Toronto Raptors: The bench has gone from bad to good

Toronto Raptors - Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

Being one of the better teams in the NBA has come from many different places for the Toronto Raptors. Their bench has been a big part of that, however, that wasn’t always the case.

After starting the season 6-2, the only real question surrounding the Toronto Raptors was their bench unit.

It’s not that they were necessarily playing poorly, it’s more that they simply weren’t playing. In those first eight games, Nick Nurse was keeping the rotation to just eight guys, and the Raptors bench was last in minutes with just 15 per game.

Because of their lack of playing time, they sat 25th in scoring per game, and 27th in total field goals and threes made, as well as last in total assists.

However, due to injuries to key players – Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka – Nurse was forced to dip into his bag of rotation players. Something that has turned out to be very beneficial to the Raptors.

Since the injuries, the bench is still right near the bottom of the league in minutes per game but, that’s more because of the cards they’ve been dealt with.

If you don’t count garbage time minutes, Nurse was still holding the rotation to just eight guys. However, with Ibaka and Lowry both returning this week, rotation options have become plentiful.

A newfound trust has been established between Nurse and the team’s end of rotation guys.

What changed?

To put it simply, they were given a chance to prove themselves.

The impact of the new rotation guys was felt immediately. In their first game without both Ibaka and Lowry, the bench dropped 43 points on the Los Angeles Lakers (who owned the second-best defensive rating at the time) helping the team get a statement win. Chris Boucher, Terence Davis, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson all had more than 10 points and were a combined +22 on the night.

Not every game has been as spectacular as that. However, most have been closer to that version of the bench unit than the one that started the season. Everyone who’s been given their chances has had at least one big game.

In the 15 games since the injuries, the bench ranks fourth in scoring per-36 minutes and has the eighth-highest plus-minus per-36 than any other bench in the league.

It’s safe to say they’ve all come a long, long way.

Who has stood out the most?

You can make an argument for one of Norman Powell, Davis, or Hollis-Jefferson and, no one could say you’re wrong. However, you have to agree that RHJ has been the most surprising.

Powell has had a huge impact when starting in place of Lowry and Davis has fit into the rotation seamlessly.

Hollis-Jefferson has been around the NBA for a while but, it’s something from training camp that gets Hollis-Jefferson this one.

During training camp, the one thing we’d heard about him was that he and Stanley Johnson weren’t playing hard enough and didn’t understand the team’s defense.

Considering those comments, Hollis-Jefferson has exceeded all expectations since getting regular playing time.

What makes it even more impressive is that Johnson hasn’t found his way out of the hole he dug himself into. That shows there are real improvements that have been made, and that he’s dedicated to what the Raptors are looking for.

In the 15 games, he’s been an active part of the team’s rotation, he’s averaged just under 10 points on 55-percent shooting with about 5.7 rebounds.

However, it’s the stuff that doesn’t show up in the box score that Hollis-Jefferson has been doing the best. Everything Nick Nurse called him out for are the things that have made RHJ standout.

He only does what he’s good at and has come around to be a perfect embodiment of the Raptors. He’s hard-working, gritty, determined and has been wreaking havoc on the defensive end.

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Hollis-Jefferson won’t be winning the Six Man of the Year award anytime soon, but his impact is surely being felt.