Nick Nurse is about to have one of them good problems on his hands; Thursday’s 120-105 win over the Kings is only going to exacerbate it.
For much of this season, Nurse hasn’t really had to worry about hurt feelings. Whether because of Kawhi Leonard’s carefully plotted rest schedule, Kyle Lowry’s achy back, Jonas Valanciunas’ thumb amputation, or the array of nicks and bruises the rest of the team has dealt with, there haven’t been enough hands on deck for anyone of real importance to be cast overboard for more than a game or two here, a half or two there.
That is likely to change soon. After one more shorthanded night in Indiana on Wednesday — Leonard, OG Anunoby have already been ruled out — Toronto will get their two missing wings backs in Houston on Friday. Today also marks the back end of the 4-to-6 week timeline Valanciunas was given after he went down. Before Tuesday’s game he could be seen finishing with both hands during his pregame shooting routine. His return shouldn’t be much more than a couple weeks off.
A month and a half ago the return of bodies wouldn’t have been met with much resistance. Leonard, OG and JV would have slotted back into their usual roles, and the likes of Norman Powell and CJ Miles would have bumped back down the ladder to assume 10th and 11th man duties. Recent events, however, have muddied the rotation decisions to come.
“If we get all these other guys back then some of those guys minutes are going to be, you know, JV, OG, Kawhi are probably gonna get some minutes,” said Nurse after Tuesday’s game. “So it’ll be interesting to see how it filters out.”
“This is a chance for these guys, man. I’m gonna play the guys that are rolling or ready to play. So this is a chance for all these guys to to kind of stake their claim on the position while there’s minutes to be had.”
Stake a claim those guys have. And now, Nurse will have to cut anywhere between one and three guys either partially or fully out of the rotation, lest he balloon his rotation out to 11.
Greg Monroe is the one easy call. JV will take his minutes, and offer reprieve from Monroe’s ground-bound stylings that have become less and less endearing as his vertical leap has crept closer to zero inches.
It’s on the wings where Nurse’s brainpower will have to be devoted. Those puzzle pieces are less easily aligned.
Miles is the easy guy to cut out based on his full season body of work. His three best games of the year have come in the last week against some most ass teams the West has to offer. On merit, Powell or Delon Wright probably deserve higher spots in the roster power ranking.
No Raptors reserve makes defenders’ brains ache like a fully-functioning Miles, though. At his best, he provided enough space and breathing room to help make last year’s Bench Mob work despite boasting three non-traditional shooters. After the three point guards, Leonard and Siakam, he might have the most off-the-bounce juice on the entire roster — Tuesday night’s doomed dunk attempt on Marvin Bagley’s head notwithstanding.
Miles dropped a season-high 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting and hit four of his five triples against the Kings. For the first time this year, it seems as though he’s inching toward being right.
“Just kept my head down, just working when I wasn’t in the rotation,” said Miles about how he’s regained his form over the last three games. “Got a chance to kinda watch some film, work on some more stuff, get healthy.”
“The game has slowed down some more for me. I think I was trying to do everything at once before now I’m in a spot where I’ve found a good pace, and it just clicked.”
If it really has clicked for Miles, then giving him the heave-ho starting on Friday won’t be such an easy call.
Norman Powell hasn’t exactly played himself out of playing time since returning to the lineup in mid-December, either. In the traditional sense of the word, you could even argue that Powell is ... Toronto’s sixth man right now? At the moment he’s the closest thing the Raps have to a microwave scorer with Fred VanVleet battling a wonky back and drawing into into the starting five in 19 of his 43 appearances this season. Powell’s volatile, yes. But on a bunch of nights this month he’s been the only reserve to bring any sort of punch.
That is, of course, unless you count Kyle Lowry as a pseudo-reserve in the stretches where he assumes the position of bench unit carrier — something he’s done more often since returning from injury and which throws another wrench into Nurse’s rotation calculus.
Lowry and the bench almost universally beats the piss out of opponents, whether its the Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross-full renditions of yesteryear or the weird ass Lowry-Wright-Miles-Powell plus one of Monroe or Chris Boucher looks that seemed to ignite the Raptors against the Kings. As time goes on, it’s becoming painfully obvious that Lowry should probably play with reserves more.
Zach Lowe pointed out just how bitchin’ Lowry has been when staggered away from Leonard in his case for him to make the All-Star team on Tuesday.
When Leonard rests, Lowry becomes Lowry again. He is averaging 19.5 points and 15 shots per 36 minutes with Leonard on the bench, compared to 11.6 and 9.9, respectively, when they share the floor, per NBA.com. The Raptors have obliterated opponents by 16 points per 100 possessions in solo-Lowry minutes.
‘It’s always fun to have a veteran point guard on the floor. It can’t not help you know?” Miles said Tuesday night. “He’s sees the game a little different way. The way he plays he’s always finding little ways to tweak plays or find angles to get other guys shots or get himself shots, whatever it is he can do. It’s always good to have another veteran presence on the floor.”
Putting that dude on the floor will surely compromise the role of someone, though. In most cases, Lowry getting run with the bench has cut the need for a 10th man entirely out of the Raptors’ game-to-game plans.
Nurse’s rotation-building approach will essentially come down to two options: maximize every minute and risk hurting the feelings and/or rhythm of the Powells, Mileses or even the Wrights of the world or keep anyone who might have an iota of post-season usefulness in the mix even after Leonard, Anunoby and Valanciunas return, even if it dampens Toronto’s potency over 48 minutes.
If only the Raptors didn’t have so many good players who also happen to be rounding into form. One of them good problems, indeed.