“I think on my part, I failed to see what we were looking for,” said Ujiri in his season wrap-up press conference. “Maybe the type of bigs we were looking for should have maybe been a different type of player. That’s on me.”
Starting the season 12-15 with a big man rotation of Aron Baynes and Alex Len, the numbers speak to just how harshly Toronto was getting beat on the glass with those two tasked to finish possessions. The Raptors were last in the league in defensive rebounding percentage (28.1 percent) in those 27 games to start the season. After Len was waived, the situation didn’t improve. Baynes couldn’t hang in extended minutes and between a COVID-19 outbreak and various injuries, a small “best five” lineup never materialized during the most important part of Toronto’s schedule.
Luckily, a couple of guys came along to save the day, though it ended up being too little too late. Freddie Gillespie was one of those. Initially signed to a pair of ten-day contracts, Gillespie ended up signing a two-year deal with the Raptors, averaging 5.6 points and 4.9 rebounds in 20 games, starting two. The Baylor Bears product was raw, but an instant spark plug on the glass and improved his skills over time. Most importantly, alongside the Khem Birch signing, Gillespie’s addition marked a clear turnaround in Toronto’s success on the glass. Once 28th in defensive rebounding percentage, they improved to 18th before the end of the regular season.