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The Raptors Battle For Minutes Will Be At Center

Raptors president Masai Ujiri has assembled the deepest, most experienced and most talented group of players of his reign in Toronto. Even with new head coach Nick Nurse suggesting he’ll play a deep rotation of 10 or 11 guys, there will be a battle for minutes that extends beyond the preseason and the it’s guys in the center facing the toughest challenge.

“We’re deep man,” Kyle Lowry said after practice in Vancouver. “There’s some competition going on right now.

“We haven’t gotten to the point yet to figure out minutes.”

But perhaps the most ominous thought crossing Lowry’s mind if you’re a center was,

“You can play Pascal (Siakam) at the five.”

Don’t think for a minute the other big guys on the Raptors don’t know the direction the NBA has been headed in for a while now and that a smaller uber-athlete like Siakam can steal minutes at the center spot.

Heading into camp with two former Spurs deservedly slotted into starting lineup and Greg Monroe the logical replacement for Jakob Poeltl at center in the second unit, coach Nurse is going to be forced into some tough decisions.

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*  Kawhi Leonard’s minutes are from 2 seasons ago. There is some legitimate debate about whether Ibaka, Siakam or Anunoby should start at power forward.

There’s 240 available minutes and if Nurse would stick with a 10-man rotation, his decisions could become a lot easier, but this isn’t going to be easy.

1. Miles is a prolific three-point shooter in short minutes and there’s almost no chance he isn’t going to be part of the rotation.

2. Last year Dwane Casey found minutes for Norman Powell who has a $40 million contract, but Nurse isn’t going to find that task so easy this year unless the injuries pile up.

3. All of Valanciunas, Monroe and Ibaka are expecting significant minutes at center this season…. oops

Getting past Valanciunas will start at center and Nurse will have trouble cutting his minutes any further than Casey did last year, Monroe expects to be the backup center and Ibaka thinks he’ll be playing more in the post. Add in this team is expected to shoot more threes than ever before and will be more perimeter oriented, something has to give.

“Obviously it’s just coming in with the second group playing backup center,” Monroe explained. “I knew what I was coming into. That’s what I was expecting.”

“I spoke to the coach,” Ibaka said. “He wants me to be in the paint, offensive rebound. He wants me to protect the paint. That’s something I always loved to do.”

It’s worth remembering Monroe was really good in Boston playing with an elite team and Ibaka has almost been begging to be allowed to protect the rim as he did for the Thunder when he was a All Defensive First Team player instead of a three-point shooter.

However, if Nurse decides a small ball lineup with Leonard, Anunoby and Siakam plus a couple of guards gives him his best defense and a run-it-down-your-throat offense, minutes for the more traditional big guys are going to be even harder to find.

Someone(s) may not be very happy and Nurse’s job distributing minutes could be even tougher than it first appears.

It almost feels obvious that Lowry wants to play more minutes than he did last season and if the Raptors want to retain Leonard, he gets as many minutes as he wants too. As a pending free agent Leonard needs to show he’s 100 percent back, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise if the team’s new superstar is playing more minutes than he did in San Antonio.

Anunoby had a solid rookie campaign and has starter or better potential. The team has to want to see more from him this season in a bigger role. Then there’s impressive way Siakam plays. He’s a Nick Nurse-style big man and should be expected to earn the right to be on the court more than last year.

Not forgetting VanVleet got Sixth Man of the Year votes last year because of how well the Raptors offense ran with him on the court. Fresh off signing a new deal, he deserves a bigger role too.

The players on the Raptors very impressive second unit from last season are going to be tough to keep off the court.

Toronto can play almost any style out there. They can play big and slow or very fast. They have guys that can dominate in the paint as much as that happens in today’s game or they can stay on the perimeter and bomb away with threes. But all that versatility and depth comes with it’s own set of problems.

Training camp and preseason are easy, but once the games start to count and coach Nurse starts playing the way everyone believes he is the most comfortable, the real battle for minutes at the center spot is going to show up.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.