn, Dalano Banton, Ron Harper, Jr., Jeff Dowtin. These are the guys that he actually named in his end of season presser. And those are all guys where you can look at them and yes, you could say they probably need more minutes to develop.
But you can also argue that they're all significantly flawed players as well at the moment. So they probably need to improve their baseline skills, as well as probably given a little bit more rope. But I wouldn't say that it's just a matter of, oh, they get more minutes, they'll be better.
There are sufficient-- there's sufficient amount of evidence that they struggle at very core things, how the team runs. And maybe that's where a new coach helps, right? Maybe what they need is significantly more role definition, where the Raptors--
IMMAN ADAN: Well, that's sort of what I wanted to get into, right, is-- I don't want to call it the nature and nurture of it, but essentially, is it that the Raptors just don't have anything to work with in terms of bench depth? Or is it that these guys are just not given a chance, right? Because you're sort of starting to hear both of those arguments.
And I have a couple of bangers from [INAUDIBLE]. These stats that she has, phenomenal. Toronto is ranked first in most starter minutes and last in most-- in least bench minutes in each of the last three seasons.
So we're going back to when guys like Fred VanVleet and Pascal and OG and all these guys came into the starting lineup. First in starter minutes and last in bench minutes-- that points to something there.