Healthy roster makes for tough decisions
Nurse faces possibility of having 17 fully healthy players available for the first time this season
As the likelihood increased that the Raptors will have a full roster this week for the first time all season, coach Nick Nurse faced some interesting decisions.
Yuta Watanabe, out since suffering a calf strain in training camp, and OG Anunoby, who suffered a hip pointer in Portland a week ago, were close to a return heading into Wednesday night’s game against the Grizzlies in Memphis.
How Nurse would deploy a complete lineup remained unclear.
“I think it’s going to be a revolving door, to be honest with you,” guard Fred VanVleet said this week before a practice in San Francisco. “Nick is not a huge stickler on lineups and roles and things like that. He keeps it pretty fluid.”
That’s how Nurse has addressed the possibility of having 17 fully healthy players to chose from when asked this season.
Minor injuries pop up all the time: Scottie Barnes missed two games with a minor thumb strain, VanVleet sat out one to rest a sore groin, Pascal Siakam took the second night off in a back-to-back for rest.
Khem Birch (knee swelling), Precious Achiuwa (shoulder tendinitis) and Chris Boucher (sore back) have all been sidelined at some time.
In their first 18 games, no player has started every game. They used six different starting lineups. No team wants that much minor disruption, but it’s allowed Nurse to avoid one very difficult decision:
Does he start VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Barnes, Anunoby and Siakam and go without either Birch or Achiuwa in the starting lineup?
Does he go big with VanVleet, Anunoby, Siakam, Barnes and one of Birch or Achiuwa?
Or does he go against all public statements and move Barnes — the rookie who is eating major minutes to get valuable in-game experience — to a bench role?
“I think it’s gonna be by commit- tee,” VanVleet said. “The more we raise our level in terms of experi- ence and know-how on the court, I think the rest of those things will fall into place.”
It may not be a huge issue for a long time, though, for a couple of reasons.
There’s certainly a way to get backups to play starter minutes — each game unfolds differently — and whatever works in Memphis might not work in Indianapolis on Friday night.
The reality is that little injuries are always going to crop up that cost a player a game or two, and having a committee of six or seven who’ve assumed starting roles at some point is a nice luxury to have. And it’s not like the potential frontcourt starters — Anunoby, Barnes, Siakam, Birch and Achiuwa — are incapable of guarding multiple positions.
There will be nights when they are decidedly undersized — big centres such as Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert are problems — but they can be dealt with using different defensive schemes and personnel.
“In the whole league, how many of those do you have, actually?” Siakam said. “So we’re going to share those minutes and I think Scotty, me, OG … sometimes we’re going to find ourselves there and we’ve just got to, you know, suck it up.”