The Toronto Raptors third shooting guard will be decided by philosophy

Toronto Raptors - Patrick McCaw (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Patrick McCaw (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

The battle for minutes between Matt Thomas and Patrick McCaw will come down to philosophy. This decision will show what type of team Nick Nurse wants the Toronto Raptors to be.

The Toronto Raptors will take a step back at shooting guard next season. While everyone, understandably, discusses the departure of Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green‘s exit has been overlooked.

Danny Green gave the Raptors 28 minutes, 10 points, and four rebounds per game. He was one of the team’s best defenders, finishing just a few votes short of an All-Defensive Team. And he spaced the floor effectively, hitting 2.5 threes per game at an incredible 45.5-percent clip.

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The majority of his minutes will be soaked up by Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet. Powell will like likely slide into the starting role, while VanVleet will continue to spend time both as the backup point guard and alongside Kyle Lowry in dual point guard units.

After being major pieces of the Raptors rotation last season, an uptick in minutes for both players is only natural.

However, it’s the remaining minutes that present a difficult decision for Nurse. It’s the third member of the rotation who will show what Nick Nurse’s basketball philosophy is.

McCaw gives the team fire, athleticism, and an annoyance. Theoretically, he gives them a defensive replacement for Green. Every advanced metric shows McCaw is not the defensive player Green is, but he does have a natural skillset on that end. McCaw is a downgrade on that side but a manageable one.

Offensively, however, things get a little tougher. McCaw has some athleticism and solid natural feel, but his inability as a shooter clogs up the entire offense. He attempted less than six shots per 36 minutes last season, shot just 33-percent from three, and made just one three-point shot all season with a defender within six feet (according to

Perhaps most damningly, the Raptors averaged  9.5 fewer points per 100 possessions with McCaw on the floor than when he was off. Teammates and other components factor into that figure, but there is no question, McCaw’s inability on that end clogged things up.

Matt Thomas, however, will provide spacing if nothing else. The 25-year-old wing comes to the Raptors as perhaps the best shooter on the team already. In his two seasons overseas, Thomas shot a ridiculous 47-percent from three-point range on an incredibly tough diet of looks. Meanwhile, his spot-up numbers were something out of a video game. — granted, all on a slightly shorter FIBA line.

But on the other end of the floor, Thomas is a significant step back. He’s smaller than Green, not the same caliber of athlete, and he’s doesn’t have nine seasons of NBA experience. Matt Thomas can replace what Green did on the offensive end of the floor, but the defensive gap between the two is canyon-sized.

Green and McCaw’s limitations provide a difficult decision for Nurse. Both players offer one half of what Danny Green did. McCaw provides the Raptors with an on-ball defender who can harass opposing ball handlers. Thomas provides them with a shooter to space the floor.

Which player Nurse picks, might come down to his basketball philosophy.

Is Nick Nurse the modern offensive mind we were originally sold when he was first hired? Or does he lean into the Raptors biggest strength last season, their defense? There isn’t one correct answer, but the choice he makes will be interesting regardless.

The decision isn’t quite that black and white, but next year will provide an interesting insight into what Nurse truly cares about as a basketball coach. His decision may not just impact next year’s team but may indicate the team’s stance for the immediate future.

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Will the Raptors be focussed on offense spacing and evolving their game to the new wave of basketball? Or do they believe that defense, above anything else, is the key to success? McCaw vs. Thomas will help us decide that.