Don't let the so-called small ball movement fool you, size still matters in the NBA.
It's a lesson the Toronto Raptors have learned the hard way this season. Their five best players this season far too often have not included a traditional centre. It's why Raptors coach Nick Nurse has run out so many three guard and two forward lineups this year. He had hoped their versatility and offensive firepower could overcome their lack of size and rebounding issues.
Well, it hasn't worked.
“I think we need to play a little bigger," Nurse said Tuesday night. "It doesn’t feel to me like playing small has been that great.”
With Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., and DeAndre' Bembry all sidelined on Wednesday, the Raptors had no choice but to go big. And even without all that talent, that size made a big big difference as Toronto squeaked by DeMar DeRozan and the San Antonio Spurs 117-112 in Tampa.
Usually when the Raptors go with their small ball lineup, OG Anunoby is forced to go up against the opposing team's centres. It's not his ideal position at 6-foot-7, 232 pounds, but he can hold his own against most NBA bigs. On Wednesday night, however, the Raptors shifted their versatile wing all the way down to the shooting guard spot. Much like the centre spot, the two guard isn't the ideal spot for Anunoby, but these days the Raptors are looking for development from the 23-year-old, and forcing him outside his comfort zone, especially on the offensive end, is extremely helpful.
"I think that you never really know if that's going to get a little clunky or not," Nurse said of Anunoby played shooting guard. "A two should be a wing player for us and they should be able to be versatile like that and it was good. We ran a bunch of stuff for him early and he was kind of turning the corner like he's used to doing and then they were going underneath a lot of screens so I told them to start popping back and shooting the 3 like a two guard would."
He flashed those on-ball ball skills the Raptors have been looking for this season, attacking the rim and nailing pull-up shots for a team-high 22 points.
But it wasn't just Anunoby who was forced to play a little out of position against San Antonio. Nurse went with a starting lineup that included both Chris Boucher and Khem Birch. It allowed Toronto to go extremely big and dominate the Spurs 63-48 in the rebounding department.
Boucher led the way for Toronto on the boards, snagging a team-high 12 rebounds to go with 12 points. It was further proof to Nurse that the 6-foot-9 Montrealer is better suited to play power forward in the NBA.
"I think we found that out here this year, he's got to be a four or less," Nuese said. "You can't line up with him with the size and that he sees night in and night out."
With the win and some help from the Orlando Magic, Toronto is now just one game out of the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference and the final spot in the play-in tournament. The Chicago Bulls, who currently hold that spot, have lost four straight and are clinging perilously to that final spot.
Up Next: Orlando Magic
This wild four games in five days stretch has come to an end and now the Raptors will have the day off to regroup before the Magic come to Tampa on Friday for a 7:30 p.m. ET tipoff.