For most of last season, the James Johnson debate weighed heavily on the keyboards of Raptors fans and writers. Johnson spent time in and out of head coach Dwane Casey's "doghouse", with his performances running the gamut from dropping 20 against the San Antonio Spurs in February to racking up DNP-CDs (Coach's Decision) toward the end of the season.
Of the positives, many observed his individual defence at the small forward position, a welcome boost when compared to the lackadaisacal (and too small) Terrence Ross, who was routinely beat both individually and in team defence situations. Casey, however, rolled out Ross more often, preferring to spread the floor on offence and provide more driving space for Kyle Lowry, Lou Williams and DeMar DeRozan.
Fast forward to this year: DeMarre Carroll is set to provide the best of both worlds in the starting lineup, while Ross is able to return to his natural position at the shooting guard, backing up DeMar DeRozan as a primary bench scorer. Without another experienced small forward on the roster, this means James Johnson would naturally back up Carroll, right? Not so fast, says Dwane Casey.
Casey said James Johnson is healthy, so "we’ll try to get him in. We’ve got a lot of folks at his position, so it’s going to be good battle"— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) October 12, 2015
This is obviously implying a battle at power forward, which makes it a curious comment when you consider the stat below. Of the ten five-man lineups that Johnson played in the most during the 2014-15 regular season, all feature him at small forward.
It wasn't until the playoffs that Johnson was featured at power forward and, as many will remember, he only played 11 minutes total over four games.
This marks a shift in perspective for the coaching staff, changing Johnson's role to put him behind Patrick Patterson and Luis Scola in an already stuffed PF depth chart, one that also includes Anthony Bennett. With Casey already committing to Ross at the two, this leaves an unnecessary gap in the Raptors bench rotation - if Johnson is exclusively a four this year, who's the backup three?
Now the door is open for us to speculate. There's been whispers that the coaching staff is growing on Bruno Caboclo, to the point where he could even be a part of the rotation come the start of the regular season. Ryan Wolstat at the Toronto Sun also has another name to throw in the ring:
Powell, though, undersized, is a strong body who could run with Cory Joseph and Terrence Ross for spot minutes in a three-guard set. Though Powell hasn't looked as good in preseason as he did in Las Vegas Summer League, he still shows the sureness of an NBA guard, and could be close to making an impact with the active roster.
So, let's take a step back. One would expect that Toronto's eight man bench (seven active, one inactive) on opening day would absolutely include Cory Joseph, Luis Scola, Terrence Ross, James Johnson and Bismack Biyombo. Whether it's their contract or their talent level, that much seems inarguable.
That leaves Powell, Caboclo, and Anthony Bennett as the most likely names to fill the last spot on the active roster. If the coaches prefer a rotation with Powell or Bruno as a backup three, it would come at the cost of Bennett, who would either spend a lot of time in a suit or be sent down to the D-League.
As you can see, the rotation goes into flux once Casey commits to James Johnson playing exclusively at power forward. Many of us expected that Raptors905 was created on short notice to benefit the development of players like Bruno and Powell, but plans may have changed with their preseason performances and this baffling James Johnson decision, all of which throws the future of other players into question.
The decision will be something to watch for as we see Casey's opening day roster and rotation for the first couple weeks of the season. Carroll will play the bulk of the small forward minutes, but he's human (we think), and when he sits down, the Raptors will need a solution for guarding that position.
What are your thoughts, and who do you think fits best as the backup small forward?