Toronto Raptors Panic Meter: Time to worry about a lack of forward depth?

Toronto Raptors - OG Anunoby (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - OG Anunoby (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /

Through four games the Toronto Raptors have barely played Stanley Johnson or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. How high should the team’s lack of forward depth be on the “panic meter?”

It’s early. The Toronto Raptors have played four games. Everything we’ve seen should be taken with a grain of salt. With all that being said, every game is a data point, and even after just a few games, there are things we can learn about this team.

So while we don’t want to overreact, it’s reasonable to point out what’s actually happening on the court, including potential concerns. Are those concerns something to worry about moving forward? Well, that’s why we created the Toronto Raptors Panic Meter.

Perhaps the biggest concern — on a team which is 3-1 mind you — is the Raptors’ depth at forward, or lack thereof.

There aren’t any options

So far this season, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby have been the only forward-sized players to consistently crack Nick Nurse’s rotation. Stanley Johnson and Chris Boucher have played 10 minutes or fewer each; Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Malcolm Miller have yet to see the floor in non-garbage time.

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You can call Norman Powell a small forward if you’d like, but at 6-foot-4 and 215 lbs, physical forwards can push him around and barrel through him. He’s athletic and long, but asking Powell to guard a player like Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, or even Aaron Gordon isn’t reasonable. He can play small forward in a pinch; he isn’t one by nature.

So what options does Nurse have? Johnson has been an unequivocal disaster during his time on the court, averaging (not a typo) 14.4 turnovers per 36 minutes. Hollis-Jefferson can’t shoot, and according to Nurse, has shown a lackluster effort defensively in practice. Boucher and Miller seem like an okay option in theory, but until we see them play against NBA talent consistently, it’s probably better to trust the coach’s opinion than speculate they are rotation-quality pieces.

Nurse doesn’t have many options. Siakam and Anunoby have been great so far this season. The talent behind them has been non-existent.

What Raptors have been using so far?

Nurse has survived by relying on three-guard, and to a lesser extent, dual-big lineups.

Norman Powell is spending approximately 51-percent (according to cleaningtheglass) of his time at the small forward position, which while not ideal, is a somewhat reasonable alternative. Lineups with Terence Davis, Matt Thomas or Patrick McCaw defending small forwards — while somewhat productive in a very small sample size — aren’t something Toronto can feel comfortable with long-term.

Trying to “go big” hasn’t worked in the Raptors’ favor. Nurse has played Ibaka and Gasol for just seven minutes this season, Toronto has been outscored by seven in that time. The offense looks clunky and lacks explosion, essentially how you would expect a lineup with two centers to perform. If you’d like to count Chris Boucher as a big, he’s played a total of four non-garbage minutes with inconclusive results.

What can they do and how much will this hurt them?

Nurse’s plan of avoiding the issue entirely, rather than attempting to find a workable option, is probably the best decision for short-term results. However, eventually, Toronto has to find a player they can trust to soak up at least a few minutes.

During the regular season, they might be okay. There is a league-wide shortage of forwards and Toronto is far from the only team to have this problem. It’s something the Raptors can bubble gum and duct tape together for a short period of time.

However, the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, and Philadelphia 76ers of the world will hammer three-guard looks. Dual-big lineups won’t be able to consistently generate enough offense. Yes, those are among the best teams in the conference, but if that’s the company you want to keep, that’s who we need to be discussing.

Eventually, Nurse will need to find an additional piece. Whether that player is currently on or off the roster. Toronto should experiment with the different options currently on the team, hoping one will eventually be able to stick. If no-one is able to figure it out, then perhaps they can sniff around for a low-cost backup at the trade deadline.

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Toronto Raptors Panic Meter: 6 of 10

Toronto can survive with Powell, dual-bigs, and three guards for a while. They can rotate their lackluster options through hoping to catch lightning in a bottle eventually. However, this is a problem that eventually needs to be addressed.

The Raptors are using patchwork and drywall to fill the holes of their foundation. It looks passable now, but it can’t hold up forever.