As the Raptors (3-1) and Pistons (2-2) match up tonight, a game between the old coach of the Toronto Raptors and the new coach of the Toronto Raptors, the overarching question looming over both teams early in the season is “who do you trust?”
For Toronto, it’s clear that a lot of trust is being put in their starters. Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet have been setting the world on fire with their shooting in the backcourt, while OG Anunoby is coming off his best two-way game of the young season against Orlando, as he tallied 12 points, eight rebounds, and a career-high five steals in 38 minutes.
Of course, there’s blossoming powerhouse Pascal Siakam, who is quietly putting together reliable points lines of 25 or more — something a certain superstar did religiously for the Raptors last year. Even Marc Gasol looked better in his favourable matchup against Nikola Vucevic, taking his son back to his favourite park for a stroll.
Beyond them, there’s been minutes for Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell, but knowing who else will be out there has been the continuous question. The one in the back of our heads is a little more concerning — how tenable is an eight-man rotation in today’s NBA?
For the Pistons, the script is flipped. Their starting lineup looks a bit stone age-y with Andre Drummond, Markieff Morris, and Tony Snell in the frontcourt, and their backcourt is hampered without injured Reggie Jackson, who’s struggling with back issues; Tim Frazier steps in for him. However, their reserves have been excellent, with guys like Derrick Rose, Bruce Brown, and Thon Maker coming in and providing lift. The Pistons bench has scored at least 45 points in all four of their games, a streak they haven’t touched since 2017.
It’s an extremely Dwane Casey move to keep the sixth through ninth spots in his rotation consistent at all times, even with injuries to two big contract players in the starting lineup, so the matchup of trustworthy starters versus trustworthy bench is an interesting one at Scotiabank Arena tonight. Who will be forced to adjust, or will it even come into play?
Let’s get into the game details and check out the keys.
Where to Watch:
TSN, 7:30 PM ET
Toronto - Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Detroit - Tim Frazier, Luke Kennard, Tony Snell, Markieff Morris, Andre Drummond
Toronto - none
Orlando - Reggie Jackson (back - out), Blake Griffin (hamstring - out)
Ready From the Jump
Raptors fans who have been around the block will be familiar with a Dwane Casey team who have some injured pieces. It typically means the 10th or 11th man in the rotation is promoted to starter, keeping the bench rotation intact for transition periods in the game. Shout out Patrick Patterson!
The Pistons are definitely going through that right now without Reggie Jackson and Blake Griffin in the lineup. Tony Snell and Tim Frazier are the recipients of the Casey promotion, which means the starters have been bleeding points in the first quarter. Against Philadelphia on Saturday, Detroit fell behind 13-2 before digging into their bench and climbing back into the game (they’d eventually lose).
Toronto would be smart to come out with some intensity in this game to capitalize on this rotation, given their best players will be on the floor together and Detroit’s won’t. Both Lowry and VanVleet have favourable matchups in the backcourt, while we’ve seen that Anunoby and Siakam be able to create in most situations. Getting into an early lead would reduce some stress when the benches start playing.
The best way for Marc Gasol to work his way into the season is to get him going on the defensive end of the ball. While his lateral quicks have been a bit depressing, he showed what old man pressure can do against Orlando, forcing Vucevic into a game with just one field goal.
Though he would like you to think he’s added an outside jumper, Andre Drummond is a similar type of prototypical centre to Vucevic, and one Gasol can have success against in long minutes. Since giving up offensive rebounds has been a struggle for Toronto too, it’ll be important for Gasol to win this matchup from a strength perspective, as second chances can liven up a Pistons team who don’t boast a wealth of offensive creators.
The Pistons’ bench is full of lively bodies, and will be a nice challenge for the unproven guys in the Raptors second unit. I’m most curious to see if Patrick McCaw can look productive — and willing to take a jumper — in his minutes at the wing spot, as well as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson if he gets a look.
Facing scrappy guys on the wing like Brown and Langston Galloway is a good opportunity to perform and earn some future minutes. My hope is that one of these two, or even Terence Davis, starts to earn the trust of Nick Nurse and get a full-time rotation spot. The season is young, but with a five-game Western Conference road trip coming in early November, it’s time to start figuring out who you can trust when the starters are fatigued.