The Toronto Raptors decided to run back a good chunk of the starters from last year, as the re-signings of Gary Trent Jr. and Khem Birch will assuredly put them back in the preferred opening lineup this season alongside Fred VanVleet at point guard, Pascal Siakam at power forward, and OG Anunoby at small forward.
The Raptors might be without Kyle Lowry’s star power, but with his departure, the squad has undergone a serious shift in how they want to win games from a philosophical point of view. Length and strength are in as Toronto looks to overwhelm opponents with defense and versatility.
As always in the modern NBA, how Toronto starts the game might not be as important as how they finish, as the closing lineup that the Raptors will throw out may be slightly different from what the starting lineup looks like, especially if they want to give players like Scottie Barnes or Malachi Flynn some time in the spotlight.
When the Toronto Raptors absolutely need to get a stop, look for Nick Nurse to unveil this lineup near the end of games, as it features the perfect blend of shooting and perimeter defense.
This is the lineup the Toronto Raptors should close games with.
- PG: Fred VanVleet
- SG: Gary Trent Jr.
- SF: OG Anunoby
- PF: Scottie Barnes
- C: Pascal Siakam
VanVleet and Trent will remain as the starting backcourt, and for good reason. Trent is one of the few plus 3-point shooters expected to eat up a ton of rotation time on this team, and VanVleet can finally show off his full potential as both a scorer and defender now that he is the main man in the backcourt.
The biggest adjustment is that Khem Birch, more of a traditional rim-protecting center, heads to the bench in favor of putting Barnes in the lineup and Siakam at the center spot.
Siakam struggled at times in this role last year, but this alignment can still be useful in short bursts over the course of a long season. The number of players at the center spot who can take Siakam off the dribble outside of the paint or defend him well in iso situations is shrinking every year.
Barnes is not going to be a switchblade off of the bench for his entire career, as he will eventually be trusted to make some big stops on the defensive end in clutch situations. Why not throw him into the fire as a rookie, especially if Masai Ujiri himself is acknowledging this team likely will not compete for a championship?
Barnes showed some skill in the Summer League, so much so that he might end up being a net positive defender in this league as a rookie, and that’s hard to do. He needs minutes on the floor, and giving him a vote of confidence like this might be what the youngster needs.
The Raptors have the potential to really disrupt plenty of offensive attacks this season, but they have to lean on Barnes’ defensive potential. With VanVleet, Barnes, Siakam, Trent, and Anunoby all on the floor, Toronto could say goodbye to their old fourth-quarter issues.