In the last couple of years, the NBA is slowly transitioning to positionless basketball. After all, if DeMar DeRozan played power forward position last season with the San Antonio Spurs, anything is possible. One team that is fully embracing this trend is the Toronto Raptors.
The Raptors have built a roster full of players that can vacillate between different positions, with the likes of No. 4 overall pick Scottie Barnes, standout small forward OG Anunoby, and adept ball-handler Pascal Siakam standing out as three of the most flexible.
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse will have a field day with the roster they currently have. Nurse likes using players in different positions over the course of a game to disorient the opponent. Masai Ujiri has placed an emphasis on length and athleticism over height and power.
The Raptors currently have eight players over 6-8 and 10 players over 6-7, but they don’t have any players over 6-10. The positionless revolution is here, and Nurse and the Raptors are leaning into it. What will that mean in terms of how it impacts the on-court product?
How can the Toronto Raptors use positionless basketball-like lineups?
The Raptors might be starting Khem Birch as a nominal center, but any one of five players might be able to fill that void due to the Raptors’ roster construction. Precious Achiuwa and Freddie Gillespie are the obvious choices, but players like Barnes, Anunoby, and Siakam could see time there due to their wingspans and athleticism.
One of the reasons Toronto picked Barnes instead of picking Jalen Suggs, who everyone thought was an obvious selection, is how Barnes can play multiple positions. With a wingspan usually reserved for the tallest centers and athleticism reserved for guards, Barnes at center could be a very interesting wrinkle that teams will not be prepared for.
Do positions matter for the Toronto Raptors?
Fred VanVleet is the point guard, but he can play shooting guard if they need him to. If he misses a game or wants rest during a game, Malachi Flynn can come in. Say the Raptors need to get Barnes in the lineup provided he starts improving? No problem! Just mix and match with Anunoby and Siakam until you find the right combination.
The Raptors have committed to this philosophy in the draft, as the selection of Barnes proved.
Dalano Banton is another 6-9 point guard who can handle the ball and defend wings. David Johnson might’ve been a primary ball-handler, but his shooting and ability to defend both guard spots make him versatile. Two-way Justin Champagnie can handle himself on the perimeter and in the paint.
The Raptors will be an interesting team to watch this season, not to see whether they are a playoff team, it’s because to see a team that is embracing positionless basketball.
While the Raptors need to avoid getting high on their own supply and dipping too deep into this positionless style before they have seen it succeed, this does offer a glimpse at what basketball will look like over the next decade,
This is certainly not the best team Nurse has ever coached, but he’ll have fun with this team because of the many lineups that he can think of that he’ll incorporate into the team’s strategy and plays.