Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse is searching right now. He knows what his core guys can provide, the top five or so who have been with the team for a few years now. But after that, the Raptors roster is a little jumbled up.
In some ways that’s a good thing. It means the Raptors are flexible. Some nights they can deploy Chris Boucher and a smallball lineup with versatility and speed. On other nights, they can go big, using Aron Baynes, Alex Len, and Stanley Johnson whenever necessary.
But at the same time, having a constantly changing rotation means that nobody has really stepped up and taken over a defined role. That’s something Nurse said he wanted earlier in the season. He said he had hoped to do things differently this year, using a clear seventh and eighth man on a regular basis to allow for some development. It seemed as though he wanted Matt Thomas or DeAndre’ Bembry to step up and take over that role. But after Thursday night’s 100-83 victory over the New York Knicks that included some strange lineup constructions, very little seems clear about the Raptors rotation.
With Pascal Siakam out for disciplinary reasons, Nurse moved Norman Powell into the starting rotation and used a 10-man rotation that included playing time for Chris Boucher, Alex Len, Stanley Johnson, Terence Davis, and Yuta Watanabe. It was the second straight game in which Johnson played over 10 minutes and was the first real showing of the season for Davis and Watanabe.
“There’s a lot of guys we tried there. Again, we’re a little bit different maybe tonight because of the Pascal situation, which certainly got Stanley in the mix early to handle Randle and probably got Yuta in the mix just positional. So, I thought they all did okay,” Nurse said. “I thought Yuta competed, I thought TD hit a couple shots, he’ll feel his way through there but, again, we’ve seen him produce some offence for us and we’re going to need that at some time.”
With Aron Baynes struggling for the second time this season, Nurse went to Boucher and Len who both looked pretty good. Boucher had nine points and nine rebounds while Len tallied 11 points that surprisingly included three 3-pointers. It’s made for a bit of a crowded frontcourt without anyone really standing out through four games.
“I think it’s going to be a game-to-game type of thing,” Nurse said of his frontcourt rotation. “[I] think we’re going to feel it out, feel it through, and just keep evaluating.”
That seems like it’s going to be the way things go for most of the rotation this year. Until someone really steps up, Nurse is going to be tinkering with things on a night-to-night basis, trying to figure out what’s working.
“The single first question I ask at every time out is who should be in the game? Like, who’s got it going, who’s playing well, who has a matchup, who doesn’t have it going, who do we need to search for something,” Nurse said. “I think that’s kind of what the majority of what I’m doing over there most of the night is, just trying to figure out who needs to be in. It’s probably a little more challenging when it’s a group of a bunch of guys, but you know you just got to go with your gut a little bit, and check the matchups a little bit, and then now at this stage we’re just getting some guys some looks a little bit as well.”
Having that kind of depth is helpful in some instances, but the Raptors would be much better off if they could find a solid rotation with a true top eight to roll with on most nights.