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Raptors HQ Roundtable: Will tired legs impact a playoff push?

The HQ crew wonder if anyone will ever get off the bench, if the Raps can hold on to a playoff spot, kick around some trade targets and more!

Toronto Raptors v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Each week the Raptors HQ staff get together and discuss the biggest topics around the Raptors and the NBA. Get your voice heard by suggesting questions in the comments!

1) The Toronto Raptors played Phoenix, Milwaukee, Miami and Dallas close, but lost three out of four. What are you taking from this stretch?

J.D. Quirante: That we are good enough to get to the playoffs, but our bench will dictate how far we’ll go.

Josh Kern: Agreed with J.D. The talent at the top o the roster is there, but they need some help from the bench — beyond just getting Gary Trent Jr. and Khem Birch back.

Joseph Strauss: This has been a promising stretch that’s shown the true potential of this core. They’re good! But the roster depth is not. At maximum health, this team has a pretty solid 8-man rotation. But the deeper bench players just aren’t consistent enough to be a factor when any of those 8 are injured.

Conor McCreery: That the Raps lack one more high-end shot creator to attack good defenses. FVV and Siakam are playing wonderfully, but it isn’t enough. More shooting and better bench play will help, but if Toronto wants this core to mean something it needs someone else to stress a defense in the half-court. The good news is maybe that’s Scottie Barnes, it’ll just take some time.

2) The Raps are just a game out of 11th place in the East. The 12th placed Hawks are ready to make moves. Are you worried Toronto could miss the play-in game? Would that be that bad a result?

Conor: For sure I am. Especially if Nick Nurse is only able to, rightly or wrongly, trust eight and a half guys when fully healthy. The schedule is going to be too compressed down the stretch for that to be tenable, and it’s still very road heavy.

Though honestly, if the Raps can’t grab the sixth seed, I’d rather see them down in 12th, or even 13th (Shout out to the Pacers’ deeeeep bench), in terms of lottery balls and adding another foundational piece.

J.D.: I think we’re all in to get to the playoffs, with the exception of injuries/covid tanking our chances. If the core remains healthy, it’ll be hard for the team to miss at least the play-ins given their schedule for the rest of the season.

Josh: Assuming decent health, I think the play-in is a lock at this point — unless Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster decide the play-in is not worth it and pull a tank job in the second half. I think what they do or don’t do at the trade deadline will be telling.

Joe: If VanVleet/Siakam/OG remain largely healthy, this core is probably too good to slip out of the top 10. And I think that’s a good thing! It’d be fun to see this team compete in the play-in.

3) Nick Nurse has crumpled his rotation into a tiny, tiny, ball. Who’s your bet to somehow find their way back in his good books? Or when Trent Jr. and Birch are healthy is that it?

Josh: I was pretty stunned we didn’t see Yuta against Miami or Dallas. I get he was awful in Milwaukee, but he was still getting his legs back post-COVID and put in an unfamiliar starting role. But, if he couldn’t make it on the court with VanVleet, Siakam and Anunoby dragging themselves through mud... and I think against Dallas we saw the limits of what Champagnie can bring... I think I see Nurse sticking with his eight guys.

Joe: FVV/GTJ/OG/Pascal/Scottie plus Achiuwa/Birch/Boucher are a solid top 8. If they can all be healthy at the same time (HA!), I see Nurse sticking with that as the rotation, maybe with some Yuta sprinkled in once he’s out of the doghouse. There’s also a world in which the Raptors trade for an extra rotation guy, which would certainly help out when more injuries inevitably hit.

Conor: I think the problem with the top eight is that it is light in half-court creation and shooting. Eventually one of Flynn or the best answer even though it’s impossible, Goran Dragic, need to find a way to give the Raps what they’re missing. (I like Banton, but I don’t see any way he’s the answer to any half-court offense issues).

Nurse is odd, he buries guys quickly, but then randomly they get shots and if they run with them, he can give them some rope. Still, the way he’s refused to even look at the deeper bench is worrying.

J.D.: If everyone’s healthy, I think we have the small/long ball starters (fvv/ps/og/gtj/sb) with birch/boucher/precious/yuta off the bench, so that’s at least 8, depending on how you guys see Yuta. If anything, it takes one good shooting game for Svi to make it back to the rotation.

4) Ben Simmons reportedly says he’ll sit out the year if he isn’t moved by the trade deadline. Is this an LOL situation, or a ROFL one?

J.D.: Can I do ROFLMAO instead? I already feel bad for the team that would overpay for him. This will be Melo to the Knicks situation.

Joe: The shame of this situation is that Joel Embiid’s prime is now being wasted on a team that’s a piece short of being a real contender. Meanwhile, the comedic peak was Klutch Sports tweeting “RT to Vote for #NBAAllStar! @BenSimmons25”. My goodness.

Josh: Gonna call it a SMDH situation. The two sides are playing chicken but it feels like they’re both gonna end up in the ditch. Simmons is really throwing away an entire season of his prime, and the 76ers are throwing away an MVP season from Embiid, because they can’t get past their own egos? It’s embarrassing.

Conor: I just love that this somehow needed to be reported. Maybe Morey really DID believe Simmons would play after the deadline, but I can’t see why? Simmons errodes his leverage if he does that, and it would be such an awkward re-integration.

A bonus SMDH is how Simmons is now apparently saying he’ll need a month after a trade to get back into game shape, or as I like to call it the: “Sacramento Kings, you BETTER not fucking trade for me,” memo.

5) The Brynn Forbes sweepstakes are over! If you had one guy you could target for the Raps to add who would it be?

Josh: I can hear Sean Woodley cackling already, but it really does seem like Terrence Ross is a good fit for a scoring wing off the bench...

Conor: Damn, you took mine Josh! Ross has struggled this year (although he’s hit 38% of his threes this month), but the old Rap checks a lot of boxes and, given the struggles and the fact he’s got an extra year on his deal, he’ll probably come dirt cheap.

I’ll stay in Orlando though and say Gary Harris. Before injuries took him down he was turning into something interesting in Denver. His health seems to be back, his shooting percentages are at least, and while he’s lost some athleticism he still a good back-court defender, and decent enough with the ball in his hands to attack from the weak-side. His and Dragic’s salaries match up well, so I wonder if a second would cut it.

Joe: Nikola Jokic. Short of that, an Eric Gordon deal would be fun, although I don’t see the Raptors targeting a player making $19 million per year until his age-35 season (and, you know, fair enough).

J.D.: Since we wanna keep it long ball, I’m thinking Amir Coffey or pay up a little bit for Quentin Grimes or Justin Holiday.