It's time for Portland to rebuild
Hello darkness my old friend...
As it has been well-chronicled this season, the Toronto Raptors' Bench Mob has been one of the critical reasons for their ascent to the top of the Eastern Conference this season. This, of course, along with Dwane Casey's switch up of the chalkboard, getting studs DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to buy into a more flowy, modern style of play that whips the ball around the court like a hot potato to find open shooters.
The Bench Mob, consisting of veteran sharpshooter C.J Miles, the stealthy Delon Wright, 'Spice King' Pascal Siakam, the Centa-from-Vienna Jacob Poeltl, and the potential Sixth God/Man of the Year Fred VanVleet, has made headlines for having the highest net rating out of any lineup in the NBA. Not just bench lineup, but any lineup.
Even with the loss of fan favorites Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker from last season and the slight dip in consistency of Norman Powell's play, the Bench Mob has been more than able to make up for their absence.
Though the Mob has been destroying opponents all season, the question remains whether they will be as effective in the postseason as they have been during the regular season. Historically, in the postseason teams slim down their rotations to maximize the minutes of their best players. In the case of the Raptors, this would shoulder the burden primarily onto DeRozan and Lowry, as well as Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas to some extent.
We've seen this movie before! For the last several years, the Raptors have come into the playoffs with high expectations, just to end up being shredded by KANG and co. The perennial All-Star duo become worn thin by being asked to do everything, and can't quite seem to hit daggers when they need to. Another year, another sad Drake.
But. But! This year is different. Lowry is playing 5 minutes less per game than last season, and DeRozan has played the least MPG since his rookie year. This means that along with the mental rejuvenation of the new culture, the two stars are ostensibly more rested for a long playoff run. And those minutes they aren't in the game are no longer being consumed by stagnant time fillers – they are actually opportunities to create or stretch a lead. Having a bench you can halfheartedly trust is one thing, but touting a reliably dominant bench is something the Raps have been lacking in recent years.
Casey has said that there's no reason to change what has made the Raptors so effective this season going into the playoffs based on some hypothetical rulebook that mandates heavier starter reliance. What will remain to be seen is if Casey will stick to those guns when opposing teams utilize their starting lineups more, and the Bench Mob goes head-to-head with All-Stars making eight figures. The Mob's success this season of course has mostly come from slicing and dicing opposing benches. Will Casey decide to mix and match or use lineup combinations he hasn't in the regular season when adversity hits?
Whatever the Coach of the Year candidate decides, having eleven players that actually deserve substantial minutes on the floor is never a detriment. Pulling the right strings at the right time will likely be the difference of whether or not the North's time is finally here. For the NBA franchise with the third lowest playoff winning percentage of all current teams, they're hoping to confirm what pundits have been saying all season: that this year will be different.