The Lovable Bench Mob of the Toronto Raptors

Analyzing why this bench unit is so great, and how each player came to be a member of this lovable bench mob.

A long time ago (about 20-25 games prior), I wrote a piece about this bench unit we have here in Toronto. It was at that moment of turnover when OG usurped Norman as the starting 3, and we were winning games thanks to our depth.

I was ready to deliver the piece after about a week, but something happened. The bench mob lost their mojo. They weren’t awful, per say, but they certainly weren’t wrecking other teams the way they did at the beginning of the season.

But I decided to open it back up and look at it. I’ve fallen head-over-heels for the young guys on this team and I had to write about it. I went back, edited, and re-structured most of this article, as most of my core thoughts on them have stayed true.

Here it is.

The Lovable Bench Mob of the Toronto Raptors

There’s something special about people who embrace the underdog role. Throughout history, it’s a title that - when embraced correctly, has the potential to create fantastic stories.

An underdog - a competitor thought to have little chance of winning a fight or contest.

In theory, the Raptors bench mob aren’t underdogs as a whole. They tend to be the favored matchup in most bench vs. bench situations. Individually, however, each member of this bench mob is an underdog, with their own underdog story, and it’s awesome.

In the title, I call this group the Lovable Bench Mobsters. But this unit is a lot more than lovable. They’re dastardly efficient and equally threatening. Casey marches them out one by one, in random order, slowly putting together the bench mob piece by piece.

Let’s look at some numbers.

The Raptors Bench Mobsters: By the Book

I’m not a huge believer in individual +/-. There are certain situations where it can make a case for something (star player is a +20, everyone else -2), but ultimately I find it to be a crapshoot.

When it comes to player combinations over an extended period of time, however, it’s the way to go. Whether you’re analyzing 2-3-4 or 5 man combinations (the larger the number, the increased legitimacy of plus/minus), it is the best one-glance look at a how a unit is performing. Let’s look at some Raptors lineups, and how they’ve fared 45 games into the season

The Starting Lineup

All +/- is per net 100 Possessions

Lowry / DeRozan / Anunoby / Ibaka / Valanciunas … MP 414 … P/M +12.7

It took a while for this lineup to get going. When I originally wrote this piece, it was almost a fifty-fifty split in minutes between the core-four and Powell, and the core-four with Anunoby. You can probably guess which one was ultimately more effective.

In fact, the Lowry-DeRozan-POWELL-Ibaka-JV lineup is still the second-most played lineup at the moment … 135 minutes played … -11.3 +/-.

The Bench Lineups

When I originally wrote this piece a while back, Delon was in the midst of nursing his shoulder injury. Delon adds so much versatility to Casey’s rotation. He can easily play the one or the two, and I’d argue he’s a solid small-ball wing player.

With Delon’s absence, it spurred me to write a compelling piece about Fred VanVleet, who a lot of fans were still unsure about at the time. It’s safe to say now, that Freddy V is a premier backup point guard. I could go on about him (believe me, I could), but there’s a reason why almost every lineup Fred features in, is great for +/-. It’s also why you won’t see Delon as much; his injury.

Here are some of the standout bench/combo lineups (good and bad):

VanVleet-Wright-Miles-OG-Poeltl : 58 MP, +13.2

VanVleet-Wright-Miles-Siakam-Poeltl : 55 MP, +2.5

Wright-DeRozan-Miles-Siakam-Poeltl : 39 MP, -45.8

VanVleet-DeRozan-Miles-Siakam-Poeltl : 38 MP, +17.9

Wright-DeRozan-OG-Ibaka-JV : 38 MP, +11.2

VanVleet-Lowry-DeRozan-OG-Ibaka : 37 MP, +11.3 Um, did this just become my favorite lineup?

VanVleet-Lowry-DeRozan-Ibaka-JV : 35 MP, +8.7

Lowry-DeRozan-Miles-Anunoby-JV : 35 MP, +7.2

Lowry-DeRozan-Powell-Siakam-Ibaka : 34 MP, +16.8

Lowry-DeRozan-Anunoby-Ibaka-Poeltl : 32 MP, -26

Lowry-DeRozan-Anunoby-Siakam-JV : 25MP, +22.4

The good news? There are some bench lineups that are putting other teams to work. Even certain games (Cavs @ Raps, especially), the bench/combo lineups single-handedly took over.

The bad news (but also good news, kind of)? There are some lineups that flat out don’t work. Why is this good news (kind of)? Casey still has the second-half of the season to weed out the combinations that are getting obliterated.

