Over the past month Raptors head coach Dwane Casey can be excused for going deeper into his bench than he’d like with all the injuries he has been forced to contend with, but that doesn’t explain why he’s back to going 11 or 12 men deep in tight winnable games against subpar competition. His substitutions recently beg the question, are the Raptors showcasing players for a potential trade?
All those extra bodies sure didn’t help Toronto pull out wins against the Magic, two recent losses of 114-113 and 102-94, or the Timberwolves, a 112-109 loss. Even Casey admits it’s hard to play so many guys.
“It’s hard to play so many guys,” Casey said after the win over the Clippers on Monday. “I know everybody wants to see everybody play, but it’s hard in a rotation to try and get our rotation back.
“Really, realistically we are only going to be able to play 9, possibly 10 max as the year goes on when everybody is healthy.”
So why is Casey playing 11 or 12 guys? Who is this “everybody” who wants to see everybody play? It’s kind of vague, especially when the only person who could possibly convince Casey to go deeper into his bench than he’d like is his boss, president Masai Ujiri.
In Minnesota, with the Raptors up by just 6 points and 1.6 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, Casey brings in a 10th man in Jared Sullinger. In theory it cost the Raptors nothing. In practice it sent Jonas Valanciunas, who was shooting 7-7, to the bench and helps limit him to just 26 minutes in a game where he was very effective.
So maybe Casey was just trying to get Sullinger some playing time as there is still hope the big guy can get into playing shape in time for the postseason? But, it wasn’t doing anything to help the Raptors win this game. Sullinger went 0-2 for 0 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 turnovers in 6 minutes. Not that it would be reasonable to expect a guy coming back from injury to produce much in 6 minutes after sitting on the bench for the first half.
Then about 5 minutes into the fourth quarter, Casey subs in Norman Powell for the first time in the game as an 11th man. At this point both Cory Joseph and Terrence Ross had done a reasonable job off the bench and could have stayed in the game/ one would have stayed in the game in a tight rotation.
Powell has earned playing time during his limited number of appearances as a starter this season, but to bring him off the bench midway thru the 4th quarter without a good reason produced an almost inevitable result. Ice-cold Powell went 0-0 from the field with just a turnover to prove he was there.
“We got to have 7 or 8 guys,” Casey said postgame in Minnesota. “If we can’t play 9, we can’t play 9, but 7 or 8 who are going to play hard together.”
To whom is Casey’s message directed? He been saying an effective rotation is 8 or 9 players and maybe 10 since he arrived in Toronto, so his comments are consistent. No one in the media seems to be disagreeing with him either. This isn’t the Lottery team he started with in 2011. If he wants to put winning ahead of player development and rehabbing injuries, he isn’t going to get a lot of flak from the press.
The possibility of an inconsistent rotation has been there since the start of the season when Ujiri let several veterans walk and added three rookies to an already young roster. It’s really hard for young players to develop sitting on the bench and stints in the NBA D-League can only help so much. Unfortunately, player development and deep playoff runs are not compatible goals.
If as Casey says there are aspirations of becoming a championship contender, then at some point, preferably soon, the Raptors need to settle on a tight rotation that can win games.
If what’s been going on has been a show to help Ujiri upgrade the roster for the postseason, it would certainly help explain the inconsistencies between what their head coach says he needs to do and what he’s been doing lately.