Apr 14, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard-forward John Salmons (25) passes to guard Nando De Colo (3) against the Milwaukee Bucks during the first half at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Can the Raptors improve their bench?

Mar 30, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) celebrates with forward Steve Novak (16) against the Orlando Magic at Amway Center. The Raptors won 98-93. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Last season the Toronto Raptors continued what has been their pattern since Dwane Casey became head coach prior to the strike-shortened year of ’11-’12. A nine-man rotation was established, solidified following the Gay trade, and the other players gathered dust. While I can’t quarrel with the results, I’m concerned about the long-term impact on our team. There’s no such thing as too much depth, but there certainly is too little. In my view, that’s where we are.

My biggest concern remains injuries. The Raps are young, and have no chunky guys (Kyle Lowry lost a significant amount of weight last summer, then enjoyed the best season of his career), two factors which help keep players healthy. However, it’s a brutally demanding game, and the Basketball Gods are going to insist upon their pound of flesh eventually. Of our starting five, the one who played the fewest games was Amir Johnson with 77. Our team was remarkably free of major, and even minor, injuries in ’13-’14; the odds are very much against us being so lucky twice in a row.

What should a strong last third of the lineup look like? Ideally, one player per position, consisting of a mix of eager rookies and sophomores, with a veteran or two cashing his last year’s worth of huge cheques. The Raps don’t have that – not even close.

Our nine rotation players (and John Salmons, who will be paid off and told to go away) are outside the scope of this discussion. We’re left to consider the futures of Steve Novak, Landry Fields, Dwight Buycks, Julyan Stone and Nando De Colo, the ones most likely to rack up the dreaded DNP-CD (Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision) in the morning scoresheet. What immediately jumps out at me is how small our back-enders are. I’ve fussed before about how we need to take out some Jonas Valanciunas insurance, and tiny Chuck Hayes doesn’t really count. Our backup guards, Buycks and Stone, haven’t proven their NBA-level skills as yet. Last year, Buycks shot just over 31%, and Stone made 7 baskets – how many opportunities do these guys get? Although the summer league roster has not been released, one assumes they will both be playing, and it’s Last Chance Saloon.

Novak has value as a proven stretch-4. He fell out of favour with coach Dwane Casey (or Patrick Patterson fell into it, if you prefer), and his departure as part of a trade package would be little surprise. Fields remains a mystery. Is he still beset with unnamed aches and pains? He’s untradeable on his merits, but a solid training camp and pre-season may make him relevant again. That leaves Nando, whom I like. I think he’ll be one of the major beneficiaries of Salmons’s departure.

To sum up, we need help, and the draft may come to our rescue. At the #20 pick, I’d select the biggest front court man I could find who isn’t a project. The second-rounders are a crapshoot, so all we can do is hope for a pleasant surprise without counting on it.

What do you think, Rapture Nation? Have I undervalued a favourite of yours? Let me know in the Comments.

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