Let’s carry on with our discussion of “role” and “rotation” players. I think we’ve spend enough time defining role guys, so let’s talk about the rotation. The NBA season is long and exhausting, with a myriad of injuries. Coaches live in terror of watching one of their key players writhing in agony after blowing out a knee or twisting an ankle. Playing minutes are carefully monitored, particularly for top players. Luol Deng of the Bulls led the NBA in minutes per game [MPG] at 38.7, followed by Kobe; DeMar DeRozan was the leader of the Toronto Raptors at 36.7, which ranked him 18th overall. In other words, even superstar-level players average 10 or more minutes of rest per 48-minute game, and someone else has to effectively fill in. Those “someone else’s” are the rotation players, who are usually #2 on a team’s positional depth chart.
Time to zero in on our favourite squad. At centre, Jonas Valanciunas is the unquestioned #1, with Aaron Gray as backup. JV averaged 23.9 MPG in 62 games, while Aaron was at 12.2, but in just 42 games. He was healthy all season, but spent a great deal of it on the bench. When JV needed a rest, Aaron was not coach Casey’s first choice as replacement. Coach would throw in Amir Johnson at centre, or play small ball. Aaron is not in the conversation as a rotation player, nor should he be. He’s 28, and already a step or more slow for today’s NBA.
Centre is a microcosm of the Raps’ biggest weakness. Ideally the Raps would have a solid #2 at each position, giving us 5 starters and 5 rotation players, with the last 4-5 roster spots fleshed out with role players [Respected Veteran Defender/Father Figure, Rebounding Fool/Cranky Butt-Kicker, Hot & Cold Long-Range Shooter, etc.]. That’s not the case. Our rotation players, guys who can at least hold their own when on the floor, are few in number. Landry Fields should be in the rotation, but certainly wasn’t last season. He may get one more chance for meaningful minutes. Linas Kleiza was pencilled into the rotation, but erased as the season progressed, due to injuries and shabby play. Andrea Bargnani slipped the worst; from starter to rotation (barely, after shooting dismally, then being hurt) to injured and done. Of course players move in and out of every team’s rotation all the time, but the Raps had many slip down, and precious few move up. When I survey our roster, I see 5 starters (JV, Kyle, DeMar, Rudy, Amir), a slew of question marks (Ross, Acy, Anderson, Bargnani, Kleiza, Fields), and more than enough emergency-use-only guys (Gray, Pietrus, Lucas, Telfair).
So we conclude our two-parter on a sad note. The Raps might be the weakest team in the NBA for rotation/role players, precisely the type we need to ride out slumps and avoid injuries caused by starters’ overuse. How Masai Ujiri can rectify this situation will be the subject of an upcoming post.
Brian Boake is Senior Editor for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.