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The bench will make the difference in the Wizards vs. Raptors playoff series

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Most of the time, stars make the difference. But this Wizards vs. Raptors series will be an exception.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Washington Wizards Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

After leading by four points at halftime, the Washington Wizards ended up losing a tough game one of their playoff series against the Toronto Raptors, 114-106 on Saturday.

The main takeaway from game one ins that the No. 8 seeded Wizards can match-up with the No. 1 seeded Raptors head-to-toe with their starting lineups.

A 95 percent healthy John Wall was good enough to battle with a crafty-veteran guard like Kyle Lowry - possibly even exposing Lowry’s poor defense. Bradley Beal and DeMar DeRozan essentially canceled each other out (albeit a future MVP-like version of DeRozan).

Oddly enough, the game’s best contributors were Serge Ibaka for Toronto and Markieff Morris for Washington, respectively. They were essentially the spider-man meme for the majority of the game. Moreover, we can expect the two centers on both sides - Marcin Gortat and Jonas Valanciunas - to pretty much be invisible and a liability in the paint for the duration of this series.

This will most likely be the performance both teams get from their starting units throughout the first round. Unless, of course, injury riddled Otto Porter Jr. becomes the hero Washington needs him to be.

The Wizards’ starters had 85 points, and the bench came away with 21 points.

The Raptors’ starters had 72 points, and the bench finished with 42 points.

Historically speaking, the NBA playoffs have proven that stars matter in the postseason. All-Stars like Wall, Beal, Lowry, and DeRozan will obviously have a huge part in this series. But the bench unit of each team could end up making the difference instead.

The Raptors bench

Positives:

This Raptors bench has been immensely undervalued all season, although - as stated previously - the NBA loves their stars to play big minutes, therefore taking minutes from the bench in the playoffs. Dwane Casey doesn’t agree with that notion, being very adamant about his bench having a large role in the playoffs.

VIA, USA TODAY

“What is our record right now? So why change this because some rulebook somewhere, if you find it, please send it to me because I have been on some teams where you keep the same rotation, and somebody somewhere in the back of a room says well, playoffs you have to shorten your rotation, so we have to find out unless this group proves us wrong.”

You may have heard that the Toronto Raptors have one of the best bench’s around the league, so here are some regular season stats to back that up:

  • 2nd in minutes played per game, (21.2)
  • 5th in points scored per game, (41.8)
  • 4th in field goal percentage, (46.8 percent)
  • 4th in rebounds per game, (17.8)
  • 2nd in assists per game, (9.6)
  • 1st in steals per game, (3.9)
  • 2nd in blocks per game, (3.1)
  • 1st in plus/minus, (3.6)

Some of these statistics may seem elementary, but it’s important to point out that there are only two teams currently in the playoffs that were above the Raptors in any of those categories - the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs.

That is good company to be around. If it wasn’t for ‘tanking’ teams playing their bench units for large portions of the game during the regular season, the Toronto Raptors would have a historically famous bench in the NBA.

The main contributors off the bench for this series will be: Delon Wright (a name all of Washington now knows), C.J. Miles, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl, with a possibility of seeing guys like Norman Powell or Lucas Nogueria.

Negatives:

The Raptors bench jumps off the stat sheet, but there is an Achilles’ heel.

The Raptors bench have the third highest attempts (14.2) from the 3-point line in the league, but yet they only make 34.5 percent from the arc - bringing them to the 17th worst 3-point shooting bench in the NBA. In other words, the Wizards need to make the Raptors bench live-and-die by the 3-point line. Unfortunately, the bench thrived in Game One, making 8 of 13 from deep.

Statistics show that the Raptors’ woes from the arc come with them to the free throw line. The Raptors bench made 74.2 percent of their free throws, which ranks them as the 15th worst free throw shooting team in the league. Free throws are obviously crucial down-the-stretch in playoff games, so this is another outlet for Washington to attack.

The Raptors have historically struggled shooting from anywhere outside of the basket due to their tendency to play two big men off the bench at the same time. Spacing has been very difficult when Jakob Poetl and Pascal Siakam sit underneath the basket, but the Wizards don’t have a true answer to either of those players off the bench unless Ian Mahinmi gets more minutes.

Although traditional,this roster configuration seems to have worked for this unconventional team, breaking their franchise record with 59 wins.

The Wizards bench

Positives? ... Negatives? ...

Washington’s bench is in disarray at the moment.

You know who else is shocked? Wizards fans/media and newly acquired point guard, Ty Lawson. No one would’ve argued that Jodie Meeks was going to have a huge impact for the Wizards bench, but this definitely confuses the team heading into the playoffs.

Unlike the Raptors, the Wizards have a more ‘conventional’ bench when it comes to playing time. They’ll most likely run a 9 man rotation and heavily rely on their top 4 players on the team, which has been the norm for the Wizards this season. At times they’ll jump to their small-ball lineup of playing Scott and Porter at the 4 and 5 positions, which worked fairly well for the Wizards last night.

The usual suspects off the bench are: Tomas Satoransky, Kelly Oubre Jr., Mike Scott, and Ian Mahinmi or Tim Frazier.

The positive and negative both counter-act each other here, size is apparent at the wing position with Sato, Oubre, and Scott, as well as the big man position with Mahinmi. As previously stated, the Raptors will most likely take Mahinmi out of the picture with their two big men off the bench. It’ll be up to Satoransky, Oubre, and Scott to step up their play - being used at 20-25 minutes a game this series, effectively switching on defense between the guards and forwards of Toronto.

Luckily, Washington has shown signs of being able to attack the negatives of Toronto all season long against 28 other teams. The Wizards are 6th in the NBA at holding their opponents to low 3-point percentages (34.9) and they are 2nd in the NBA in fouls - hoping to bring the mediocre free throw shooters off the Raptors bench to the charity stripe.

To summarize, the Washington Wizards can’t realistically stop Toronto’s season long efficiency off the bench. Their goal should be to load the box when the Raptors bench-unit comes out, hoping they can force bad shots from 10-feet plus and limit the Raptors big men from getting easy buckets. Washington cannot let Delon Wright see that many open-3’s again and C.J. Miles has been infamously inconsistent throughout his career. If the Wizards can make the Raptors bench defeat themselves, Washington will have the upper-hand.

Ultimately, the Wizards will rely a lot on their backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, especially being down to start the series, so expect a shootout, nonetheless.