As utterly unpredictable as a game like Friday’s loss in Chicago was, for a team like the Toronto Raptors undergoing a ton of change all it once, it’s not necessarily that much of a surprise.
A new offence is still not rock solid even if the willingness to move the ball that it requires already seems set in stone.
Everyone is still adjusting to a new point guard in Dennis Schroder as he adjusts to them.
A new defence, easily the team’s strong point at this early juncture in the season, has been outstanding for the majority of the two games but only if the six or seven guys who make it so stingy are full game participants.
That was not the case on Friday night as O.G. Anunoby was forced out early with a leg cramp and both Jakob Poeltl and Precious Achiuwa fouled out in regulation leaving Toronto perilously thin up front for the game’s deciding moments.
Take those three out of Toronto’s defence and holes begin to appear rather quickly.
But no one will argue how incredibly frustrating it is to watch a team that can be so thoroughly dominant for stretches like the Raptors were on Friday, only to give it all back in the very next moments.
For the first six minutes or so of the game in Chicago, that defence was on point, stifling the Bulls and scoring with relative ease at the other end.
But as soon as head coach Darko Rajakovic started dipping into his bench, the crisp defence began disappearing and even making an even quicker offence was any semblance of offensive superiority.
Nobody wants to make rash decisions about a team still finding it’s legs and its identity, but the makeup of back end of Rajakovic’s 10-man rotation is already looking like it might require some changes.
Even staggering his starters so there’s at least one or two out there with the subs most times, as soon as Rajakovic starts accessing his bench, an already challenged offence, particularly if it’s not hitting threes which was the case Friday night, becomes even more so.
Gary Trent Jr. is really the only offensive weapon coming off the bench at this point.
Chris Boucher, who did not see the floor at all in the season opener, got in last night and providing impactful minutes but that opportunity was as much about the foul trouble as it was about shaking up that first wave of bench players Rajakovic has been turning to.
The issue quickly becomes what this team is prioritizing this season. If they are prioritizing development, then the likes of Gradey Dick and Malachi Flynn and newcomer Jalen McDaniels, who have all struggled to varying degrees in these first two games, will be able to play through these early struggles.
It can’t be easy if you are Rajakovic or really any member of this team to watch that play out knowing there are proven alternatives sitting on the bench in more veteran players like Thad Young and Otto Porter Jr. and Garrett Temple.
None of that trio has yet to see the floor this season.
Rajakovic was asked about finding that balance between trying to win and developing after the heartbreak in Chicago and seemed to suggest that the team was still figuring that out.
Fair enough. It’s still plenty early.
We know following last year’s approach which seemed to land on get whatever you can out of the starters even if it means overplaying them while plugging in the odd reserve only when the starters can no longer run, is off the table.
But we can easily see Boucher finding his way back into the rotation on a permanent basis.
It was a bit of a head scratcher to see him left out in the first place and Rajakovic admitted after the Game 1 win that was not necessarily the plan for the entire coming season.
So far through two games – yes very small sample size – the bench is a cumulative minus-78. Take Boucher’s 17 minutes out of the equation and it balloons to minus-100.
Again, it’s just two games. We get it.
Your bench doesn’t necessarily have to be a positive night in and night out to be effective, though it’s preferrable to at least hold serve and keep the game more or less where it was when you hand the reigns back to the starters.
No one is suggesting wholesale changes are necessary but it feels very much like a tweak is in order when it comes to those bench minutes.
For now, it might be something as simple as Boucher in and one of those others out, or it could be a sprinkling of wise, old vet minutes from one or more of that trio who have yet to see the floor.
Finding the right mix though can’t come soon enough. The starting five seems to be developing some real cohesion and deserve to be rewarded.
That starting group shared in the blame on Friday night as they were collectively responsible for 16 of the 21 turnovers charged to individual Raptors, but played through those miscues and came out a collective positive.
The same could not be said for the Toronto bench.
The best formation of that group is still very much a work in progress and no, given the early stages of the season we’re in, that should not surprise anyone.