Nick Nurse must start trusting young guns on the Raptors’ bench

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has had a tough job since he was introduced in the summer of 2018, though his innovative ways have already proven he’s up to the task of leading the Raptors to an NBA title. Now, in his fifth season as the team’s head coach, he has only suffered through one losing season.

However, one persistent flaw permeates his decision-making over and over. Nick Nurse needs to learn to trust his bench. The Raptors have already lost the availability of players like Fred VanVleet, Precious Achiuwa, Pascal Siakam, and Scottie Barnes to various injuries.

The Eastern Conference is full of turmoil, and a healthy and confident Raptors team could take advantage. After two straight losses to the Thunder and Pacers, Toronto is standing at an unsavory 7-7 mark.

The injury plague has gotten severe with Siakam nursing a right abductor injury and the recently announced ligament tears in Achiuwa’s foot. Siakam needs a few weeks and Achiuwa is out indefinitely. This makes the need for quality bench play, accentuated by injuries, a hole that must be filled.

Will Nick Nurse trust a young Toronto Raptors bench?

It may at first thought seem harsh to blame injuries on a coach. After all, most of them are due to accidents or unexpected mishaps. However, Nurse has a tendency to rely heavily on his trusted starters.

Now is the time to test the raw but talented Christian Koloko, who vacillated in and out of the lineup. As for Thad Young, the oldest member of the roster who was integral to the Raptors’ late-season success last year, he has been used sparingly. The Indiana loss, in which he scored 15 points during a rare start, showed how valuable he can be.

Justin Champagnie needs court time after missing out on the Summer league this year due to an injury. Jeff Dowtin, slated to get plenty of playing time in the G-League, could be a potential backup to VanVleet at some point. The only way to figure out what they’ve got is letting them get some reps.

Still, Malachi Flynn may be the most interesting piece in this puzzle.

Friday night against the Thunder, he played 12 minutes, scoring 12 points. His 3-9 night against the Pacers was not representative of his overall play, as he was electric and dynamic on a night where few Raptors were.

Nurse favors a short tight rotation of eight to nine players. He always has. Last season, the Raptors had the least effective bench in terms of use and production. It was a problematic formula. This season is supposed to be different. Nurse was quoted in after-season interviews claiming:

“You can’t go into a season with eight or nine guys anymore,”

Yet, he seems insistent on once again burning out the stars when healthy and refusing to lean on the young guys when the chance presents itself.

VanVleet once again leads the team averaging 37.4 minutes a night before Friday night’s game and Siakam is averaging 35.7 minutes per game before his injury. Even when they return, it’s clear that this team isn’t going to go anywhere unless role players are given opportunities to support them.

Nurse was quoted in the off-season saying:

‘The more quality players you have the better chance you’re going to have to win,’

Icing out the role players for long stretches will not help this team. It’s almost as if the coach and management, who spent the off-season restocking the bench (to varying degrees of success), are at odds. If winning is the goal, everyone needs to be on the same page with this franchise.