In the pre-pandemic times, back in the olden days, if you will, training camp decisions weren't such a big deal for most teams. A normal roster had nine or 10 players who got the overwhelming majority of the playing time, as Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse explained Thursday, and the rest were sort of developmental pieces or players just clinging to the end of the bench.
These days, however, things have changed. Between the pandemic and the ever-mounting number of in-season injuries, roster turnover seems to have hit record numbers.
"It just seems like there are more guys out, there are more COVID issues and more reasons guys are moving up in the rotation," Nurse said.
Look no further than last season for the Raptors when Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Malachi Flynn, Patrick McCaw, DeAndre' Bembry, and Paul Watson Jr. all missed time due to COVID-19 issues, and Toronto was forced to turn to the end of the bench. Everyone from Matt Thomas to Terence Davis, Yuta Watanabe, Jalen Harris, Stanley Johnson, Rodney Hood, and even Henry Ellenson saw playing time last year.
This year, that craziness has to be taken into account when it comes to final roster decisions, Nurse said. Which of those six players, Watanabe, Freddie Gillespie, Isaac Bonga, Sam Dekker, Ishmail Wainright, and Reggie Perry are the most flexible when it comes to stepping up to replace a key rotation piece?
"Who is going to be really good at bumping in and going from a 13th man to an eighth man," Nurse wondered aloud.
If it comes down to filling niche roster needs, Gillespie and Dekker probably have the upper hand. In Gillespie's case, it's not hard to see the Raptors needing a third-string center if Khem Birch or Precious Achiuwa miss time and he's shown an ability to be a quality backup big. With Dekker, things got a little bit more complicated when the organization signed Svi Mykhailiuk, but he's the lone sharpshooter of the six-man group and Toronto could certainly use more floor spacing.
But, as Nurse pointed out, there are other things that he and the organization are going to have to consider when making the final roster cuts. Who, for example, is grasping the offensive and defensive principles the best? Who is the least likely to screw up if suddenly thrust into a bigger role?
"It isn’t necessarily of the five guys this guy scored the most points. That probably doesn’t factor in as much," Nurse said. "So who can understand the stuff the quickest, who can be versatile and play a few positions if they need to."
Future development, of course, has to be factored in too. The last thing any organization wants is to pass on someone only to see him become a star somewhere else. From that perspective, Isaac Bonga, the 21-year-old 6-foot-8 supersized guard, has the best argument to make the roster. He's the youngest of the group and should, at least on paper, have the most untapped potential.
Ultimately, it's a six-man competition for three spots and maybe a little tighter considering Watanabe should be a shoo-in for the team. There are strong arguments to be made for almost everyone in the group and that'll make those final decisions that much tougher.