Toronto Raptors: Expectations for each bench player going into 2021

Toronto Raptors - Norman Powell (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Toronto Raptors
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Center – Alex Len

Following a disappointing 2019-2020 season playing in two losing situations — Atlanta Hawks and Sacramento Kings — Alex Len will be looking to make the most of being finally being in a winning culture with the Toronto Raptors. That was the selling point for Len. Once Toronto showed interest, there was no reluctance in joining the 2019 NBA Champions.

Len is the exact type of back-up center the Raptors needed. He has been a player that has accepted a minor role on every team he’s been on in his 7-year career. It certainly won’t change now and the Raptors will make the most of Len’s abilities.

Len’s best strength is his rim-protecting. With the Atlanta Hawks last season, players shot 7.4 percent worse when Len was on the floor — which is a better number than Rudy Gobert and Joel Embiid. Opponents were also a lot less willing to actually shoot at the rim by 2.8 percent when Len was on.

Unlike Gobert and Embiid; however, Len’s defense outside the rim is very limited. He’s not very quick laterally, thus making him an easy target for guards to pick on-off switches — similar to Ibaka who got killed on the pick and roll. This makes him a pretty one-dimensional player on defense, but it doesn’t mean he can’t be effective in the right situation.

Len’s playing time will be especially useful against teams with more traditional bigs or teams who don’t run the pick and roll — like Simmons and Embiid on the 76ers, Giannis and Lopez on the Bucks, and even the LA Lakers with Davis and LeBron.

Don’t expect much on the offensive end for Len. He’ll best be used as a screener, a roller of the pick and roll, and he does have the capability to hit an open three if he is wide-open. Len will be a nice addition to Nurse’s swiss army knife on defense.

Small Forward – Deandre’ Bembry

Much like Alex Len, Deandre’ Bembry was acquired for what he can do on the defensive end. Nick Nurse asks for two things from his players if they’re looking to get playing minutes: you have to be able to shoot well and play hard on defense. Although the latter is checked out, it’ll be tough for Bembry to get significant minutes being a career 26.9 percent three-point shooter.

That’s not the only weakness for Bembry. He’s also extremely turnover-prone for a guy with such a low-usage rate. He can be sloppy with his passes and tends to lose the ball when trying to do too much. However, on the Toronto Raptors, he won’t be playing on-ball as much as he did in the past. He’ll be used way more off-ball as a cutter and hopefully a three-point shooter — if he does develop a better shot with Toronto — which should reduce the turnover rate significantly.

Defensively, Bembry’s never-ending motor and athleticism will benefit the Raptors greatly. He’ll be in everyone’s face, disrupting passing lanes, and throwing his body at every loose ball. He’s the perfect team defender that would fit great in Nurse’s help defense scheme.

I would expect him to get the same type of minutes as he got in Atalanta — playing around 20-23 minutes per game off the bench. But instead of playing shooting guard, Bembry will be playing as a small forward since the Raptors are overflowing with guards. He’ll be competing with McCaw for minutes at the three.