Nick Nurse and the Toronto Raptors entered a pivotal two-game series against the Washington Wizards knowing that the team would need to flex their proverbial muscles to show that they can be a serious postseason squad that foes will have to take seriously. They didn’t exactly get off to the best start on Thursday.
Following a crushing loss, Saturday appeared to look like more of the same. Toronto was getting off to a slow start offensively and letting Washington shoot wide-open jumpers for most of the first half. Things managed to turn around later, however, as Gary Trent Jr. had to catch fire once again to keep them in the game.
The Raptors took the Wizards to overtime in one of the most grueling games of the season, pulling out a 116-109 victory that helped Toronto leave the Capital City with a split against a team with some offensive pop.
Irrespective of the results of this game, the Washington games have taught Toronto some very important lessons about how this team should be run from a rotation perspective. While Nurse’s poor end-game management deserves its own thesis due to how brazen the ineptitude was, these two tweaks seem like quick fixes.
Toronto Raptors: 2 issues in Nick Nurse’s rotation shown vs. Wizards.
The Thad Young at center minutes make no sense. While neither Precious Achiuwa nor Chris Boucher have proven to be solid options at the 5-spot when Jakob Poeltl is taking a rest, both of them have shown better defense on the interior than Young while being clearly better with the ball in their hands. This experiment must stop. Rip the Band-Aid off, like you did with Juancho Hernangomez.
The second issue Washington helped expose is that Nurse’s initial insistence on not letting Barnes run the second-unit offense cost them dearly. While he was trying anything and everything to generate points when Pascal Siakam and the rest of the big names ended up sitting, but letting Barnes cook seemed to be the most prudent solution.
Toronto’s on-off splits with Barnes on the floor compared to when he’s off are staggering. While Barnes obviously needs to be kept in the starting lineup, his unique skillset has proven to be the supercharger that the much-maligned bench has needed to finally perform at a level that can be called professional quality. Abandoning this in the postseason would be foolish.
Nurse and the Raptors still have time to work out the kinks, but they can’t afford to be too leisurely as they try to make corrections. If the Raptors make it into the play-in or postseason picture, repeating the mistakes they made against Washington will be a critical hole in their boat that will sink the entire operation.