The Raptors' got solid production from their bench last night in a win over the New Orleans' Hornets and the HQ takes a closer look at said pine crew, wondering if this group could be a big boost down the road...
One of the main ingredients on NBA Championship teams is a strong bench.
Last year's Dallas Mavericks could throw a myriad of former All-Stars and impact players at you after their starters had taken a seat, and it was a major problem for competitors, including the eventual NBA Title runner-ups, Miami Heat. The Heat's lack of depth was cited as a concern all season as the bulk of the team's big bucks had been spent on starters LeBron James and Chris Bosh to pair with Dwyane Wade, leaving little loot to fill out the rest of the club.
As a result, the Mavericks were rolling out guys like Shawn Marion and Jason Terry when the team's starters need a break, while when LeBron and Wade had to rest, the Heat were forced to use players like Eddie House and James Jones.
It indeed can be a difference maker in a game and last night, in the Toronto Raptors' 95 to 84 win over the New Orleans Hornets, the Raps' bench was the biggest reason the club grabbed its sixth road win of the season, tying last year's total mark.
Linas Kleiza's 21 points matched the entire offensive output from the Hornets and thanks to another 15 from Leandro Barbosa and solid minutes from Jerryd Bayless (5 assists in only 16 minutes of play) and Ed Davis (+13), Toronto managed to sprint to the finish line and win number 11 on the year.
Minus this bench contribution, Toronto wouldn't have won this game.
Yep, simple as that considering the Raps' bench was plus 54 on the night, and New Orleans' reserves failed to register a positive mark, finishing minus 30.
Plus/minus of course can be a stat that behaves strangely on an individual basis but I think it's in aggregate where it can really tell a story. Last night Toronto's bench contributed a lot more positively to getting a win than did New Orleans' and the aggregate plus/minus marks for the respective clubs reflect that.
So were the starters that bad?
Yes and no. Jose Calderon started off blistering from the field, hitting every shot he took. But as the game wore down, his shots became less "on point," one actually wedging between the rim and the backboard. (Although yes, this was an attempt to beat the shot clock.)
And while DeMar DeRozan scored a game-high 21 points, I'd argue these were of the "Bargnani" variety circa 2010. It took DeRozan 18 shots to get the 21, he disappeared for large stretches of the game, and despite having the team's highest usage rate considering his time on the court, his advanced stats weren't great. (Not to mention the players he was guarding, Marco Belinelli and Trevor Ariza had a combined 31 on the night.)
So again, minus the TO bench mob, this becomes loss number 25.
After the game, I got wondering about Toronto's bench in fact, because one of the common themes of recent Raptors' clubs has indeed been bench strength. Part of the reason for this I'd argue is because the bulk of Toronto's starters, simply haven't been that much better than the team's reserves, something we usually see in terms of the Raps' PER at each spot versus the league average at those same positions.
Therefore it's not surprising to see Toronto's bench outplay its starters and in fact, looking at the league's bench stats, the Raps have the ninth-highest scoring bench in the league.
They get a ton of minutes too, 19.1 on average to be exact, eighth highest in the NBA, which again I'd argue speaks to the lack of differential talent-wise between the starting five and the clubs' subs.
In fact no matter what way you slice it, defensive efficiency, offensive efficiency, Toronto has one of the league's top 10 benches statistically, something that could be extremely beneficial for this club going forward. We've argued for a while that there is some solid back-up talent on this club, whether it's someone like Ed Davis or a current starter like James Johnson, and if Toronto can add some starting level talent to this solid back-up group, perhaps we see a jump in the standings sooner than anticipated.
Considering that with last night's win, Toronto has only 33 wins in their last 84 games, Raptors' fans are indeed hoping said jump comes soon.
"Next season" soon.