When you are going up against a team that has the highest payroll in the league and was in the NBA Finals last year, any deficiencies are going to be exposed and the Toronto Raptors started this season trying to build on their recent success with five players expected to spend a lot of time in the NBA Development League. It was never expected to take much for their lack of depth to start showing.
Just like in the regular season, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has been juggling line-ups throughout the postseason due to various issues and injuries to his starters. While unexpected opportunities to play were a benefit to the team before the postseason, missing a starter or two as the competition ramps up in the playoffs isn’t as easy to work with.
“Our rhythm is off offensively because of our starters,” Casey said at shootaround prior to Game Two against the Cavaliers. “The guys that were with that (second) group are now starters. That’s one issue and so we are going to try to remedy that with different rotations, getting different guys in there to make sure we make up for that offensively because we do have some guys out of position.
“That happened in the second quarter (of Game One vs the Cavs), end of the first, start of the second last game.”
Early in the postseason Casey inserted Patrick Patterson in place of Luis Scola who had started all season. Patterson was playing more minutes off the bench than Scola during the regular season and Scola seems to have lost the shooting touch that made him so effective from three-point range this year, but Patterson’s shooting and defense has been badly missed in the second unit. Patterson’s absence from the second unit was noticeable long before Game One in Cleveland.
Then in the second round Jonas Valanciunas was hurt and Bismack Biyombo got the start. Another change and another hole when Casey goes to his bench.
Even losing rookie Norman Powell could be having an effect. He eventually took the starting small forward job when DeMarre Carroll was injured during the season, but fell out of the rotation altogether in the second round of the playoffs trying to guard Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson. His energy is missing and could be a logical addition to play bigger minutes with Casey’s second unit in Game Two.
The easy and obvious change for Casey to consider is to return Scola to the starting unit and hope his veteran can give him 15 minutes of defense on Kevin Love. That way Patterson can bolster the second unit while still giving him 30 plus minutes and closing out each of the quarters.
The other benefit of returning Patterson to the second unit is it may help get Cory Joseph out of his funk. Joseph hasn’t looked good since the second unit was shaken up.
“Cory is not playing instinctively,” Casey said. ” The way he normally plays. He is thinking way too much.”
Joseph would almost certainly play better surrounded by the guys he was used to playing with during the regular season. He wouldn’t have to think so much, he’d know where his guys would be and what they can do.
No matter what Casey decides, his options are limited. Bruno Caboclo won’t dress. Valanciunas is still injured. Lucas Nogueira or Delon Wright would be desperation moves and Jason Thompson, while a veteran, just hasn’t played that much. As Casey likes to remind everyone, the Raptors are a work in progress.
A better effort is expected from Toronto in Game Two, however, there is only so much Casey can tweak with his rotation. The Raptors aren’t carrying a wealth of playoff tested veterans on the back end of their bench. To do that, you need to build your roster more like the Cavaliers.