My favorite lineups have all three point-guards running at the same time; FVV/Lowry/Delon. Having three ball-handlers who can hit from the outside is absolutely deadly. These three can spread out, have one run a pick-and-roll with whatever big man is out there, and use their individual offensive prowess to dissect teams on the offensive end.

The three guards have only shared the floor together for a combined total of 32 total minutes. Their offensive rating ranks them as 9th-best offensive Toronto trio (minimum 25 minutes played). Their defensive rating suffers, but that’s due to the fast-paced nature of running three point-guards. My question to you, how does this lineup perform?

VanVleet-Lowry-Wright-DeRozan-JV (big-man interchangeable)

Before you call this crazy, think of the direction the NBA is heading in. We all thought it was crazy when the Warriors ran Iguodala at the 4. If DeRozan can keep his man off the offensive glass, what opposing lineup could keep up with this blitzkrieg of offensive explosiveness?

It’s become quite interesting watching Raptors games and analyzing the combinations that are on the floor. The Raps’ go on a huge run? Look at the five that are out there; it can usually tell the story. Vice-versa for when we’re getting run over.

(This following paragraph was written about 25 games ago, I decided to leave it.)

To end this portion with a flash of optimism, the starting lineup going forward has Anunoby at the three and following their win against Indiana on Friday, this lineup has scampered their way out of the negatives for +/-. If I’m being real, there’s a chance they can claim a reasonable foothold somewhere in the low 10’s of +/- by the All-Star break. Well, it’s on my wishlist.

Starting lineup is currently worked their way up to +12.7 (as you can see above).

The Faces Behind the Bench Mob

Fred VanVleet

The Minivan. Fred VanVleet. All-time Wichita State assist leader and D-League Champion, the 23-year-old undrafted prospect had to fight tooth-and-nail to get where he is right now. When Delon sat out a month with his shoulder injury, Fred picked up his minutes and blew us all away with his abilities. You can read all about this

At 6 feet tall even, and not a freak athlete (as most sub 6’3 guys are), he’s crafted himself a role in Casey’s rotation, and the league is taking notice.

For the time being, he is the energetic engine that pushes this bench mob on offense. As you can read in my earlier piece on him, he’s showing the early workings of a pick-and-roll maestro. Simply put, this man can lead a team, and that’s all you need out of your backup point guard.

Freddy V didn’t play for a big name AAU team (he actually turned down offers to play for bigger AAU teams in the Chicago circuit), he didn’t play for a big-time NCAA school, and he didn’t even get drafted. The unassuming 6’0 foot guard is the perfect ball-handler to spearhead this lovable bench mob.

CJ Miles

After his blistering debut in which he torched the Bulls from deep, CJ earned the nickname CJ Kilometers. We’re all for this.

At 30 years old, he is undoubtedly the vet of this lineup, and now he’s officially the Dad of this unit!

Miles was one of the last of that crop to come straight out of high school. He was taken by the Jazz with the 34th pick of the 2005 NBA draft. Since then, he’s put together a solid thirteen-year career that revolves around raining jump shots on his opponents.

Since 2008, CJ has averaged about 20 minutes a game and has picked up 299 starts over his career. He’s truly been a model of consistency, putting up about 10-15 points a game and shooting 3’s at around a 35% clip. He had an especially hot season in Indiana last year, with a career-high 41%, and has practically carried that over to Toronto at 37% with one more 3PA per game.

CJ is the guy that the young bench guys will have to follow. He’s been there, he’s done that. You can’t count on him to shoot well every game, but you know he has the ability to go off for 20+ in any given game. Just having him out there sucks opposing defenders out of the paint. From his humble beginnings as a 2nd-round benchwarmer for the Jazz, he’s the perfect veteran sharpshooting wing-weapon to pick apart opposing defenses from deep.

Norman Powell

Trading the corpse of Greivis Vasquez for some athletic, 2nd round guard from UCLA should honestly go down as one of the most underrated thefts over the past few decades of NBA transactions. Oh yeah, and we the Bucks gave us a 1st rounder too. Who did we take with that? OG (freaking) Anunoby. I’m serious, this is an absolute robbery in the highest degree. Vasquez for Norm and OG? Yes, please.

Since Norm’s NBA debut, he’s done his part in stealing the hearts of fans across the north.

He was a rookie tasked with single-coverage on a red-hot Paul George in an equally heated playoff series. How on earth did Norm fall through the scouting cracks, and how did Milwaukee think it would make sense to deal him and a pick for Greivis?

