As the Toronto Raptors’ players begin to settle into their hotels, and the playoffs slowly inch closer, it is time to discuss everyone’s favourite conversation topic, playoff rotations.
A typical NBA season will see a team give nine, ten, sometimes even 11 players significant minutes. Due to the Raptors’ crushing injury woe’s, and Nick Nurse’s philosophy of having everyone ready, the Toronto Raptors have given about 15 players meaningful burn this year.
However, the playoffs are a completely different beast.
The Toronto Raptors played eight players for the large majority of the post-season last year, which is fairly average. To win a championship you play anywhere from 16 to 28 games, with every single one of them as important as the last. You need your best players on the floor at all times.
Nurse’s job was simple last year. The starting five was comprised of Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol, and the clear three off the bench consisted of Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, and Serge Ibaka.
The Raptors had the potential to go nine deep, or make a difficult decision to cut the rotation down to eight, but the heartbreaking news of OG Anunoby’s emergency appendectomy eased Nurse’s decision.
It’s fair to say that this season, the Raptors have a solid seven-man rotation. In fact, I would go as far to say that they have the strongest team in the league when only accounting for the first seven players.
The starting lineup should, and likely will consist of Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol, and the two secure pieces off the bench are Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka.
The battle for that eighth spot is a race between three candidates, Patrick McCaw, Terence Davis, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and here are the cases for all three.
Let’s start with the player who seems to be one of Nick Nurse’s favourite options, while at the same time, a man who gives the majority of Raptors fans a sour look on their face.
Patrick McCaw has not been bad for the Raptors this season, let’s get that straight, right off-the-bat. Shooting splits of 41.4/32.4/72.2 aren’t great, but at the same time, are in no way poor. To put that into perspective, NBA all star, Jimmy Butler has shooting splits of 45.4/24.8/83.3.
In no way am I comparing the production of Patrick McCaw to Jimmy Butler, I just want Toronto fans to open their mind a bit to the realization that McCaw has been a lot more of a neutral factor, rather than a negative.
He’s consistent, and that is one thing you can always get out of him. He is a guy who will stay active defensively, and can stay in front of his man. He isn’t an all-defensive caliber of player, but he most definitely isn’t a ghost on the defensive end either.
Offensively, he was utilized a lot as the backup point guard. With Nurse theoretically starting both his point guards, it became apparent that he needed one off the bench. Combine that with the fact that Lowry missed 12 games, and VanVleet missed 16, there were a lot of open minutes as the primary ball handler.
In no way should McCaw be the primary ball handler in a playoff situation. It will be a must for the Raptors to have either Lowry, or VanVleet on the floor at all times, and if there happens to be a brief moment where they both need rest, Siakam has to assume the role of point guard.
Where this gets tricky, is that McCaw isn’t an overly useful off-ball player. McCaw is shooting only 40.3% from the field off catch-and-shoot shots, and 36.2% from three.
To be fair, the 3-point percentage isn’t horrible, but his hesitancy to shoot, and inability to put the ball on the floor and create offense himself, makes him a very bland offensive weapon.
McCaw has shown some bright spots. The post-Christmas matchup in Boston stands out to me the most.
McCaw looked like a legitimate point guard threat in this game, and it makes sense considering he played the one, the majority of his tenure at UNLV.
Overall, McCaw should mainly be utilized if the Toronto guards are in foul trouble, and they just need a steady hand to play alongside the rotation guys who are set-in-stone. He can’t be relied upon to provide a spark of the bench, because he isn’t a heat-check type of player.
He most certainly shouldn’t be the primary ball handler on the floor either. The main reason Raptor fans became annoyed with McCaw is because it seemed as if he had the longest leash on the entire team.
Nurse was calling out players left and right all season, and telling them to step their games up. McCaw averaged 24.5 minutes per game, in 37 games this year, had some extremely weak moments, and it almost seemed like Nurse brushed it under the rug.
Whether that was Nurse having his player’s back, seeing that the fanbase was riding him hard enough, or McCaw just doing all the little things that Nurse stresses to his team.
McCaw may have the upper-hand in this race, solely due to Nurse’s affection for him. He wouldn’t be my first option, but he is steady, and is a guy who has been through the playoffs multiple times; after all, three rings don’t come easy
Terence Davis has been one of my absolute favourite players to watch on the entire team this season, and I think the majority of Raptor fans would agree with me.
