The Toronto Raptors opening preseason game against the Philadephia 76ers saw players from both the presumable starting squad (OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet) and rotational/bench guys (Scottie Barnes, Precious Achiuwa, Justin Champagnie) put in some impressive performances.
After going down by double digits early in the first quarter, the Raptors young guns worked to steadily build what amounted to an enormous 23 point lead by the end of the third.
Safe to say, despite it being a warm-up game, Toronto came in with some inspiring intensity and grit.
However, in a game that saw long stretches of play from key rotation players, there were a few glaring weaknesses that Toronto’s bench squad will need to improve upon going into the regular season. With the Raptors lacking a superstar pairing like a Brooklyn or either Los Angeles team, Toronto’s bench will be a key for success in the 2021-22 season.
This team might not be a surefire championship contender, but fans shouldn’t expect a parade of tough losses. So how will the backups set themselves up for success this upcoming season?
3 things Raptors bench needs to improve
1. Interior defense.
If you watched the game on Monday, you may have noticed Philly’s Andre Drummond putting on one of his classic bully-and-board performances. In 24 minutes, Drummond managed to amass 19 points and 14 rebounds (including five offensive rebounds) while repeatedly pushing his way through anyone the Raptors threw at him.
Achiuwa is the likely backup center for the Raps, and while he put up a great offensive game in his first Raptors action, issues against Drummond showcased the fact that he is might be closer to a power forward than a center right now Traditional bigs are going to push Achiuwa easier than the Raps would like, which he seems to be aware of.
Can Precious Achiuwa and the Toronto Raptors improve their defense?
So how does the backup lineup work to fix this issue? Depending on the matchup, it’ll have to come from Achiuwa’s speed and some inventive defensive rotations by leaning on their perimeter defenders.
While undersized, Malachi Flynn has the type of quickness and hands that could be useful in attacking with low post double teams. If Flynn, an eventually healthy Chris Boucher, and Barnes can disrupt the ball-handling of a player like Drummond on his way to the basket, the perimeter can rotate to the strong side and force a bad pass or even a stripped ball.
It’s not a guaranteed fix, but unless the Raptors make a move to bring some size to the bench, it’s the best option they’ve got.