The Toronto Raptors are currently 27-23, which puts them in the 7th seed of the Eastern Conference. After a slow start, the Raptors are now looking like a very competitive team that could make noise in the playoffs, but it’s clear what the team’s biggest flaw is 50 games into the season: Bench depth.
2013-14 raptors: started 9-14, won 11 of 15, 20-18 after 38 games, 26-24 after 50 games, finished 48-34— alex (@steven_lebron) February 4, 2022
2021-22 raptors: started 9-13, won 11 of 16, 20-18 after 38 games, 27-23 after 50 games, ???
While the core five of Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Scottie Barnes have proven to be a solid lineup, the lack of quality bench pieces will ruin any hope of having fresh legs as the team enters the second half of the season and a potential play-in game or first-round series.
The Raptors aren’t accustomed to having struggles with bench production. Once sporting one of the NBA’s best benches helped propel them to the best record in franchise history of 59-23 in the 2017-2018 season. Even more recently, during the 2019-2020 Playoffs, the Raptors bench set a playoff record, scoring 100 points in a close-out victory vs. the Brooklyn Nets.
Today, the bench is a far cry from what we have grown used to with past season’s rosters. Although it features some exciting prospects, they currently aren’t developed enough to substantially impact the team this season. The Raptors bench, as presently constructed, ranks almost dead last in every significant statistic; the bench averages 22.8 PPG (30th in the league), 4.1 APG (30th in the league), and 14.6 RPG (23rd in the league).
After looking at those numbers, it’s clear why the Raptors bench is ranked last in minutes per game (13.7) while VanVleet, Siakam, and Anunoby are respectively first, second, and third in minutes played per game, with rookie Barnes also within the top 10. So with the trade deadline looming, and with speculation about some bigger (and more familiar!) names out of the way, here are three targets that should come at a low cost but could yield a high reward, alleviating some of the bench struggles the Raptors have faced this season.
Trade Target #1: Aaron Holiday
2021-2022 Stat Line: 15.7 minutes per game, 5.8 points per game, 1.6 rebounds per game, 1.8 assists per game, 36.13P%
Aaron Holiday, the 25-year-old guard out of UCLA and the youngest of the Holiday brothers, was moved to the Washington Wizards during this past offseason. The Wizards have been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons after their hot start to the season, going 10-3; they are now 3-7 in their last ten games. To make matters worse, for the first time in a long time, sources close to Bradley Beal indicate he’s not rejecting the notion of being traded elsewhere, which David Aldridge reported on, and Spencer Dinwiddie may have worn out his welcome in the Capital in his first season.
While it isn’t clear what the Wizards have planned as the trade deadline approaches, one thing is for sure; they have no interest in utilizing Aaron Holiday to the best of his capabilities. In the past 10 games, Holiday has racked up five DNP’s, and he is currently playing a career-low in minutes since his rookie season. Holiday has already shown in the 2019-2020 season that when he is given the opportunity to produce, he takes full advantage; he averaged a career-high 9.5 PPG and 3.4 APG while shooting 39% from three on 3.3 attempts per game.
In Washington, Holiday finds himself buried in the depth chart due to the multitude of options the Wizards have in the backcourt. He is currently 10th on the team in total minutes played. In the 10 games this season where Holiday has played over 20 minutes, he has scored in double figures five times and has dished four or more assists in six games.
So it’s clear that Holiday has the capabilities to produce when given minutes and the Raptors have a clear need for a backup point guard. Holiday could instantly come in and be a spark plug off the bench providing scoring and playmaking for a unit that desperately needs it. If the Wizards aren’t prioritizing the 25-year-old guard, the Raptors should jump at the opportunity to add him to the team.
Trade Target #2: Jeremy Lamb
2021-2022 Stat Line: 16.0 minutes per game, 7.3 points per game, 2.5 rebounds per game, 1.3 assists per game, 37.8% FG
Jeremy Lamb is a player that Raptors fans should be very familiar with since he once hit two game-winning shots against the Raps in a single season! Lamb also suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Raptors in the 2020 season, but he has made a full recovery and is now in the final year of a 3-yr $31.5M contract. He is competing for minutes on the Indiana Pacers with recently-signed Torrey Craig, rookie Chris Duarte, Justin Holiday, Caris LeVert, and Lance Stephenson.
I doubt the nine-year vet is in the Pacers’ plans to be re-signed this offseason so he could come at a discount, as they most likely wouldn’t want to lose him for just anything. Lamb has been struggling this season, shooting a putrid 37.8% from the field and 33% from three while averaging 7.3 points per game. This is Lamb’s first season returning from a devastating injury, so some rust should be expected, but maybe a change of scenery could help expedite Lamb’s return to form.
Before his season-ending injury, Lamb had averaged double figures for four straight seasons. Lamb is a proven veteran scorer, and with an expiring contract, acquiring Lamb does not have to be a commitment beyond this season. While he isn’t the player from the Pacers that most Raptors fans have been dreaming of acquiring, he could be a vital addition to a bench that lacks scoring options.
Trade Target #3: Thaddeus Young
2021-2022 Stat Line: 6.0 points per game, 3.4 rebounds per game, 2.2 assists per game, 25 games played
Thaddeus Young has found himself riding the bench for most of the season with the San Antonio Spurs. He was traded from the Chicago Bulls in a sign and trade deal in exchange for Demar Derozan. He’ss only made 25 appearances with the Spurs this season, including a mere three appearances in the past 18 contests! It’s clear that San Antonio is fully invested in developing their young talent for the foreseeable future and the 14-year veteran forward is not in their plans.
This is not something he foresaw, as he spoke about the situation in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago: “I definitely didn’t see this coming. It is what it is. All I can do is just continue to trust my work and trust my craft, the time I put into the gym. I’ve stayed in shape. I put a plan together in case I do get that call where I have to play.”
The Spurs have no actual plans of using Thaddeus Young in any meaningful role. His contract is set to expire after this season, and at the age of 33, Young most likely isn’t interested in wasting his talents on the bench.
Young could mentor younger players like Precious Achiuwa and Scottie Barnes with the Raptors, while also giving steady production as a forward or small ball center off the bench. In his last full season with Chicago, Young averaged 12.1 PPG, 4.2 APG, 6.2 RPG, while also getting 1.1 steals and 0.6 blocks a game. There’s plenty left in the tank for the 14-year vet, and I’m sure being able to contribute to a team making a playoff push would motivate him even more.
The trade deadline is February 10, so we won’t have too long to wait to find out who, if anyone, the Raptors are targeting to bolster the roster for the stretch run.