Going undrafted, and denying multiple two-way contracts, Davis pulled a Fred VanVleet, bet on himself, and it payed off.
Not only has Davis proven himself as a capable NBA player, but he may make an all-rookie team, and as we’re discussing here, receive valuable playoff minutes in his first season in the league.
He is fast, explosive, athletic, and can score the ball from all three levels. Combine that with the confidence of a 10-time all star, and you have a guy who makes quite a few mistakes, but he makes them going 100 miles per hour.
At his peak, Davis has been the best player on the floor at times for the Toronto Raptors.
At his lows however, the rookie has had trouble staying on the floor.
Davis really has everything but experience. His offensive, and defensive games show true potential, and at times are very high caliber. But as the majority of rookies show, he is young, and makes rookie mistakes.
His decision making on offense isn’t always the best. It’s difficult to trust him as a primary ball handler in a key situation right now, because he can experience tunnel vision at times. Now, Davis is so athletic, and such a good shooter, that it can just look like a player who is capable of making difficult shots.
The only downside to that, is that in the playoffs you are only facing the opposition’s best, and they pick up on your tendencies a lot quicker.
Davis can still be a very useful off-ball player, and as previously mentioned, we should be seeing very limited time with Lowry, and VanVleet both off the floor.
Davis could see minutes in situations where the Raptors need a scoring spark off the bench. He is shooting 42.3% off catch-and-shoot threes, and has shown extreme competency to space the floor, and stay disciplined off the ball.
He is also very explosive off-the-catch, and can attack closeouts at rapid speed.
Terence is the player in the group who can provide the highest ceiling, but also the lowest floor. His weakness’ could be exposed even more in a playoff setting where the stakes are high as ever, and teams can game plan more in depth than ever.
Unlike McCaw, Davis should be utilized in situations where the Raptors need high energy, and a rapid change at guard. Right now, they’re only running with three consistent guards, and if one of them gets in foul trouble, is playing bad, or the offensive spark is simply lacking, Davis could find himself receiving crucial minutes, in crucial times.
He also isn’t a player who is going to expose the team defensively. He is high energy, high athleticism, and simply a fun player to watch. It will be interesting to see how much Nick Nurse trusts his rookie.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is my personal favourite candidate for this position. Not because i think he’s the best player of the group necessarily, in fact, he is probably the least talented of the bunch, but because he fills a void in the Raptors’ rotation.
As mentioned beforehand, Toronto has two consistencies off the bench, Serge Ibaka, who may slide into the four for some minutes, but for the most part will come in at center, and Norman Powell, who again could play minutes at the three, but that would leave the Raptors’ with a really small lineup.
A backup forward is something Toronto lacks this year, and at some point, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam are going to need a rest. That’s exactly where Hollis-Jefferson comes into play.
Rondae’s offensive game is raw, and that’s putting it nicely. He doesn’t have a great jump shot, his finishing his average at best, but he does find a way to create offense decently, without being a scoring threat.
Where Hollis-Jefferson thrives is the defensive end of the floor. Despite only being listed at 6’6″, Hollis-Jefferson finds a way to guard wings, forwards, and centers.
A game which featured him starting at center, against one of the best in the league, Karl Anthony-Towns showcased a dominant performance defensively, and offensively.
A championship run for the Raptors will likely see them run through the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, and one of two Los Angeles teams. What do all of these teams have in common? Strong wings/forwards who can bully you inside, and all blow by you from the perimeter.
OG Anunoby will likely take on the majority of these difficult defensive assignments, but it also may be smart to keep fresh bodies on players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum, Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron James.
Pascal Siakam is another player who is more than capable, but can lack strength at times, and also is going to need to conserve a lot of energy for the offensive load which he will be forced to carry.
We’ve already seen Hollis-Jefferson defend Kawhi Leonard outstandingly this season, and I truly believe he could be a necessary piece for a second title run.
In no way will he come in to provide an offensive spark, because if Nurse has to come to that, the Raptors are in serious trouble. What he can do is guard the opposing teams best player, chase down every loose-ball, and start transition offense through his hustle plays.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is limited, but what he brings to the table isn’t just necessary for the Toronto Raptors, but also necessary for a championship.
He is my favourite option to fulfill the role of eighth-man, but more importantly, I think it will be situational. All three of these guys, and more should be ready for their moment. As we’ve seen, Nick Nurse isn’t afraid to try anything, and I mean anything.