The Toronto Raptors’ bench has always been an important part of their success because of how well Nick Nurse makes the most of a player. With some players returning and new faces returning, it’s time to talk about each player’s role moving forward.
Head coach Nick Nurse uses his bench just as one would try solving a puzzle. Utilizing different pieces to fill an area of need depending on the opponent. A certain player will be playable against the 76ers, but that same player could be rotated four times before finding out he’s unplayable against the Celtics. That has been a big part of the Toronto Raptors‘ success last season.
But Nurse and the Raptors were not the only team to adjust their lineups with bench players. Frank Vogel and the Lakers did exactly this in their championship run. Dwight Howard was barely seeing playing time in the series against the Houston Rockets, but he was an important piece in shutting down Nikola Jokić in the Nuggets series — Howard would eventually become a starter three games into the series.
Finding the versatility needed for certain matchups is crucial to a team’s success. Rewind to September when the Raptors were playing the Celtics. Norman Powell and not Gasol/Ibaka was the player closing games, keeping the series as close as it was.
So here’s what to expect from the returning and new bench players throughout the season. I decided to not include Terence Davis since we are awaiting the outcome of his court date.
Shooting Guard – Norman Powell
Following his best season yet, Norman Powell has earned all of Nick Nurse’s trust and it showed in his minutes per game played — the fifth-most minutes per game on the team with 28.4. Nurse’s trust was on full display when Powell was chosen to close games instead of Gasol or Ibaka in the playoff series against the Boston Celtics.
The Toronto Raptors struggled mightily in defending the pick and roll when either Gasol or Ibaka was on the court. Therefore to close out games, Powell was inserted in the lineup to prevent the Celtics from targeting their weak spot. Powell isn’t the best defender out there, but his wingspan and speed are enough for teams to not target him on defense.
On offense, Powell was best used for his three-point shooting and finishing at a rim. Two departments the Raptors struggled mightily on in the series. Powell shot 67 percent around the rim and 41 percent from three for the season, posting the highest effective field goal rate on the team. Powell would turn out to be a much more important piece than we’d think in this series.
But it shouldn’t be surprising as he’s been playing starter minutes for the most part of the season. Powell brings versatility to the offense that no other player has with his high efficiency from around the rim and three.
Expect Powell to take on the same type of role he had last season. He plays solid defense and does all the right things on offense. From shot-creating, shooting threes, and finishing at the rim; Powell’s versatility off the bench will play a big role in the Toronto Raptors’ success.