During the Toronto Raptors five years in the NBA Draft Lottery, the team was exposed over and over again as susceptible to collapse with just one key injury. A lack of depth was a consistent problem that paralleled the lack of talent. Resolving that issue got a big shot in the arm last season with the trade of Rudy Gay to the Kings for four players who became the Raptors bench and afterwards Toronto actually maintained a high level of play even when key players missed a game or two.
President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri has built on that depth over the summer by retaining Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson and adding Lou Williams and James Johnson. Ujiri has given Head Coach Dwane Casey a roster full of versatile players that can play multiple positions and some veteran backups in Landry Fields, Tyler Hansbrough and Chuck Hayes who proved last season that they could stay ready to play and contribute even if they weren’t part of the regular rotation.
How rookie forward Bruno Caboclo and center Lucas Nogueira will fit into Casey’s plans is still to be determined – possibly during preseason, but more likely over the course of the regular season.
Point Guard: Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez
Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan, Lou Williams
Small Forward: Terrence Ross, James Johnson, Landry Fields, Bruno Caboclo
Power Forward: Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson, Tyler Hansbrough
Center: Jonas Valanciunas, Chuck Hayes, Lucas Nogueira
Training Camp tryouts: guard Will Cherry, forward Jordan Hamilton and center Greg Stiemsma
The decision about who wins the 15th spot on the roster may come down to how good Caboclo and Nogueira look in preseason. The closer these two players appear to ready to play, the worse the chances for Hamilton and Stiemsma.
From a flexibility standpoint:
Vasquez or the nine-year veteran Williams could start at either guard position if necessary.
DeRozan, Ross and Fields can shift between wing spots easily.
James Johnson and Caboclo can play either forward position.
Hansbrough and Amir Johnson can play center as well.
Last year, the starting lineup of Lowry, DeRozan, Ross, Amir Johnson and Valanciunas had the most wins of any Raptors starting-five in team history and Coach Casey has them all back this season. Vasquez and Patterson provided the best two players coming off the bench for Toronto in a long time and with the younger and more versatile Williams and James Johnson replacing the older and slower John Salmons and the highly specialized Steve Novak, the Raptors bench is better. Casey has the option to use a solid nine-man rotation or insert Fields, Hansbrough or Hayes to spread the minutes around or give Caboclo or Nogueira some playing time to develop.
No team wants to test their depth, but every team is hit by illness or injury at some point and the Raptors are well equipped to deal with the usual assortment minor problems that are bound to happen. This year Toronto has the roster depth needed to keep a successful season on track.