Raptors are highly successful – so it’s time to juggle the starters


The Raptors are finally being taken seriously as Eastern Conference contenders. It’s not time to make some changes – or is it?

The NBA All-Star break doesn’t represent the halfway point of the season. For the Toronto Raptors, Game 41 of 82 was the amazing comeback against Golden State at home which fell just short. That crazy affair occurred more than a month ago.

But the break is a great opportunity for teams, in particular coaching staffs, to take a giant step back. Released for a week from the frantic pace of game-planning, film study and travel, they can consider new ideas. Here’s one for free: it’s time to move C.J. Miles to the starting small forward spot, in place of OG Anunoby.

The Raptors are in first place in the Eastern Conference. Only two teams, the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors, have fewer than Toronto’s 16 defeats. So, Brian, why in the world do you want to change anything about this team?

I’m glad I asked. The goal of the Raptors for this season has been elevated from participating in the Eastern finals, to the ultimate – our first championship. To hoist the ultimate prize, we are going to have to get out of the East (obviously), after which we are almost certain to face one of the two Western beasts.

Winning it all?

If the Raptors are going to win four games before either the Rox or Dubs do, our team will have to outgun them. I’m highly skeptical about the likelihood of uncovering a defensive scheme which will slow down James Harden or Stephen Curry. Of course those two are the faces of their franchises, but hardly their only weapons.

Our squad has a Net Rating of 8.1, and sits fourth in both Offensive (110.7) and Defensive Ratings (102.6). It’s hard to believe the Raptors are so highly rated offensively with a starting small forward averaging 5.9 points per game [PPG]. That ranks OG ahead of only Lucas Nogueira and the 905 cheerleaders.

By contrast, C.J. has found his range lately, and has spiked to 10.2 PPG. He has 34 post-season games under his belt, 12 as a starter. His most successful playoffs was in 2010, when he averaged 14.4 points in 10 games. Last year in Indiana, he averaged 7.3 PPG in 4 games, which is all the Cleveland Cavaliers needed to knock out the Pacers.


Most importantly, Miles’s presence as a 3-point gunner with a quick trigger will help space the floor for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Those two are usually the victims of muggings by defenders in the playoffs, when refs seem to swallow their whistles. Nobody takes OG seriously as a shooter, and he hasn’t made much headway with his dribble-drive efforts. C.J. is quite happy to put the ball on the floor when his deep shots are challenged.

I am also a fan of change for change’s sake. We know the OG-as-a-starter experiment has worked, but we don’t know how C.J. will fare if he’s trying to get open against opponents’ supposed best. That’s OK – at least we’ll have an idea, and starting C.J. will give other teams something else to worry about.

Calling all tankers

There are a bunch of teams who have nothing to look forward to over the last third of the season. For instance, Toronto faces the 18-39 Orlando Magic three times after the break. Put C.J. out there against them, and a few other bad teams, and let’s see what happens.

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There are potential drawbacks to this idea. The bench bunch has been wonderful, and C.J., despite some choppy games, has been an important contributor. I don’t know if OG can perform the same role coming off the bench. Our second unit doesn’t have a DeRozan, someone who can put up a quality shot almost at will. Can our kids keep the magic alive without reliable scoring?

I don’t think I’ve ever written this, but here goes – the Raptors can win it all this season. C.J. as a playoff starter feels right, and his scoring can have enormous ripple effects on his backcourt mates.