Predicting the Raptors' Lineups

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Article Written by Hudson Stewart (@hudson_stewart6)


With the Raptors acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green last week, they now have an increased amount of flexibility with their lineups. Both Leonard and Green are versatile players, which will allow Nick Nurse to play around with his lineups a bit more than he could have with last year’s roster. There’s a number of ways in which the lineups could turn out to be, but in this article, I’ll give my take on what I think the floor should look like in certain situations.

The Starting 5

PG: Kyle Lowry

SG: Danny Green

SF: Kawhi Leonard

PF: OG Anunoby

C: Jonas Valanciunas

The way I see the starting 5 is that there are three locks to start, and that’s Lowry, Kawhi and Valanciunas. The spots that are up in the air are at shooting guard and power forward. At shooting guard, the Raptors have a number of options. They could go with Green, C.J. Miles, Delon Wright, or even Fred VanVleet. The reason I see Green staring there is that he’s a solid 3-point shooter (41.8% in his career), and he’s probably the best defender that the team has at the position. I also like the idea of keeping Wright, VanVleet and Miles together on the bench, where they gained a lot of chemistry together last year. As for power forward, the Raptors have 3 options there. They can go with OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, and Pascal Siakam. There’s a case to be made for each of these guys to start, but in my opinion, it makes the most sense to start OG at power forward. First of all, after such a good rookie season, putting OG in a lesser role as a bench player might stunt his growth as a player. He played well as starter last year, and we think he’ll be even better this year alongside Kawhi. Serge Ibaka started at power forward last season, but was very disappointing in that role. He was a defensive liability at times, and he also wasn’t able to contribute offensively enough as he should’ve. Putting Ibaka on the bench might not only motivate him to play better, but it could make him more of a threat, as he'd be playing against bench players instead of the starters. Lastly, I think it’s the right move to keep Siakam on the bench in order to keep him with the same unit that he thrived with last year.

The Bench

PG: Fred VanVleet

SG: Delon Wright

SF: C.J. Miles

PF: Pascal Siakam

C: Serge Ibaka

The Raptors’ bench unit was so successful last year, and you’d ideally like to keep it the exact same so that they can grow even more together. Unfortunately, they had to trade Jakob Poeltl, but other than that, they’ve got the same guys coming back. By trading Poeltl, the team doesn’t really have a backup centre anymore, although I’m sure they’ll find one. But for now, they’ll have to go with either Siakam or Ibaka at the 5. As for the rest of the bench lineup, I think they should keep it the same, with VanVleet, Wright and Miles. Like I said earlier, they could swap one of those guys into the starting 5 in place of Danny Green, and I’m sure they’ll do that at some point. But for now, I think it’s smart to leave them together so that they can continue to build chemistry.

Shooting Lineup

PG: Kyle Lowry

SG: Danny Green

SF: C.J. Miles

PF: Kawhi Leonard

C: Serge Ibaka

This lineup would be used when the Raptors are trailing by a lot, and need some 3-pointer to get back in the game. Lowry stays in at point guard, and then instead of choosing between Green and Miles, you put them both out there at the same time in order to get extra shooting. Kawhi obviously has to stay out there because he’s the team’s best player, but also he’s improved his 3-point shot a lot since coming into the league. And finally at centre, I went with Ibaka for the sole reason that he’s a better 3-point shooter than Valanciunas and Siakam; but in this lineup, the majority of the shots won’t be going to him so it doesn’t really matter.

The next two lineups I’ve come up with are ones to match up with the Raptors' two main competitors in the East - Boston and Philadelphia. These are the “crunch time lineups” that are used to close out games in the 4th quarter.

Crunch Time V.S. Philadelphia

PG: Kyle Lowry

SG: Danny Green

SF: Kawhi Leonard

PF: Serge Ibaka

C: Jonas Valanciunas

First of all, for this to make sense, I need to show what Philly’s lineup would probably look like. They’d have Ben Simmons at point guard, J.J. Redick at the 2, Robert Covington at the 3, and then Dario Saric and Joel Embiid at the 4 and the 5. Ben Simmons against Kyle Lowry is a mismatch, since Simmons is much bigger, so you might see Kawhi switch onto him in a situation like this, and Lowry covers either Redick or Covington. Danny Green is out there to match up with one of the 76ers’ 3-and-D guys. (Redick or Covington) Kawhi would be out there and probably be guarding Simmons, since you want your best defender on their best scorer. At power forward, I chose to go with Serge Ibaka over OG Anunoby. This is because Dario Saric is 6”10 and a bit bigger than OG Anunoby, while Ibaka matches up better with Saric in terms of their height. I wouldn’t normally want Ibaka out there to close games, but I feel like it’s better if the Raptors play him in this situation, because of the mismatch that it avoids. At centre, I went with Jonas Valanciunas. Now, this will be interesting, because Dwane Casey was notorious for not playing Valanciunas the end of games. But with Nick Nurse now coaching, I wonder whether that will change. I think you have to play him here though, because he’s the only guy the Raptors have that can match up with Joel Embiid. Any other guy that the Raptors put on Embiid will likely get exploited because of their size, so I think it’s a no-brainer to put Valanciunas out there.

Crunch Time V.S. Boston

PG: Kyle Lowry

SG: Danny Green

SF: Kawhi Leonard

PF: OG Anunoby

C: Pascal Siakam

Once again, for this this to make sense, you need to look at the Celtics’ lineup that they’ll likely use. Assuming everyone is healthy, they’ll have Kyrie Irving at point guard, Jaylen Brown at shooting guard, Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum at the 3 and the 4, and then Al Horford at centre. Putting Lowry at point guard is obvious, and then at shooting guard, I went with Danny Green. Miles could go there, but I feel like you’d rather have the defense of Green there in order to lock down Jaylen Brown. At small forward at power forward, I think Kawhi and OG Anunoby match up extremely well with Hayward and Tatum, considering they’re all around the 6”8 mark, and can defend well. In this situation, I see the Raptors putting Kawhi on whoever is scoring more that game. For example, if Tatum is having a great game, you switch Kawhi onto him, and vise-versa if Hayward is doing well. Finally, at centre, with Pascal Siakam there. Now, this is a bit of an odd situation, considering Siakam isn’t a true centre, but neither is Al Horford. Siakam may only be 6”9, but Horford is 6”10, and I think Siakam would match up well with Horford. I also feel like Siakam would be ok in terms of rebounding, because Horford doesn’t rebound as well as most centres.


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