After a series of big moves from Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster, it seems as though the Raptors roster we are looking at right now will be the roster that heads into training camp on September 25th, barring a salary shedding trade. Larry Tannenbaum and co. will be paying a tax bill of around $31 million to have a legitimate shot at the Finals, and now Nick Nurse’s work is cut out for him. With likely the deepest team and the best player in franchise history, the rookie head coach will be leaping over hurdle after hurdle. Among one of his first tasks: Figuring out how the rotation will work. He has already said that he will be experimenting with lineups for the first few games of the season, but let’s see if we can predict what the creative, offensive-minded guru has in store.
As of right now, the only two locks to start each game are Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard. Everyone else will have to earn their minutes and work their way into the starting five. It remains likely that Jonas Valanciunas will retain his spot as starting center, given that he is a Nurse favourite and the best true big man on this team. Kawhi can really play any of shooting guard, small forward, or power forward, so Nurse has plenty of options to get creative with the other two slots. Another likely starter is Danny Green, given his floor spacing ability, leadership, and defensive mindedness. Pair that with a gritty point guard like Lowry, and you’re looking at one of, if not the best defensive backcourt in the league. With four of the spots filled, the fifth could really go to any of three players: OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, or Pascal Siakam. Siakam started approximately half of his rookie season with Jared Sullinger injured, but in his sophomore year, he only started five games. He excelled with the “Bench Mob” as one of the key energy guys, and I expect him to keep a similar role, albeit be an improved player, and possibly playing more minutes. We saw Ibaka shift to the bench in the playoffs last year after abysmal performances on both ends of the floor, and I do not expect the aging big man to find the fountain of youth. That leaves the 20 year old OG Anunoby as the least flawed option to take the last starting spot for the Raptors, which he should have no problem doing after starting 62 games during his rookie season.
First Guys Off The Bench
There are seven true role players for this team off the bench, of which multiple could easily start on a majority of average NBA teams. Still, some will get few to no minutes on some nights, however there are a couple that are sure to play minutes as heavy as some starters. One of these guys is the aforementioned Pascal Siakam. Going into his third NBA season, after an impressive sophomore campaign, he will have big expectations this time around to be a key contributor on both ends of the floor to a hopeful championship team. His versatility on defense will make him easy to play alongside anyone, and he could be the first guy off the bench on some nights. The second guy that will certainly get some run in every game is the newly inked, reigning Sixth Man of the Year finalist, Fred Van Vleet. He provides scoring off the bench, a calmness for the young guys he plays alongside, and an impressive dosage of defense for a guy his size. Additionally, there is Delon Wright, once the go-to perimeter defender on this team with his size, quickness, and length, has become fourth in that department on this team, but nonetheless is a valuable asset that deserves to have his number called. As a taller guard, he sees the floor well and is a great playmaker, he runs the floor well, and we started to see a developed 3-point shot at the end of last season.
The Guys that Have To Fight For Minutes
There are four guys left on this team that have yet to be mentioned, who are used to consistent playing time, and have all even started regularly at some point in their careers. Greg Monroe and Serge Ibaka will be splitting minutes at center, while C.J. Miles and Norman Powell will be splitting minutes on the wing. At the moment, the easy answer is to say that Ibaka plays small-ball center off the bench next to Siakam at power forward, C.J. Miles plays small forward with that same unit, and then Norm and Monroe have to suck it up and accept their role as injury insurance guys. While it’s a reasonable scenario, it is unlikely. Nurse has already said that he takes blame for not incorporating Norm into the bench mob last year, and that is partially why he fell out of the rotation, as he is the one who worked with the five key guys off the bench, and helped them develop a chemistry together, and when they started playing so well, it became difficult to break it up and get Norm in there. With Poeltl’s departure, Norm will again be given a shot to crack the Raptors lineup. Given the success the Raptors had going 11, or even 12 guys deep last year in the regular season, Nurse will be mixing and matching these four guys with different lineups during the regular season, as they all bring different skillsets. Some matchups will favour one guy over the other, and that simply means the guy who’s favoured will be playing heavier minutes on that night. For example, Monroe is more of a true center, so on a night when the Raptors are getting battered on the glass, he will likely play more than Ibaka. Or if the team is in a shooting slump on one night, Nurse might give the edge to Miles over Powell, so he can shoot from range and make the court his playground.
Regardless of how the roster works out, these problems are a luxury to have. There will be internal competition, ensuring that no one gets lazy, or you can bet that they won’t be seeing the court the rest of the night because there’s someone behind them, hungry, and ready to take their spot. On that final note, here is my summarized prediction of the raptors rotation next season:
PG: Kyle Lowry (28 mins)
SG: Danny Green (25 mins)
SF: Kawhi Leonard (36 mins)
PF: OG Anunoby (27 mins)
C: Jonas Valanciunas (26 mins)
PG – Fred Van Vleet (22 mins)
SF/PF/C – Pascal Siakam (22 mins)
PG/SG – Delon Wright (17 mins)
PF/C – Serge Ibaka (14 mins)
SG/SF/PF – C.J. Miles (13 mins)
C – Greg Monroe SG/SF – Norman Powell (Split 10 mins)