Seconds at their best

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

Last season, the Raptors' second unit included noted stars such as Loren Woods and Rafael Araujo.

One could say the Raptors improved their bench in a simple case of addition by subtraction during the off-season. But the Raptors appear to have gone a step further, adding potentially useful pieces that could make life easier for guys like Chris Bosh and Morris Peterson.

While no one is ready to hand the sixth man award to a Raptors bench player just yet, the early returns on Toronto's second unit have been promising.

For what it's worth, nonstarters scored 65 of the Raptors' points in a 93-88 pre-season opening win over the host Washington Wizards on Monday night. The statistic means little because established starters typically spend plenty of time sitting on the bench during the preseason. When they're on the court, the stars simply are working out the kinks.

But Raptors coach Sam Mitchell has not been shy in saying he feels good about the depth of his roster this season, which should prevent Bosh and Peterson from staying on the court for ridiculous chunks of game time every time out.

"I thought everybody in that second group played well (on Monday)," Mitchell said after his team practised at the Air Canada Centre yesterday in preparation for its pre-season home debut against the Boston Celtics tonight.

"All (the players) played well, but that second group with Fred (Jones) and Jorge (Garbajosa) and Jose (Calderon) and Kris Humphries and Andrea (Bargnani), I thought those guys gave us a little lift in the second quarter."

In crunch time, the bench brigade also rose to the occasionto lead the team to a win, albeit against the second unit of the Wizards.

The progress, or lack thereof, of Bargnani as the season progresses will play a big part in determining the success of the bench. He picked up five fouls in 13 minutes Monday, but at least the first overall pick is honest about the state of his game.

"I did some very stupid fouls," Bargnani said. "I have to improve."

But there is no doubt he is part of an improved backup unit, which should aid his development.

Garbajosa, a 28-year-old NBA rookie, hit the winning shot and is anything but green. Jones should thrive in the Raptors' fast-paced offence and Humphries has showed well after a disappointing start to his career with the Utah Jazz.

"The second group came in and held it together," Bosh said. "They kept us in the game. We came out a little flat in the beginning, (but the second unit) made easy plays, got a lot of layups, knocked down shots, played good defence. They played really well."


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