5. From “Bench Mob” to “Does the bench even have a job?”
One thing Nick Nurse didn’t carry on from former head coach Dwane Casey is maximizing the bench unit. In the 2017-2018 season, the Raptors’ bench (also known as the Bench Mob) was arguably the best in the NBA — they had the second-most minutes in the league with a league-high plus/minus at +3.6 among all team’s bench players.
Three seasons later, not one team has used their bench less than the Toronto Raptors have. The bench is averaging a league-low 13.9 minutes per game. With the majority of those minutes going mostly to Chris Boucher, Matt Thomas, and Norman Powell — the only other player who was a constant so far is Bembry with 5 minutes in each game.
Using a 7-8 man rotation is generally used during the playoffs and not the regular season. It is puzzling for everyone that the bench is getting so little use in the early stages of the season.
Rookie Malachi Flynn has yet to see significant NBA minutes despite having a strong showing in the preseason. Yuta Watanabe who played great as a Three-and-D player in the preseason has yet to register any minutes — even though the Raptors’ forward depth is thin as paper. Alex Len wasn’t used against the Pelicans when they had to play a traditional center in Steven Adams; the exact type of player you’d want to put Len against.
There’s the possibility Nurse wants to prepare for the playoffs as soon as possible and that’s why he has a strict eight-man rotation. But we’re so early on in the season and there’s a lot of basketball games left to do that. It doesn’t hurt to use bench players who are hungry for action and ready to prove themselves, especially when your team is struggling to find any rhythm.
The starters are going to need as much rest as they can to carry the load from game to game throughout the season. It’s not time to use Siakam until he’s gassed out then come playoff time he’s a shell of himself again. Lowry is also not getting any younger and he needs to be as fresh as possible for the playoffs. This is one of the bigger things Nurse and the Toronto Raptors are doing, and hopefully, he starts being more cautious with his lineups.