During the 2017-18 NBA season, the Toronto Raptors exhausted the opposition with their energy through 48 minutes.
It wasn’t just the cohesion of the starters that earned the Dinos this reputation, but rather the relentlessness of what we knew then as the “bench mob.” In fact, the bench mob was dangerous in a multitude of ways, going above and beyond just scoring in their effectiveness. Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, CJ Miles, and Jakob Poeltl spearheaded the effort, and the results were devastating (for the opposition).
To say that group was dominant would be like saying The Sopranos only kind of influenced television — a massive understatement.
Bench mob rankings during 2017-18 season:
41.8 PPG (5th)
15.9 FGM (3rd)
46.8 FG% (4th)
4.9 3PM (3rd)
17.8 RPG (4th)
9.6 APG (2nd)
3.9 SPG (1st)
3.1 BPG (2nd)
3.6 +/- (1st)
Four years later and every member of the bench mob (except for CJ Miles — unless you count semi-retirement) has graduated, moving on to bigger and better things for themselves. Wright has established himself as a serviceable backup, while Poeltl is an emerging two-way force with the Spurs. Siakam and VanVleet, on the other hand, are now in place of where DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were when they were relegated to bench roles. The main difference? The reserves behind Siakam and VanVleet pale in comparison. That’s not a knock to the team either. It’s a matter of inexperience and unfamiliarity.
Here are the Raptors bench rankings so far this season:
23.9 PPG (30th)
8.8 FGM (30th)
40.9 FG% (26th)
2.2 3PM (30th)
15.1 RPG (18th)
4.4 APG (30th)
2.7 SPG (20th)
1.9 BPG (12th)
-.4 +/- (18th)
The caveat in these comparisons is, of course, minutes played. The 2017-18 bench mob played the equivalent to almost one half, logging 21.2 minutes for 2nd most, whereas their 2021-22 counterparts play just 14.3 minutes – dead last amongst NBA benches this season.
So, there’s a lot of ugly. But there’s value somewhere within these bench players and although it may not be apparent in individual production, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As it stands right now, the Raptors are projected to compete for a playoff spot in the play-in.
If the goal is to secure a top-six seed, making a move now would be wise, especially given the underwhelming bench production. These are some players who could help Toronto with their issues on defense and offense.
A reunion with Brissett would be in the Raptors’ best interests. After being released by Toronto in December 2020, Brissett went on to sign a 10-day contract with Indiana in April 2021, making an immediate impact with averages of 13.3 points and 7.1 rebounds while shooting 42.1% from three throughout 16 games as a starter. The Pacers rewarded his production with a contract for rest of the season, which also carried out into this season.
With a record of 15-29, things haven’t gone as planned in Indiana and rumours are swirling that they’re open to breaking up their core of Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them try to acquire more draft capital, especially for one of their reserves. In 33 games this season, Brissett is tallying 6.5 points, 3.9 boards, and shooting 34.9% from downtown.
For the Raptors, Brissett helps them address two of their biggest issues: rebounding and three-point shooting.
Another Canadian who’s just across the river. Lyles is in a weird situation with Detroit. The Pistons are reportedly looking to sell the house as they build around Cade Cunningham, and it seems as though the first overall pick in the 2021 draft is the only untouchable on their roster. Lyles is on a team-friendly deal with around $2.5 million committed for next year.
In an ideal world, the Pistons would prioritize their returns for Jerami Grant and Saddiq Bey, meaning that negotiations for Lyles might be quick and painless, as most rebuilding teams seek draft picks and cap space. For the year, he’s posting 9.6 points and 4.8 boards.
He’s shooting a brutal 28.6% from beyond the arc throughout the 2021-22 campaign, but on the bright side, he’s a career 33.6% three-point shooter over his seven years of service.
At six-feet and 10-inches, Reid would be the tallest player on the Raptors’ roster. Along with height, he’d bring width (7’3.25 inches) and size (256 lbs) to the team, meaning he’d present a challenge to the likes of Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, and other big men throughout the league.
The LSU product went undrafted in 2019 but has established himself as a solid role player for Minnesota. In 40 games this season, Reid is averaging 8.8 points and 4.1 rebounds, while shooting 34% from deep. He’ll be 23 years old by the end of 2022 and has one year and $1.9 million remaining on his contract.
The Spurs are treading water right now. Emerging star Dejounte Murray is lighting the league up. Yet despite his best efforts, his team is 12th in the west with a record of 16-28. After letting DeMar DeRozan walk in free agency last summer, the Spurs are officially in rebuild mode.
San Antonio’s sophomore forward Devin Vassell has proven himself as a solid rotation player and is under team control until the end of the 2023-24 NBA campaign. In 36 games with the Spurs this year, he’s averaging 11.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, a steal, and shooting the three at a decent clip of 34.3%.
It might be a stretch to think that San Antonio would let Vassell walk for just picks, but should the Raps call, R.C. Buford and Co. will listen.
OKC will need to make space on their roster with all the incoming draft picks they have over the next seven drafts. To be specific, the Thunder have 38 possible draft selections over that span, and I think it’s safe to say that Kenrich Williams will likely wind up in a different uniform sometime between now and then.
Why not a red one that says ‘Toronto’ in an upwards chevron pattern? The fourth-year combo forward is averaging seven points and four rebounds in 36 games with OKC this year and he’s also connecting on 38.2% of his treys.
None of these trade targets are sexy per se, but they’re realistic and would certainly give Toronto a boost off the bench. No matter what moves are made, consistency and continuation will be a huge part of what the Raps do going forward.
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