JV and the Smurfs: next season’s (or sooner) Raptors starters shakeup

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 27: Pascal Siakam
TORONTO, ON - MARCH 27: Pascal Siakam /

The Raptors are enjoying a remarkable season. However, with the playoffs around the corner, it’s time to consider some tweaks to the roster.

When I watch the Toronto Raptors, or scan their statistics, I feel like we’re missing something. While it sounds absurd to be complaining about a team underachieving when it’s already amassed a 55-20 record, the gears could be meshing better than they are.

The season’s biggest disappointment has to be the play of Serge Ibaka. He hasn’t shot well, particularly recently, his rebounding has been uninspiring, he doesn’t pass effectively…we’re not getting value for our 20 million smackers.

His backup, at least on the depth chart, is Pascal Siakam. Our “other” African (Pascal is a Cameroonian, while Serge hails from Congo) is delivering terrific performance for about one-ninth the cost. Siakam is my choice as Most Improved Player on our team.

At the moment, OG Anunoby is the starting small forward. I’m high on his potential, and don’t want to stifle his development. On the other hand, he’s 20 years young, and has lots of time. The Raptors have to be thinking “championship” – right now.

OK, Brian – what’s on your mind?

I’d promote Pascal to the starting unit, and bump Serge. No, not immediately; the Raptors face as nasty a quartet of games (at Boston & Cleveland, vs Boston & Indiana) as we’ve seen all year. Assuming, and I’ll grant you it’s a big assumption, the Raptors have nailed down the #1 seed after Hell Week, the last three games will be time to play in the sandbox.

The playoffs are a time of match-ups. During the season, coach Dwane Casey will make substitution decisions based on factors other than winning that night’s game (player development, a star needs rest, the GM wants to look at a 10-day-contract prospect, etc.). Not anymore – once you need four victories before the other guys, all playing time decisions are dictated by the imperative to win, now.

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If Serge continue to register mediocre results, then sandbox move #1 is to insert Pascal into the starting lineup at the power forward spot. Now we’ve got a 4-smalls-&-a-big group, similar to Draymond Green and his mates (before the Warriors’ recent rash of injuries). Serge and Jakob Poeltl would form an intimidating “Death to flying things” paint presence.

TORONTO, CANADA – MARCH 27: Serge Ibaka /

Sandbox move #2 would be moving Pascal into OG’s spot as the starting small forward. I’m comfortable with this move given how much improvement Pascal’s shooting has shown. He shot 20.8% from beyond the arc in January, and 41.7% from the charity stripe. In March…38.9% and 76.2%, respectively.

Finally, and awkwardly, Jonas Valanciunas could be bumped, to the bench bunch. JV might score a lot of points in that scenario, but there would likely be defensive issues.

What’s the payback?

Multiple goals can be achieved by these tactics. With #1, we’d see a greatly improved fast break. JV has been hauling down defensive boards in bunches. Pascal’s non-stop motor would see him receiving long passes for easy scores. In #2, the offensive chemistry could be instantaneous with Pascal as a more versatile scoring threat than OG at the 3.

I can hear many of you chanting in unison “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. That’s valid, but remember I’m not talking about test-marketing any of this stuff until the top seed is nailed down.

The Raptors may be forced to use some unusual quintets in the playoffs. Let’s start getting them comfortable now.