Here’s the truth, Norm has had a rough year. I wrote about his struggles

I labeled his poor play as a slump, but most fans have already turned on him, claiming that this isn’t a slump - it’s just how he is.

I’m still on Powell island, for one reason alone; his struggles aren’t due to a lack of effort. Simply put, the guy just can’t get his shot to fall. This lack of scoring has lead to Casey going in different directions going forward.

In my original bench mob piece, I called Norm the “golden-boy” of this bench mob. He was a second-rounder, sure, but going into this season, he was the highest paid mobber, and in all honesty, probably regarded as the best at the time.

But alas, his play dug him his own hole. He’s slipped out of the starting lineup and is clinging on to a bench unit role. His third-year in the NBA has undoubtedly been his worst.

But hey, he’s back to square one; the underdog trying to prove everyone wrong. 

Pascal Siakam

Pascal might just be the most improved player of the Toronto Raptors.

  • His motor is still infections and wild.
  • He’s shooting threes (inefficiently, but encouraging).
  • He is a much more confident passer.

As a whole, his game has taken another step and has clearly reached another level. His feel for the game has noticeably improved as well. He’s definitely not as raw as he was coming from New Mexico State.

The most important aspect of Pascal’s game? Energy. He brings it every single night, and it so clearly rubs off on his teammates. He’s nestled his way into that backup power-forward role, and it’s his spot to keep. His game still needs a fair share of polish in many ways, but his improvement over this summer has been absolutely clear. His energy and motor help keep this fearsome bench mob firing on all cylinders.

Does he remind anyone else of a young Draymond?

Jakob Poeltl

With the 9th overall pick, Jakob is the highest touted prospect in this five-man unit (Siakam was taken 27th overall in the same draft).

So what makes this guy an underdog? A majority of Raptors fans were pissed that we took Poeltl over Thon Maker (10th pick). Thon was just so tantalizing. The confusing story of this Manute Bol prototype who seemingly played youth basketball in every country on earth at one time (including Toronto’s own Orangeville prep!).

It’s as if the Raptors fanbase collectively became the Crying Porzingis Kid.

Jakob has set out to prove every single one of you wrong, and he’s done his fair share this season. Jakob Poeltl, the Energetic Turtle, has been a complete stud this year.

He has sure hands, he’s strong inside, and he has just looks locked in every second he’s on the floor. He’s starting to develop some nice PnR chemistry with the Minivan, and his confidence is sky-high without a doubt.

He’s also developed a nice chemistry with Siakam, and the two have even become a noted “bromance”. If Jakob can keep banging inside, and Pascal can find his feel from the outside, this backup front-court could take down most starting frontcourts in the NBA.

Poeltl is that token Euro guy you need in a bench mob. He’s mean, he’s strong, he’s intimidating and he still has a somewhat murky grasp on the English language (but he’s working on it!). He’s the perfect big-man for this mean-mugging bench mob.

Delon Wright

Lastly, we got Delon Wright. I left him out of the original piece due to his lack of playing time thanks to his shoulder.

Delon brings something special to the table; flexibility.

As I stated before, you could run Delon at the 1,2 or 3 spot, as long as Casey sees the opposing matchup as exploitable.

As an underdog, I feel as if I can’t even properly tell his story. Go watch this episode of Open Gym - ;

With his older brother Dorell piecing together a solid 10-year career, Delon had shoes to fill. You need to watch this Open Gym episode, but here is the TL;DR: Didn’t have the grades for D1 programs, bounced around JV schools and ultimately landed at the City College of San Francisco, he worked his butt off at CCSS and earned a spot at Utah (where he actually played a season with Jakob).

As we know, the Raptors selected him with the 20th overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft. He was an older rookie at the time and is now almost 26. Most people don’t realize how old Delon already is, due to his extended time bouncing around Colleges in his late-teens, early-twenties.

There were so many times when Delon could’ve brought his NBA dream to a halt, and nobody would’ve blamed him. But here he is. The 6’5 versatile point guard who screams star potential. Another epic underdog, and another key piece to this bench mob.

The Toronto Bench Mob - in all honesty - is just really fun. They’re efficient, they can ignite crazy runs and their chemistry seems to improve every game. It’s been a joy to watch this group run amok against other bench units.

From Remember the Titans, Hoosiers, Moneyball and so many other titles, the story of the underdog is perhaps the greatest in sports. We’re getting to ride along with this underdog bench mob as they wreak havoc against other units one game at a time.

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